Make Them Cry “Uncle!”

My boss and mentor used to chastise me.  “Pile work on your staff until they cry ‘uncle’ ” she would say.

Is that really a valid management technique?  Sounds a bit draconian. “Not at all,” she would counter.  “You don’t really know if they are working at full capacity until you give them too much work to handle.  Then ratchet back a notch from there.”

I understand the idea in theory, except work-avoiders will simply cry uncle as soon as anything is added.  At the other extreme some employees will never admit defeat and will work themselves almost to the point of illness.  So my opinion is that this technique is too crude.

We all know who our top performers are.  When they get a new job they organize and prioritize the tasks.  They let you know where the problems are.  They might point out that a task done manually should be automated, and they’ll proceed to do just that.  They’ll let you know when they can take on more responsibilities.

Once the job is organized and efficient, pass it on to a lower performer.  Short of hiring an efficiency expert, I have found this to be a not-completely-crazy way to evaluate poor performers.  When you start having to take tasks away from a poor performer, or you have to write them up for missing deadlines, you at least have hard evidence that you are not loading them up with an unrealistic workload.

I have usually told staff that job rotation is “cross-training.”  In fact my motivation was usually to find out if Mr. or Ms. Complainer was truly overloaded as they claimed.  I’m not sure if my behavior falls into the “wimpy boss” category or not.

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