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The Pitfalls of Assigning Tasks to Most Employees: A Lesson in Effective Delegation
As businesses expand and the number of employees grows, business owners often find it necessary to delegate tasks to ensure efficiency and productivity. However, there comes a point where assigning tasks to every employee becomes counterproductive. In this article, we will explore the reasons why business owners should avoid assigning tasks to most employees and the potential negative consequences that can arise from disregarding the chain of command.
The Limitations of Managing a Growing Workforce
A common adage in business is “Delegate and elevate,” emphasizing the importance of delegating tasks to focus on higher-value responsibilities. However, as a company grows beyond approximately 10 employees, managing a larger workforce becomes increasingly challenging for a single individual. Attempting to oversee and manage a substantial number of employees, such as 30 or more, can lead to distractions and an inability to accomplish essential tasks.
Supervision and the Role of Entry-Level Employees
To address the growing number of employees, it becomes necessary to introduce supervisors who can oversee and manage a subset of the workforce. Typically, entry-level employees are the ones who receive direct supervision. This approach allows business owners to focus on strategic decision-making and higher-level responsibilities while supervisors handle day-to-day operations and employee management.
The Perils of Micromanagement
However, a common pitfall occurs when business owners fail to transition fully into the role of delegating tasks and continue to assign responsibilities directly to employees, even when supervisors are present. While it is essential for business owners to remain connected to their employees and be aware of their challenges, stepping in to solve problems and assign tasks directly can create confusion and undermine the chain of command.
Confusion and Weakened Accountability
By bypassing the employee’s supervisor, business owners inadvertently create confusion for employees regarding their reporting structure. Employees may prioritize the directives of the business owner over their immediate supervisor, leading to conflicts and weakened managerial authority. Furthermore, supervisors lose visibility into how their employees are spending their time, making it challenging to hold them accountable for their actions.
The Efficiency Dilemma
Having multiple bosses or sources of directives can result in an efficiency problem. Employees may exploit the lack of oversight by claiming to be occupied with tasks assigned by one boss to avoid accountability from the other. This lack of centralized supervision can lead to inefficiencies and a margin of unproductive time, ultimately hampering the company’s performance.
Preserving the Supervisor’s Role and Expertise
Another crucial reason why business owners should refrain from assigning tasks directly to front-line employees is that supervisors often have a comprehensive understanding of the employees’ responsibilities and priorities. There may be valid reasons why a supervisor has not addressed a particular task or issue. By disregarding the supervisor’s expertise and decisions, business owners risk undermining the supervisor’s authority and inadvertently disrupting the established workflow.
Fostering Effective Communication and Decision-Making
Instead of assigning tasks directly, it is far more beneficial for business owners to encourage employees to communicate with their supervisors about ideas, challenges, and potential solutions. By involving the supervisor in the decision-making process, the owner acknowledges the importance of the chain of command and ensures that everyone is on the same page. This approach strengthens collaboration, promotes shared accountability, and empowers supervisors to manage their teams effectively.
Delegation is a vital skill for business owners, but it becomes increasingly complex as companies grow in size. Assigning tasks directly to most employees beyond a certain employee threshold can lead to confusion, weakened accountability, and disrupted workflows. By respecting the chain of command and involving supervisors in decision-making, business owners can foster a more efficient and harmonious work environment. Embracing effective delegation practices allows business owners to focus on strategic initiatives, empowers supervisors to manage their teams, and ensures the long-term success of the organization.
Why Should Business Owners Avoid Assigning Tasks to Most Employees?
Here is the scenario. Often business owners start a company and they are doing everything at first and then they hire more employees and they start assigning tasks because that is what you need to do as a business owner. There is the old saying “Delegate and elevate.” In other words, delegate tasks so you can focus on more important or higher-value tasks. But what happens often is as a company grows beyond 10 employees, the company needs supervisors for those employees because one person will have difficulty managing substantially more than 10 employees. For example, if you have 30 people reporting to you, you are not going to get any work done because you are going to be so distracted with bonding to questions from the 30 people that report to you and trying to hold them accountable and having regular meetings and coaching them and training them. So typically, at about 10 employees, give or take three, a business owner will have one person start supervising some employees. Typically, it is going to be the more entry-level employees that get supervised.
The Need for Supervisors in a Growing Company
But imagine you now have a company with 20 employees, and let’s say the business owner has two key people that provide supervision. What often happens is the business owner never gets out of the mode of giving tasks to everybody. The business owner still walks around the company, and talks about, “Hey, what is going on in your business?” And that is great. Business owners should hear from the front lines from the employees who are actually doing the work, how is it going, what challenges you are facing, and what problems you are facing. That is what makes a business owner great. But often, what happens then is the business owners start solving problems presented by the employee and assigning the employee tasks associated with that solution. So, for example, the employee might say, “Hey, when we run these widgets through the machine, the machine has a bunch of errors,” and the business owner says, “Oh, is the machine running the latest software version?” The employee says, “I don’t know.” And the owner says, “Hey, why don’t you go check the software version and see if there is an update available? And if there is, put that update in because that might fix the problems coming out of the machine.” Why is that a problem? Because you are bypassing the employee’s supervisor, and it creates a lot of confusion. It creates confusion for the employee because they are now trying to make the business owner happy, and they do not have a clear chain of command. The employee often will put greater weight on what the business owner says and less weight on what the supervisor says. And that now creates a conflict and it weakens the supervisor’s ability to manage that employee.
Here is another reason why that is unhelpful. The supervisor of the employee now is not aware of how the employee is spending their time and what they are doing. And so that supervisor is going to have a hard time holding that employee accountable. I remember working for basically two bosses. And I observed that neither one knew everything I was doing, and if I wanted to be an unethical employee and I saw some employees that were, I could have just said “Hey” to this boss, “I am busy with this other boss’s tasks” and vice versa. And that could create a margin of 30% of my time where I am not doing work for either because neither could hold me accountable. I have seen many employees who have multiple bosses and this becomes an efficiency problem. So I think it is very important to have one supervisor who knows everything that the employees are doing.
There is another reason why the owner should not be giving direction to front-line employees. And that is because there might be a reason why the supervisor had that employee doing something that the owner is not aware of. For example, let’s say with this hypothetical that the employee is asked by the owner to go look for updated software for the machine. Well, there might be another reason why the supervisor had not updated that. It might be because the update includes other changes that would cause more problems for the machine. It might be that the supervisor needed to update multiple machines at once to avoid conflict in the software. There may be a lot of considerations. And so, although owners are very used to telling employees what to do and trying to solve problems, and of course, they are doing it with great intention. The owner is harming their own business if they are delegating tasks or giving responsibility to employees who are responsible to somebody else. The far better approach is to tell the employee, “Hey these are great ideas. Thanks for problem-solving this with me. Why don’t you go talk to the supervisor about this? And I will fill the supervisor in as well so that the supervisor can be part of the decision and part of implementing the solution.” This is not easy. This is something that I need to be reminded of on a regular basis because business owners are so used to solving problems that as the company grows, it is a challenge to start respecting the chain of command. But if business owners don’t, chaos results.
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