Failures in management: shifting responsibility

A great way that managers avoid responsibility is by providing a high level work task or goal that seems simple and then putting it on subordinates to get it done.

This is subtle tactic that seems completely reasonable. First, there are tasks that most employees will be expected to perform without supervision. This approach taps in to this by implying that the task at hand falls in to this area. Second, because the task is stated at a high level it seems very straight forward. That simplicity makes the task easy to convey but covers any number of potential pitfalls in the details. It probably also covers the manager not knowing the details. Third, all responsibility is shifted to the subordinate for the task and for whether the task is completed. The manager wins if the task is completed and has a form of plausible deniability if it fails.

There is a very fine line in all this about what can rightly be expected. Depending on the person in question, their level of seniority, their skill set, the resources they have available to them, and how long they have been in the role there is a wide range of what they might be reasonably expected to perform.

A better indicator as a manager might be across multiple employees or over time. If it is reasonably frequently the case that you find yourself disappointed because tasks aren’t being completed and yet your direction is only at a level where things can be made tinker toy simple you might have a problem.

PS. A lot of this centers on how vague the statement of the task has to be to make it sound simple.


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