• Jim Tanner received the promotion he had spent six years working hard for. He managed a team of eight people in a magazine publishing house and had responsibility over one magazine title, it’s Web site, and all production efforts for it. His team worked hard to produce a quality magazine and Jim’s efforts to increase circulation and advertising over the years made the magazine one of the company’s most successful ventures.

    Publicize Ventures, Inc., is a thirty year old family owned venture in Dover, Michigan and had survived several magazine-industry meltdowns in the early eighties and earlier this decade. Jim’s boss, Tammy, was the owner’s daughter and had originally served as the publisher for the magazine Jim now operated. Tammy had since moved on to run a magazine which focused on her passion: fashion. This new magazine gave Tammy an opportunity to travel the globe and meet with fashion designers and models. The fashion magazine was a money loser, but Tammy’s dad didn’t want to disappoint his daughter, so he kept it afloat so she could publish a magazine she was passionate about.

    Over time, Tammy became more distant from Jim’s team and relied on him to run the operations for her. However, she required Jim to pass all major and minor decisions through her. She was frequently absent as a boss and many times a decision would just not get made while she was out of town. The magazine circulation didn’t decline, but it’s growth became much more flat as Tammy’s absence became more noticeable.

    Occasionally, Jim did make a decision without Tammy’s involvement and would often get his hand slapped for stepping outside of his authority. As the circulation flat-lined, advertising also declined and Jim was berated by Tammy to her father and to his face. This cycle continued for three years until Jim was told to improve circulation and advertising revenues, or the entire operation would be shut down. Jim created a plan to turn things around. Unfortunately, Tammy did not approved it and eventually, the operation was shut down.

    Good Employees Fail with No Authority and a Lot of Responsibility

    Jim was a good employee and had demonstrated success with helping improve circulation and ad revenues. After his promotion, he had a lot of potential for success with the magazine, but Tammy was absent as a boss and provided him with a lot of responsibility, but no authority to act on it. This is a common problem with managers who have a difficult time delegating to their employees.

    delegate-authorityWhen I first became a supervisor, one of my primary projects was overseeing the global PC image development. This was a significant project in scale as this image could be used on over 75,000 PCs globally. My manager, in his great wisdom, was piling on more tasks than I could handle to force me to do something I found difficult: delegate tasks and trust my employees. I was stubborn and continue to attempt to do everything, but quickly found that working sixty to eighty hours a week was too much and found the joy of delegating the hard way.

    The situation with Jim and Tammy could have been resolved in a number of ways. She could have move the magazine to a different senior executive who had the bandwidth to support the operation, she could have stayed engaged with the operation, or she could have delegated responsibility to Jim to run the operations as required. Unfortunately, she did none of those things and the operation failed.

    Lessons Learned

    When you choose to delegate tasks to your employees – to provide them with responsibility – learn to also delegate them authority on matters they can control, are good at, and have a high chance of success with. Tammy didn’t need to delegate everything to Jim, but many of the day to day operational tasks (e.g. the minor tasks) could have been delegated and success would have been more likely.

    1. Determine which tasks you can delegate to your direct reports.
    2. Write the tasks down in one of two columns: authority or no authority. It’s ok to assign tasks to your direct reports which entail responsibility with no authority, it’s just a problem if their entire job is responsibility, no authority, but a ton of accountability.
    3. Decide on the level of trust you have with a direct report and assign him/her tasks to help increase your trust level.
    4. Hold your employees accountable to the tasks you have assigned him.

    The names and companies were changed to protect the guilty.

    This entry was posted on Thursday, November 19th, 2009 at 11:07 am and is filed under Management. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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