Managing Enough To Delegate

Larry Price
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Wednesday - April 18, 2007
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The confirmation hearings in the Senate have been very interesting - and disturbing. The main reason given for not confirming a certain gubernatorial nominee has been the legislators’ concern with the candidate’s “managerial style.”

The senators never say what kind of management style they prefer, and rarely present any evidence that they understand the numerous kinds of management styles in existence. In all of the research on the subject, most academics agree that there is no one best kind of management style that fits all situations and circumstances.

There are a few things every management style demands, and it would serve the legislators well to remember what they are. In every organization, each position has or should have specified tasks and the responsibility for carrying them out. For the organization to make efficient use of its resources, responsibility for specified tasks is assigned to the lowest organization level, at which there exists sufficient ability and information to carry them out competently.

Said another way, expecting any director to get involved in the lowest levels of the organization (like checking time cards) would be a waste of the director’s time, most of which should be spent in dealing with the overall goals of the organization.

A corollary of this rule is that for individuals in the organization to perform their assigned tasks effectively, they must be delegated sufficient authority to do so. In a confirmation hearing, there is no logical reason for the legislators to encourage micro-management of their departments.

For anyone with an MBA this is perfectly obvious, because accountability for the actions of subordinates is one of the defining characteristics of a managerial position. I suspect that the legislators would like to have a say or preference as to how directors they confirm will manage their departments, and in many cases whom the newly confirmed director will hire as his or her deputies.

I know several of the legislators have MBAs and even doctorate degrees, and several have taught management classes around town. However, for those who are wandering around nooks and crannies of the Capitol trying to ask conceptual questions about management style, I have a quick tip they might use to enhance their credibility with the public.

Read up on the Scalar Principle. It is what you are pontificating about. For delegation to work effectively, members of the organization should know where they stand in the chain of command. The Scalar Principle suggests that there must be a clear line of authority running step-by-step from the highest to the lowest level of the organization. The theory is that this clear line of authority will make it easier for organizational members to understand 1) to whom they can delegate, 2) who can delegate to them, and 3) to whom they are accountable.

Similarly, there should be no overlaps, which means responsibility for the same task assigned to more than one individual, and no splits, which means responsibility for the same task assigned to more than one organizational unit. Otherwise, confusion of authority and accountability will result.

The legislators who always seems to be concerned with management style should realize there is an abundance of evidence in just about every textbook on management and organizational behavior that there is no reason to have chairpersons of confirmation committees trying to insert themselves in the management of a chosen government department.

The current confirmation process in our Legislature is antiquated, bordering on unethical and makes the thought of government service as a career distasteful.

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