Ah Yes But


Over the course of my 20+ years working in the corporate world as a personnel manager and human resources manager, I became passionate about teaching employees how to be self-managing; to think ahead with regard to their skill-set and career prospects.

Because there isn’t much career development for our employees in the flattened hierarchy. So learning as much as they can every day, is the very best way to advance and climb what is left of the corporate ladder.

Sadly most employees tell me that their managers don’t trust them to make decisions or to be involved in creative ideas for the bottom line.

Yet when I chat to managers and ask them what their greatest stresses are, they will tell me that it is having to spend every hour of every working day, telling employees what to do, when to do it, and even HOW to do it.

And so the word ‘but’ keeps everyone stuck in that ever decreasing and depressing parent/child cycle.  And yet it doesn’t have to be that way.

Management ‘buts’ are traditionally:

‘Ah yes, but you can’t trust employees – they say they know how to make good decisions, but when left to their own devices, who knows what chaos they will create that I will then be left to clean up and take the rap for.’

From supervisors and team leaders:

‘Ah yes but, if I hand over more decision making to my people, what would I do all day?’

From employees:

‘Ah yes, management ask us to make decisions, but when we do it is invariably the wrong decision from their perspective, so we just don’t bother any longer. Let them make the decisions, even though we know their decisions aren’t all that great either.’

What a shame we all think this way – such a waste of everyone’s time and talent.

When working with self-managed teams in a manufacturing environment many years ago, I realized that when people use the word but, they are actually voicing a fear, and after a while I worked out that the only way to overcome a fear was to find a W.I.I.F.M. – a what-is-in-this-for-me?

For managers, I believe they need to be spending more of their time working ON the business, rather than worrying and stressing about all the day-to-day crises which cause them to be working IN the business. And yet I know, that most managers don’t know how to stop working this way – it is almost the-way-things-are in the workplace.

So I have a three part exercise I use to get managers to realize how much time they waste every day in fire-fighting, every single day. I ask them:

1.  What are the four or five tasks you do that you wish you didn’t have to do, which, if you had        someone else to do them for you, would free you to be doing more important things?

And they almost always tell me – admin, or dealing with petty complaints, or compiling reports that no-one reads or chasing up after other people to make sure they have done the job correctly.

I then ask them:

2.  If you were recruiting someone to do those tasks, what would the hourly rate for such a person be? And they nearly always tell me - $10 - $15 per hour.

And finally, I ask them:

3.  How long would it take you to teach someone else, how to do that task for you?

And very rarely, do they ever tell me anything more than – 2 hours, 4 hours or even at the extreme, one day.

So what stops managers handing over these fairly trivial tasks to other people?

Usually the reaction – it’s quicker to do it myself. Yes it probably is – but as long as a manager does these minor tasks themselves, they will never get out of fire-fighting and crisis managing.


Remember, I said that a ‘but’ is a fear and the only way to overcome a fear is to find a WIIFM.

When I ask managers what would they would prefer to be doing rather than chasing their tail? They invariably say – visiting clients or sourcing better suppliers or investigating a better computer system.  Which is the best use of a manager’s time – dealing with petty admin or talking to clients? A no brainer really.

So if you are a manager and you know you spend too much time fighting fires, then try this really simple exercise.

Be surprised, be amazed and be freed up TOMORROW.   

The steps are:

  1. Decide what you would like to hand over?
  2. Who is the best person to pick up that task?
  3. How long would it take you to teach them?
  4. When can you both get started in handing over?

Be there as a coach and mentor until the person feels comfortable in doing the task – and then move on to the NEXT task and so on.



Ann Andrews CSP specialises in working with high performing teams and showing managers how to deal with poor performance.

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