The Mechanics of Tasking 4/5 — Let them Fail

August 31, 2007 at 12:14 pm Leave a comment

If you can afford to… let them fail

The very best employees are those who not only can think for themselves, but those who insist on thinking for themselves.

Now let’s be honest here. If you’ve been a manager for any length of time, you cringed, perhaps even whimpered, when you read that statement. The easy folks to manage, are those at the far opposite end of the spectrum, those without a thought in their heads, who do exactly what you tell them. The ones filled with ideas and a burning desire to prove themselves are, shall we say (to be polite?) a ‘challenge’?

But they’re important. Why? Because if there’s one thing all organizations need is a constant flow of ideas. Management must not only treasure these people, they must encourage the free-range thinking they offer. This can cause ‘problems’ when delegating work to these free spirits.

Fact. We delegate work with the intention of getting it done correctly. Sometimes, the person to whom we delegate the task has their own idea about how to get it accomplished. When that idea will work? There isn’t a problem. Just leave them to their own devices, get out of their way, clear obstacles for them if you have to, but essentially your job as manager is over. Move onto something else, that particular task is off your plate.

So far so good, but what if…

Their approach to the problem/task is doomed to failure from the start. You know,Tangled without doubt, from painful personal experience, that the approach they’re proposing will fail. What do you do?

Let’s get the obvious out of the way shall we? The goal of delegating is to get tasks successfully completed and put to bed. If a proposed solution isn’t going to do that, then we need to change the solution, otherwise we won’t meet our original goal. Fair enough. This is a given. No surprises here.

But… that doesn’t preclude accomplishing all this a little bit later, so that some serious learning can take place first.

There’s a qualifier here. An important one. If you can’t afford a failure at this time… then we have to use the very best solution we’re aware of, and do that now, not later.

But if we can afford a failure… then let the employee try out their idea. Let them fail. They’ll learn far more by having a pet idea fail, that you’ll ever be able to teach them. It’s called ‘the learning moment’ and they’re as rare as hens teeth and worth their weight in gold.

Here’s what happens if you ‘force’ them (persuade/convince/cajole etc.) not to use their idea, but to use yours instead. They’ll succeed (maybe), but their idea will still exist in the back of their head. They won’t truly believe that their idea was wrong, all they’ll have learnt is that your idea didn’t fail… this time.

Affordable failures are priceless opportunities.


Entry filed under: Delegating, Management, Managing, Problem Solving, Project Management.

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