Give Me a Rock! How NOT to Manage People


You may have heard of the “give me a rock” form of management.  The boss says, “Give me a rock.” The employee finds a rock and presents it to the boss.  The boss responds, “No, this isn’t what I wanted.  Get me a bigger rock.”  And it continues. “No, a rounder rock.”  “No, a light colored rock.”   Obviously, this is less efficient than, “Get me a round, light grey rock about the size of a bowling ball.”  The point here is that we are often busy, tired and not focused adequately on the task that we are delegating.  Then we become annoyed when someone fails to perform a task in line with our expectations.  No one said humans are logical. So, here are ten simple steps for efficient and effective delegation.

  1. Figure out what you want. What do you see as the essential elements that must be included or accomplished for you to be satisfied with the outcome?
  2. Get the person’s attention. This may seem silly, but think about how frequently someone is in the middle of one thing and is directed to execute a different task.  Unless you happen to know that the person has an unusually great memory, make sure that she has a pen and paper.
  3. Get the person to repeat back to you the task. This may seem awkward or condescending, but it doesn’t have to be.  If you make it clear that you are working on your own managerial skills, the person will usually understand that you are trying to improve efficiency, not criticizing her in any way.
  4. Ask if there are any questions.
  5. Give a deadline. Make sure this is clear.  A specific day and time is best. Asking for a report to be completed “at the beginning of next week” or “ at the end of the month” is asking for trouble.  Managers often make a deadline earlier than necessary to ensure that even if the deliverable is completed after the deadline, it will still be on time from the perspective of the customer, supervisor, etc.  So, if you are giving a hard deadline, make sure the person to whom you are delegating is aware of the relevant circumstances.
  6. Find out if the person anticipates any obstacles. Does he need any additional tools or resources?  Is he already committed to another project that could get in the way?
  7. Get a commitment. Does he think he will be able to accomplish the task in that period of time?  Be sure to explain that it is important to complete the task in a timely manner and ask for a commitment to do so.  If he won’t make a clear commitment, either assign the task elsewhere or explain in clear and uncertain terms that this is part of his job and he is expected to do it.
  8. Be available to answer questions. This does not mean letting your schedule be disrupted by your direct reports.  It does mean, at minimum, designating times when you will be available to answer questions.
  9. Create a system for reporting on progress.  If the task is long-term, complex or if you have any reason to anticipate problems, make sure the person is reporting on progress daily or weekly, as appropriate.  This needn’t occupy a lot of your time.   For example, the person could send you an email daily, or fill in a chart to report on progress. The email could be a single line:  Reviewed 1000 documents; made 100 cold calls; researched for three hours, etc.
  10. Acknowledge when the person reports on progress. Human beings respond to positive feedback.  If we think someone isn’t paying attention, most of us stop reporting.  If everything is fine, a simple “thank you” or “good job” will suffice.  Also, if progress on the project inadequate it is important to tell the person immediately.   It will only feel like a bigger and bigger problem if you wait.