Managers Cannot Do It All

Equip employees with training and education.

Regardless of the type of business, those in management positions have a lot to do. While this makes managers’ jobs difficult enough, it makes them even more so when they believe that they must “do it all.” This includes running day-to-day operations, hiring and training new employees, handling personnel issues and “putting out the fires” that seem to arise constantly. On top of all this, managers must seek ways to make their operations better, both in the short and long term. At times, even the best managers struggle to accomplish all they need to do in a day. To be effective, they need to realize that they cannot do it all, and they must delegate certain tasks to others.

On the surface, delegation seems simple enough: Take some of the things managers are doing and assign them others. However, more than simple task assignment is needed if we expect a positive outcome. Expectations must be created, communicated and then frequently reviewed and evaluated (the “managing” part of management). Good management is all about expectations. A manager must be confident that the person being assigned a task is prepared to complete it. This expecation supports the need for training and education.

The training part is likely the easiest to tackle. Managers have been training or overseeing employee training for centuries. It is very task-oriented and measurable by an employee’s performance. (A task is either done right and in a timely manner, or it is not.) On the other hand, education is more concept-oriented, with the objective being to teach people to recognize and address situations that might arise. Education focuses on getting people to think—something that more companies should expect of their employees.

Recognizing this, many companies are focusing more on the education component of employee-skill enhancement. Programs such as problem solving, leadership, time management, team building, lean tools and techniques, Six Sigma and the now-popular lean/Six Sigma program, which combines the benefits of both, are all geared to getting employees to think.

Of course, the real benefit of any education program comes from applying learned concepts to real-world applications. Any program needs to be followed by an activity that does just that. For example, a problem-solving program should be followed by a specific problem-solving task assigned to a team. This problem-solving task should culminate with corrective action and/or countermeasures that reduce the likelihood of the problem recurring. A lean manufacturing program should be followed by a series of Kaizen events assigned to teams. A Kaizen concept focuses on making something better, quickly. The Kaizen event can be a workplace-organization effort using the 5S (sort, set in order, shine, standardize, sustain) methodology, a machine setup reduction initiative using single-minute-exchange-of-die (SMED) principles, the creation of a visual standard work instruction and more. A Six Sigma program should be followed with a quality-improvement project that follows the guidelines of the define, measure, analyze, improve, control (DMAIC) approach to minimizing process variability. By definition, a reduction of process variability yields greater stability and confidence that things will be made right the first time, every time. Although these follow-up efforts do require time, if properly defined, they will actually make something better within the company. Not only do employees get a chance to apply their thinking skills, but also they identify and implement improvements that generally outweigh the upfront investment of time. It is a process in which everyone wins.

Enlightened managers are aware that they cannot do it all. They recognize the need to increase the pool of thinkers in their organization in order to get more done. Improving employee skills through focused training will help, but educating key employees on ideas and concepts is just as important. Applying their new-found skills will enable these key employees to do some of the things that a manager just cannot get around to doing. Ultimately, this is the most practical means of continually improving operations and generating or maintaining a competitive advantage in the marketplace.