When Managers Delegate, Employees Get Promoted

BY Tim Londergan
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The job description of today’s manager is unrecognizable to anyone from the 1980s. Remarkably, the role of manager is now one of people leader. Likewise, a former overseer of tasks is now a performance coach. Also, setting goals and making annual assessments has been replaced by providing guidance and digesting feedback. These sweeping changes mean many of today’s managers feel frustrated and exhausted. That is the finding of the authors of a recent article entitled Managers Can’t Do It All in the Harvard Business Review.

While defining four waves of change over three decades, the authors illustrate the managers’ dilemma. Ultimately, the shifting priorities and the increased responsibility can be too much to bear, and managers should be ready to delegate. Fortunately, this act can alleviate stress and help those employees whose goal is getting promoted.

Getting promoted assures employee retention and builds morale

The multiple benefits of delegation can be widespread. First, those employees who possess the traits required to handle additional responsibility can be justly rewarded. Second, managers are fluidly moving their team to wider opportunities. Third, fellow team members can be encouraged to step up if getting promoted is in their plans. Finally, managers relieve themselves of extra duties and can focus on their many other priorities.

Managers in the middle of a looming crisis

Diane Gherson and Lynda Gratton, authors of the article, conducted research on 60 companies and found “unanimous reports of frustration and exhaustion” among managers. Further, they cited a Gartner report from 75 human resource leaders. This study reported 68% saying their managers were overwhelmed. Sadly, “only 14% of those companies had taken steps to help alleviate their managers’ burdens.” In a cautioning statement they allege, “We have closely observed the changing job of the manager, and we can report that a crisis is looming. The signs are everywhere.” Therefore, managers are wise to seek relief on their own, and delegation may be the safety valve.

Understanding how we got here

The authors deliver a convincing diagnosis by examining the evolution of the manager’s role. Personally, I recall a former sales manager who was steeped in the tradition of the industrial age. For example, his attention was on employees’ time of arrival and departure and passing information down from on high. Lateral career moves were acceptable but there was little chance of getting promoted. Stubbornly, this manager saw his role as overseeing work, and he was incapable of empathy or career coaching.

Loss of power, demand for skills and changing structure

Life got harder for managers when teams got larger and responsibilities got wide. They were expected to dedicate themselves to projects and customers. This, the authors explain, was the wave of process reengineering in the 1990s. Digitization followed, which gave upper management direct access to information and people further undermining managers’ power.

Managers lost touch with their reports in the wave of agile movement, according to the authors. This initiative, adopted in the mid-​2010s, focused on project teams and rotating supervisors. Employees with the goal of getting promoted had numerous managers to broker their careers. Finally, the pandemic brought forth flexible work. With employees no longer tethered to a physical workplace, managers lost control over their performance and behavior. Liberating for employees but burdensome for managers, remote work made it more difficult to engage and retain talent.

It's no wonder managers are overwhelmed, frustrated and approaching burnout. They are expected to weather the storms of change and yet maintain the status quo of productive teams. Through the loss of power, the demand for additional skills and the changing structure of the workplace, managers are expected to achieve their objectives. However, delegating responsibilities to others who want to be promoted can be a solution.

Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash