The delegation test

Awhile back, I attended a workshop where a recently promoted manager, Renee, complained about being overwhelmed by volume of work she had to accomplish. She had recently added two people to her staff, but she was still overwhelmed.

The other people in the workshops offered suggestions for managing her workload — transferring work to her staff, deciding not to do some projects, hiring contractors to do some of the work. For every option, Renee had a reason it wouldn’t work.

Finally, we tried a little experiment to see if we could figure out what would help. We made came up with a trivial task — picking index cards up off the floor — and “hired” two contractors to do the work.

Renee sat back to watch.

In a couple of minutes the “contractors” had picked up all the cards.

We asked: “How was that? The cards are all picked up and you didn’t have to do it — your time was freed up to do more important work. Do you think you could hire some contractors?”

Renee frowned. “No,” she said. “It won’t work.”

“What about this experiment didn’t work?” we asked.

“They didn’t pick the cards up the right way,” replied Renee.

Did you know there was one right way to pick up index cards of the floor?

Renee will continue to feel overwhelmed by her work, because she cannot delegate. Renee believes there is one right way to do the work, and it’s her way. She’s unable to allow the people doing the work to decide the “how.”

Renee will have difficulty retaining staff, too. Most professionals do not tolerate the level of micromanagement Renee will impose.

When managers focus on the result and let the technical folks decide the “how,” the workers are happier and the manager is freed up to attend to the big picture.