Managers: Don’t make this mistake with your best people

We all know the saying “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.” It’s sound advice—but it’s also a dangerous habit unless you step back occasionally to see what impact it might be having on the busy person’s experience at work. For most managers, having a “go to” person is a great asset. Just make sure you don’t overdo it by going to the same person again and again.

This is a dilemma for most managers according to Scott Blanchard in a recent blog post for Fast Company magazine.  Blanchard explains that it is only natural to assign tasks to the most accomplished people on your team. The challenge is to balance a short-term need for immediate results with a long-term view for the growth and development of your people.

Finding the perfect balance

Drawing on some of the core concepts from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Blanchard explains that managers need to balance routine work that is easily accomplished with challenging new tasks that provide variety.

How can managers find the right balance?  Here are three strategies that Blanchard recommends:

  • Become more aware of your goal-setting habits.  Have you optimized the challenge inherent in each person’s goals or tasks, or have you fallen into the habit of overusing and under-challenging your best people? Have you focused more on your own needs instead of theirs by giving them routine work you know they can accomplish successfully with little intervention on your part?
  • Focus on both the long and short term.  Manage the urge to assign a task to a proven winner to ensure quick completion versus assigning the same task to someone who is brand new and may require some direction and support. But don’t go overboard. You don’t want to focus solely on employee development and compromise organizational effectiveness. Balance is the key.
  • Create variety for yourself and others. According to Warren Bennis, the most effective managers are the ones who actively engage in clear periods of reflection as well as action. Balancing task variety is one of those projects that requires some discipline and awareness to think through.

Blanchard also reminds readers that most people become bored because they’re doing boring tasks—not because of a character flaw. Instead of moving away from a person you might see as a complainer, see that person instead as someone who is not really “in flow” and work with him or her to find out what the right mix could be. It’s a management basic that creates the long and short term impact that works best.

PS: To read more of Blanchard’s thinking on creating the right mix in your work environment, check out, Helping Your Employees Find Their “Flow” at Fast Company.

3 thoughts on “Managers: Don’t make this mistake with your best people

  1. Very good article and i agree to the most of it; but, what can you do when the time is running and the results don’t coming? how much time do you have to spend for a person who is not really “in flow”? what is the “appropriate” time to work with him?

  2. Hi Stavros,
    It really is a balancing act and the first focus need to be on results. Creating task variety as Scott and Ken are describing in their article assumes that the person is (or has been) a good performer. With proper coaching, you should expect to see measurable results within the course of two quarters. If it is dragging on past that, you probably have other issues that you need to address.

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