A Lesson in Delegation from Henry Bloch
If you’ve been in management for any period of time, you’ve realized the importance of delegation. Without effective delegation, a manager can become overwhelmed and will soon drown in the details. Symptoms of a manager who cannot delegate are long lines outside their office door, and a team who is not empowered, not challenged, and a flight risk for the company.
It is common when an individual contributor gets their first promotion to management, they can fall into old habits of “doing”. They want to move a pile of trash from one side to the other, and have always been rewarded and recognized for their ability to do this. To them a good job is not training, developing and delegating to their team. Instead they have been programmed to try and do it all themselves. If this situation is not remedied, it will lead to stagnation for the team, bottlenecks in decision-making, and eventually that manager losing their position.
I learned an important lesson about delegation early in my career, before I was even in management. My first job out of college in 1988 was at CompuServe in Columbus Ohio. If you don’t remember them, they were the company that first offered online services before the Internet was widespread. CompuServe is truly a case study of a company not recognizing market disruption and eventually closing their doors. I would love to share my story of how this happened, but it will have to wait for a future article.
CompuServe had been purchased in 1980 by H & R Block (the tax return company), and once a year their president Henry Block would visit and speak to several hundred Columbus-based employees. Henry would present some information, and then field questions from the audience. Someone asked about H&R Block’s history and how Henry got it started. He explained that the company got a quick start and started growing rapidly, but began to hit growing pains. Henry said that in an effort to ensure quality, he personally reviewed every tax return that was prepared. He told stories of backing his station wagon up to their Kansas City office every day, and loading it full of tax returns for his evening review. The challenge of course was that the company’s growth was throttled by his ability to personally review and approve each tax return. Mr. Bloch said that the company only realized true growth when he gave up this practice, and delegated the responsibility.
Of course this story stuck with me, and I try to keep it mindful when reviewing operations for efficiency. If you have bottlenecks in your organization, or a manager who is always overwhelmed, likely there is a delegation problem. As leaders in your organization, the first step is to recognize this, and then work to develop this manager to truly take the next step in their career. Managers need to know that if they hire good people, train them well, and create standards and metrics for success, they can then begin to let go of tasks and allow their operation to flourish. There will be many side benefits, including helping to develop future leaders. The ultimate goal for the manager is that a few of their team members can developed to be that manager’s replacement, eventually allowing the manager to be promoted to the next level.
I hope you enjoyed this story, and it sticks with you as it stuck with me. Remember the wise advice of Henry Bloch, and don’t let lack of delegation limit your business!