Why don’t people just do what they’re supposed to do? I have a few direct reports that are as bad as my 8-year-old son, who I have to badger for everything – not least to clean up his room.
I have to remind these direct reports repeatedly to complete tasks. It means that even after I’ve delegated something, I have to remember to check if they followed through and so it’s still taking up space in my head.
It’s Not Just My Plate That’s Overflowing
Dear It’s Not Just My Plate,
I recently read an article by Eve Rodsky in the Wall Street Journal in which she reported a way that married couples could divide housework for better outcomes.
Even if it wasn’t necessarily 50/50 (husbands usually have a smaller share), if the husband completely owned his responsibilities, the wife felt the division of work was fairer.
Rodsky interviewed more than 500 men and women plus some subject matter experts and her research headline is that “fair but not equal” was a much more successful arrangement.
She cites some interesting studies:
“Harvard Business School revealed that 25% of divorced couples listed ‘disagreements about housework’ as the top reason for breaking up.” [I find this a little alarming.]
Other Harvard researchers found that women reported more cognitive labor at home than their spouses did. An example: being vigilant and knowing food preferences, monitoring supplies, proactively replenishing when needed.
Getting the person who is doing less, let’s say the husband, to “own” their tasks fully.
When the wife did not have to expend cognitive labor to ensure things were completed, she felt like a significant burden had been removed. She had been relieved of ongoing vigilance for a particular responsibility.
Rodsky cites another study from the National Institutes of Mental Health: that the perception of fairness was a better predictor of a healthy marriage than the actual division of domestic labor.
So, what does all this mean for you at work and your errant staff members?
I see two opportunities here: 1) Decide how you as a leader want to delegate so that you reduce the share of your mind that must monitor certain bits of progress; and 2) Commit to how you want to be as an employee.
Imagine you adopt this approach so that when you delegate to your direct reports they take clear and complete ownership for their responsibilities. This will require clarity around roles and expectations and some candor in your communication.
In practice, it frees you of the cognitive labor of remembering the tasks and circling back to check if they’ve been done.
What impact would that have on how full your plate feels and your stress levels?
Further, it gives them the opportunity to grow and take a leadership role. Even though the professional development might be modest in some cases because the responsibility they are committing to is very defined, it offers a stepping stone. It’s a manageable stretch and we’re setting them up to succeed.
And, second, you can operate this way yourself.
Let me ask: How often does your boss check in with you about items in progress and that ping actually serves as a gentle reminder to get to it?
Assuming personal ownership would make that ping from the boss superfluous. When you step up, it means anticipating needs, being proactive, being alert to systems awareness, influencing for support and alignment, being attentive to details and following through to completion.
Once your boss believes that delegating to you is as good as considering it done, I expect you will be appreciated more than you know.
Bottom line: this is all about being responsible and accountable.
Another advantage: I find that the murkiness of matrixed management too often allows lax accountability. This approach to taking ownership could be effective in leading to better results.
Apple calls a leader like this: a Directly Responsible Individual: and Netflix: a Rare Responsible Person. [I think it’s worth noting that Netflix editorialized with the word Rare.]
As you would value this as a boss, imagine how your boss would value it in you.