Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Delegating Dilemmas

If I can hide out long enough....There seem to be some tremendous differences of opinion about the concept and reality of delegating and directing work–in fact, those terms are not even used in many training courses on supervision and management.  I use them in my training, because whether we talk about them or not they are concepts that allow organizations, and the people in them, to work effectively.  They are also tremendous tools for interacting in a positive way with employees. On the other hand, mishandled they have the potential for creating conflict, frustration and bad feelings.  As with most workplace issues, the problems seem to be rooted in expectations, communication and overall work relationships.

Not long ago some class participants from the same organization were discussing with me at break, the degree to which their manager passed work along to them. One person said, “Fortunately, she usually comes to our cubicles to give us something to do, and I can see her cubicle. So, the second I see her move in our direction I either go to the restroom or I act really, really frustrated over something I’m working on. I skate out of 90% of the stuff that way.”  Her coworkers looked stunned to hear what she had been doing for months! What I found ironic was that these were supervisors attending a class on supervising challenging employees!

I questioned the situation and their perspectives and they explained the situation in a bit more positive way. Nevertheless, their views about delegating or directing work were clearly skewed against the concept as they had seen it practiced, and their manager had said and done things that indicated to me she had a faulty perspective and used some ineffective methods.

The differences between delegating and directing (the semantics matter):

When a supervisor directs work to be done, it is often work that is organizationally the responsibility of the person who will do it, or is being reassigned between similar levels.

  • “Shawn, we got ten new files today and I’ll get those to you.”
  • “Beth, I just found out you’ll need to have the audit done by June this year. Let’s meet to plan that.”
  • “Bill, drive by this address today and check it to see if there are any building code violations.”   
  • “Ron and Pat, I’m moving some tasks around between you two.”

When a supervisor delegates work to be done, it is most often work that could appropriately be done by the supervisor, but it is also appropriate–and perhaps even preferable–for an employee to do it.

  • “Shawn, I’d like you to start keeping the spreadsheet on completed files. I’ll show you how it’s done.”
  • “Beth, from now on I’d like you to represent us on the Audit Team, since you are the one directly involved in it.”
  • “Bill, I have a bunch of letters to get out to various contractors, but I can’t get them done this week. I’m going to get some of them to you and I’d appreciate your help getting them handled.”
  • “Ron and Pat, starting with this upcoming staff meeting, I’m going to have you two be in charge of arranging them.”

Delegating work becomes problematic when:

  • Employees have knowledge or opinions about what supervisors should or could be doing on their own, and they resent or resist doing work they believe to be outside their job descriptions.
  • A busy employee is given delegated work by a supervisor and the supervisor seems to do little work of his own.
  • Supervisors delegate work but do not train about it.
  • Supervisors delegate work but do not feel comfortable giving it up, so they provide excessive instructions.
  • Supervisors only delegate unpleasant tasks but not interesting and challenging tasks.
  • Supervisors do not often delegate, so when they do it is less accepted than if it was a regular practice.
  • Supervisors do not often delegate and employees do not have the opportunity to gain higher-level skills.
  • The same few people are given extra work repeatedly, because they are usually pleasant about it.
  • Workplace communications and relationships are so problematic that negative reactions to delegation of work are based primarily on negative feelings in general.

Work that should not be delegated:

  • Oversight of other employees, except as part of a clearly defined and limited team role.
  • Tasks that a supervisor is expected to handle personally, either because of organizational culture or the expectations of the manager.
  • When errors could have severe repercussions and the supervisor is more appropriate for doing the task.
  • Relationship roles with other units or organizations when it is important for the supervisor or manager to be the liaison.
  • Work that will require more training than there is time is available to provide it. Do not put employees in a sink or swim situation with an important task.

One tried and true way to know what things you might delegate is to ask yourself this: If you were gone for many months, what work would have to be given to someone of your organizational level and what work could the organization parcel out to those you supervise?

April 16th, 2008 Posted by | Supervision and Management | 8 comments

Discourtesy and Contention At Work: Describe it Correctly

The most pervasively negative
workplace behavior:
Discourtesy and Contention

It is trendy to call obnoxious people bullies, to to describe unpleasant supervisors as toxic. However, there are less dramatic ways to discuss behavior that should be corrected–then, correct it. 

The behavior I consider the most problematic in workplaces is behavior that is:
Impolite, unmannerly and rude
Pestering, stress producing and disruptive 
Devious, unfriendly and undermining
Obnoxious, offensive and irritating 
Argumentative, uncooperative and self-serving
Tormenting, sniping or purposefully hurtful

Any of those behaviors could be described as discourteous.  If they are unrelenting, frequent, habitual, regular or pervasive, they more likely fit the description of being contentious–part of a long-term conflict or frequent behavior that a reasonable person would consider unpleasant, disrespectful or uncivil to others. 

Those two terms–discourtesy and contention–are not so dramatic sounding as some of the other terms that might be used, but I think they are more apt because they:
• Are less emotion-laden and offensive than bully, toxic or evil
• Describe behavior instead of labeling a person. 
• More clearly describes the reality of workplace communication problems.
• Do not automatically place people in the roles of aggressors and victims. 
• Provide supervisors and coworkers with acceptable terms for documenting complaints.  

However, do not doubt that discourtesy and contention can take a terrible toll on employees and the workplace.

Be on the look-out for these examples of discourteous and contentious behavior: 
*Facial expressions and gestures that are rude, mocking or demeaning.
*Purposely not smiling or responding to attempts to be appropriately friendly. Stone face.
*Using email to escalate a conflict or make someone look badly by forwarding or copying messages unnecessarily.
*Mocking, smirking, eye-rolling, smothered laughter or looking at others when someone else talks.
*Practical jokes that disrupt the work of others or create stress for them.
*Refusing to assist or pretending to not notice that assistance is needed.
*Using a tone of voice that is snippy, irritated sounding, hostile, contemptuous or sarcastic.
*Confronting people about a conflict in an excessively aggressive manner.
*Accusations, excessive emotionalism.
*Finding fault; excessively correcting others; pointing out flaws in an unhelpful way.
*Making work more difficult than it needs to be or purposely delaying work.
*Disingenuous remarks designed to create problems for others.
*Responding to requests with heavy sighs, resentful actions, anger or excessive questioning.
*Stomping, slamming doors, drawers and phones, making unnecessary noise and clamor.
*Purposely or repeatedly doing things that are unpleasant, foul, obnoxious, distracting and disruptive.

Why supervisors and managers should take immediate and strong action about discourtesy and hostility:

  • It can demoralize and demotivate the target and those who witness it and creates stress and uneasiness for everyone.
  • It takes the focus away from work and puts it on the unpleasantness.
  • It encourages people to take sides, or to encourage discourtesy byothers as a way to stir up problems.
  • It prevents or reduces effective communication.
  • It can be the source of actions and reactions that result in lawsuits, complaints andviolence.
  • If someone is discourteousto coworkers or you, they will almost certainly be discourteous to others when you are not around.
  • It puts the focus of supervisors onquarrels and upsetsinstead of key work issues.
  • When others are aware of it–and they will be–it presents the supervisor or manageras being either unwilling or unable to intervene.
  • Discourtesy is like a weed–it spreads and chokes out everything good you try to cultivate in your workplace.

A mental survey: Look and listen in your workplace this week:

1. Which employees interact the most courteously with other employees in the office and within the organization?

2. Who are some who are not particularly courteous, even though they are not obviously rude?

3. Who says or does things that, if you weren’t so used to them, you’d immediately think of them as discourteous? What are the things they say or do? Do they limit it to only a few or are they that way to everyone? Are there some mutually discourteous relationships?

4. Who says or does things that, had those habits been known, the person would likely not have been hired?

5. Would life at work be better if relationships that are now marked by discourtesy or hostility were civil, cooperative and pleasant?

Pay attention to courtesy and discourtesy this week–and notice how you act as well! Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “there is always enough time to be courteous.” Take the time.

April 16th, 2008 Posted by | Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development, Supervision and Management | no comments