The one with the grocery shopping

At some point in the last few months I heard a great quote. I have no idea where I heard it but if anyone has any suggestions then I’d appreciate it… The quote comes from a veteran of American Football management Bill Parcells. He managed several teams and has an impressive record including 2 Superbowl wins.

The quote goes:

“They want you to cook the dinner; at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries. Okay?” and according to Wikipedia refers to conflict Parcells experienced with the team’s owners and the impact it had on player selection.

On hearing the quote my mind immediately went to recruitment and how much of ‘a say’ HR should have in those being recruited by the organisation. The challenge I think arises in the overlap between the accountability placed on the HR team to deliver recruits and the accountability of the line manager to actually manage the employee to deliver once they’ve been recruited.

There’s a post all of it’s own probably on where the accountability/responsibility of a recruiting function ends and whether HR is try to enforce control or support the line manager in hiring the right person for their role. I’ve worked with managers who had an instinctive gift for spotting talent and likewise I’ve worked with managers who were overly focused on getting a pair hands to think through if they were the right pair of hands. As I said probably a whole post in itself…

However, on reflecting on the quote a little longer my thoughts switched to autonomy and how empowering managers and leaders in organisations actually are?

The balance between operational trust and task control is a fine line at times and I know from personal experience when the pressure’s on I can slide at varying rates towards control. I know there are people I’ve worked with who appreciate the clarity when the stakes are high but also colleagues who could have gladly punched me in the nose (god bless the disciplinary procedure) in order to get me to but out.

Where does supporting your team meet being a control megalomaniac? Where does the need to manage your own anxiety and need to feel in control neuter your team to the point they are merely carrying out instructions? Most importantly, how effective can you be at doing your own role if you spend all your time doing your team’s jobs for them?

It’s a challenge I admit – and in the spirit of openness, one I fail at as often as I succeed but as with many of these things the wonders of self awareness can of course help. Also giving your team permission or actually outright challenge to push you back when you are being a control freak and unempowering them to the point of inertia.

I remember running a workshop a few years ago and one of the topics covered was delegation. I had written a slide entitled something like “The Four Challenges of Delegation” (grandiose I admit) and asked the participants what they needed to do with each of the following: Responsibility,  Authority, Control and Accountability. Much debate ensued.

Where we landed (as planned) was to give responsibility, to give authority, to retain control and share accountability (the individual was accountable to you whilst you remained accountable to the wider ‘them’). One of the participants asked quite earnestly “how can you retain control whilst giving any responsibility?” and they won the $64,000 question award…

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “The one with the grocery shopping

  1. Retain control of the process or the people?

  2. More of an $18Bn question if you look at the latest news on the civil case against BP for the gulf of mexico oil spill ( http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/oilandgas/9121264/US-to-press-on-with-18bn-BP-lawsuit-despite-settlement.html )
    Failures in the three way relationship between BP Transocean and Haliburton were at the root cause of the disaster according to the Presidential Oil Spill Commission. They said “the blowout occurred in large part because people … relied on many ambiguous dotted line relationships within and between the companies and personnel involved” and “What the men and women who worked on Macondo lacked – and what every drilling operation requires – was a shared culture of leadership responsibility”.
    Sharing control is hard but its an essential leadership skill.

  3. Thanks for the comment David – I think the BP situation will be filling case studies for a long time to come yet!!

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