The First Book of Management

Chapter 10 - Bob vs. Bob

Not everyone I have delegated to has worked out as well as Roy did. You can’t always tell without trying it. Obviously you would ideally build up steadily, from small easy jobs to big important risky projects, developing your confidence in them and their belief in themselves. If only life was always that simple. What if you have got a really important task and you can’t decide whether to delegate it?

The answer is Grip.   I

learnt this from ‘Big’ Bob Smallcombe, who had hands like shovels and an immensely powerful mental and physical presence. You didn’t want to upset him. He delegated a lot, but he always maintained a grip. So although you were doing the job, he knew how it was going, so he could still sleep at night.

Have you ever been driving your car at night along a dark country lane and switched off your headlights, just for a couple of seconds? The tarmac and the hedges are inky black as you speed through them, and the moonlit sky is then lighter than the road. Then you switch your lights back on and the road is once again lighter than the sky. You correct for the slight drift off course that has happened during your moments in the darkness. By the way: Don’t do this! It’s dangerous!  

But the serious problems only happen if you switch your lights off for too long at one time. If you keep putting them on occasionally you can stay on the road. When driving you can probably only switch your lights off for a second or two. With a project you may be able to leave it for a month without checking. To put it another way, you only need to check it once a month in order to keep it on track. It depends how quickly the person doing it might drift off track. This is the essence of Grip.

If Bob thought you might drift, maybe because the project was more difficult than the ones you were normally accustomed to doing, he would keep a tighter grip - getting you to report progress to him every week, or even every day. You were doing it, but he knew what was going on, and was there to get you back on track (in a constructive not a criticising way) if necessary. Sometimes he had to help, but he never got any surprises.

If a person proved themselves he would reduce the tightness of grip - maybe even as far as “Let me know if you get behind schedule” or “Only tell me if there’s a problem you can’t handle”. This gave Bob more time to do other things, and gave you the motivation of having your own project that you were trusted to do.

He kept a chart of sickness and absence on his office wall. His supervisors were responsible for filling it in for their people, red for absence, green for sickness, but it was in Bob’s office so he had grip. They were doing it, he knew what was going on.  

If you promised him you would do something he would always ask “When will I get it” and would write your answer in his diary. Then, on the date you had promised, he would be there, asking if you had done it. Heaven help you if you hadn’t, because not only had you failed to do the job but you had also failed to be able to estimate how long it would take you. He would ask for a new date, write it down in his diary, and this time you would stick to it!

There was one person who didn’t like being gripped. He was also called Bob - I’ll call him “Slippery Bob”. He was in charge of Electrical Projects.  

If you asked him when a job would be ready he’d say “All in good time - it’s got to be done right” or “I’m running it, don’t you trust me?”. …Slippery! If you asked him how a job was progressing he’d say “Fine”.

His game was that if you wanted to interfere then he’d ask you how you wanted to run it. “Over to you. You tell me how you want it done” and he knew full well that nobody else understood the electrical stuff. So you would have to give in and say “OK then I’ll leave you to it.” He was too cunning for me, and nearly everybody else.

The only person who could beat Slippery Bob was Big Bob.

Big Bob would have a meeting once a week where Slippery Bob would have to report on progress. Failure to turn up would get Slippery Bob in big trouble. At the meeting Slippery Bob would have to report on each project - was it still on schedule or not? Big Bob didn’t want to know the detail, and certainly didn’t want to tell Slippery Bob how to do his job - he just wanted to know if the job was on schedule.  

He wouldn’t take “It depends” for an answer. He used his authority as the boss to demand an answer. He couldn’t force you to do the impossible and guarantee a date, but he could force you to give him your best estimate. And giving accurate estimates is one of the things that managers are paid to do for their bosses, so they have to do it. If it was late he wanted to know what you were going to do about it. So Slippery Bob had to give estimates, and then had to keep to them.

Slippery Bob was doing the job, and Big Bob could sleep at night.

So I learned from Big Bob Smallcombe

Message number 10: Delegating can’t go wrong if you maintain a suitably tight grip
Next Page
Chapter 1   - The Captain Of The Ship
Chapter 2   - Wandering About
Chapter 3   – Difficult Jack
Chapter 4   - Dr. Evil
Chapter 5   - Knowledge is Power
Chapter 6   - Destruction
Chapter 7   - A real friend
Chapter 8   - Teams from Hell
Chapter 9   - Dangerous Roy
Chapter 10 - Bob vs. Bob
Chapter 11 - Own Goals