Stop doing that: How to take job duties away from an employee
Tuesday, May 16, 2017
Which is more difficult: taking work away from an employee or giving her additional work? For any manager who has tried to reallocate responsibilities among staff, it is clear that taking away work can be just as difficult as adding it.
Here are three reasons employees may want to keep their responsibilities and when and how to take them away.
Not letting go
A classic cliché in government offices is that employees hold onto their work and never teach anyone how to do it to ensure they have job security.
But it's a cliché for a reason, as many long-tenured employees feel they have created the systems and only they know how to do it exactly right. It would clearly take too long to train someone else — and after all, why should they?
The underlying question being, if I give this up, what will I do next? In such cases, it is imperative to get the institutional knowledge out of that employee's brain and into a procedure manual and, ideally, another employee. It is a risk to have possibly decades of knowledge locked in one brain.
But how do we get that employee to let go? Explain to him why his expertise makes him the perfect person to write the book on this procedure and that this is the next natural step in his role. The change will more accurately reflect his status — moving from the doer to the teacher, or player to the coach is a sign progress and respect.
Comfort and confidence
Similarly, some employees just fear change. There is a lot of comfort in having confidence in what you do every day. For those of us who were around when computers became commonplace at work, it was an amazing challenge to teach staff — not because computers were difficult to use, but because it was such a significant change.
Constantly challenging the status quo and forcing employees out of their comfort zone can create a tense and exhausting atmosphere. Even in the most progressive tech startups, employees have clear roles and are challenged to think at the boundaries within those parameters.
To ensure the right balance of creative thought and avoiding employees being stuck in a rut, consider the benefit to the business. What is the value of getting that employee to push his personal limits? Is it about the employee or the role? Fear of change, something new, learning something?
Taking it personally
One response that often shocks managers when we are trying to streamline or otherwise improve an employee's responsibilities is defensiveness. This is a clear indicator that communication with this employee may not be consistent and positive enough.
Taking away a job duty — even if it is in response to the employee's complaints of being overwhelmed — may be met with offense. Did I do something wrong? It's something an intern can do?
Employees are offended that they did something wrong or not well and that no one told them this whole time. In such cases, if it makes sense to remove the duties from the role, then do it; just be sure to overcommunicate the reasons why.
The bottom line: As managers, we must use our knowledge of the role, the person and how the combination of the two affect the business to inform our decisions and fully impact our approach to communicating the change.
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