Sometimes, it seems that getting through the day is like playing two ends of a ping pong table by yourself. Sure, you might be able to hit a lob shot and run to the other side of the table in time to return the volley. But try to hit 10 shots back and forth consecutively. Unless you’re a cartoon mouse named Speedy Gonzalez, you’ll probably not be able to do it.
There are countless people working by means of iPhones from their kids’ soccer practice fields or from their homes at 10:00 at night. Why? Having observed this in many environments, I’d say it boils down to three situations.
First, some people are truly overwhelmed because the organization is grossly understaffed and totally out of control; they’re simply doing the best that can be done. This might include as many as 30% of the managers out there. If you’re in this situation, you’re probably contemplating alternatives; it might not be a safe working environment, and it probably has an effect on personal health and home life.
Second, there are 10% of people who simply thrive on feeling self-important; they can’t be saved.
The third group is perhaps 60% of the managers; people who are overwhelmed because they don’t know how not to be overwhelmed. These people need to be able to manage their situations better.
The required skills are prioritization, time management and delegation. Prioritization is doing what you’re responsible for personally. Time management means not doing the things for which others can be responsible. Delegation is transferring responsibility while retaining accountability.
There are hundreds of things that can be prioritized — moved off of your plate and onto the plate of people who are closer to the problem. Doing this not only lightens your daily workload, but, if done right, it also provides an opportunity for your crew to grow professionally, to have a voice in how things can get done and to have ownership over the matters that affect their work environment. It’s what we consultant-types call a win-win situation.
Many supervisors were promoted to their positions because they were excellent at their former level of responsibility. They know they can do most, if not all, tasks assigned to their crews or solve any problems their crews experience. As a supervisor, don’t spend time doing the jobs your crew has been hired to do. Moreover, when you do your crew’s work, you take away their opportunity to learn, to gain experience and to feel valued.
You must get comfortable with the fact that some of your crew members can’t do the job with your level of quality or as efficiently as you can. Just remember that you weren’t born with the skills you have; someone gave you an opportunity to become proficient. This is what you now need to provide for your crew.
What can you delegate? You can delegate as much as your crew can handle, but you always will be accountable if they screw up. This means you’d better interact with your crew and understand their capabilities. It requires balance and sometimes encouragement. Give them some opportunities slightly beyond what they’ve already demonstrated.
How do you know what people can handle? By listening. Suppose your organization just implemented a new work management process. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent on designing the process and training people to use the process; even the software was upgraded. Six weeks into the new process, one of your crew members walks by and says, “This sucks. The way the scheduler is assigning craftsmen to the jobs is idiotic.” You should immediately think this is an opportunity. If someone is passionate about the problem, let them take part in the solution. They’ll see the bigger picture more clearly and bring a customer perspective to the solution. Allocate time for a focus team to study and solve the problem.
The supervisor’s job is to let them own the solution. Give them the information and resources they need to be successful. Let them know what the limits of the outcome will be and let them work on the solution. If it works, don’t pick it apart. If they were unsuccessful, it’s because you didn’t provide them with something they needed to be successful. Figure out how to do better on the next opportunity, but keep at it.
Tom Moriarty, P.E., CMRP, is president of Alidade MER. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and (321) 773-3356.