I am a department head. I really try to be a good manager of people, but I often encounter one phenomenon that sets me back and makes me forget everything I learned in management training classes.
Whenever I give some work to someone on my staff, that's the last I hear about it.
I can't spend all my time checking up on their progress; besides, that would contradict the whole idea of delegating. After all, delegation should free up your time, not consume more of it.
How can I get out of such a situation?
You must really remember that you are the boss.
What that means is that you get to -- and must -- set the norms of expected performance and conduct for your staff.
If you want them to get back to you at certain stages of their work, you need to specify that to them. If you don't inform them, your people will invent their own rules of conduct, much to your frustration.
Think through exactly how you want to work with your subordinates when you delegate work to them. Specifically, when do you want them to report back to you? Once you arrive at a conclusion, spell out your expectation clearly and specifically each time you delegate a task. Keep at it until your working style becomes second nature to you and all of your employees.
A reader comments: "As one who retired after more than 30 years in personnel administration, I find your column a good way to keep in touch with what goes on in today's workplace.
"We used to say that personnel problems never change, just different people get involved, and every one of them has to learn the same old things through their own experience.
"The right way to handle many difficult situations could come right from the Bible -- that book is a manual for personnel procedures and leadership.
"I, too, believe that human beings have remained basically unchanged through the centuries and that the nature of work remains largely the same, whether it is performed with plows or with computer terminals.
"Consequently, 'management' lessons can be found in many old books. I recently saw Shakespeare's 'Henry V.' I couldn't help thinking that Henry's conduct would make a good example for any modern manager -- from being a superb role model to 'managing by walking around.' "
I am getting a promotion. I'll be heading a department in a different city.
Although I have many years of experience in our business and at our company, the work they do in the new department is somewhat different from what I've been doing.
What do you recommend I should do -- on my first day, during my first week, first month and during the next two months?
The overall role I recommend you play is that of the student. Use this initial period, while nobody is expecting you to do anything very dramatic, to learn about the department, its work and its people.
So, on the first day, go around and introduce yourself. Meet your new subordinates, find out where they work and what they do.
During the rest of the week, set up meetings with them where they would follow up and explain to you in more detail what their jobs are and what their most important problems are. Take careful notes of what they tell you. These sessions will provide you with an invaluable base of knowledge.
During the next month, visit with the "customers" of your department. Find out how they see your services.
What problems do you cause them? Where could you help them?
Then, as the months progress, start developing your own agenda for managing and improving your new department, based on the amalgamation of what you found out from your employees and your customers.
A few weeks ago, I answered a question from a woman who found herself in a sticky situation. A woman friend of hers had been having an affair with a highly placed man in the company. When the affair broke up, both parties leaned on the writer for support.
The writer told the man she would be loyal to him, figuring that she could placate both sides. She got caught at this game and found herself in trouble.
I wrote that she had contributed to the mess in which she now finds herself and that she should take charge of the situation and set straight both her conduct and others' expectations of her. I got a fairly violent rebuttal from a union shop steward:
"A typical male comment. Where do you get off telling the individual who wrote you that she shouldn't be righteous because she contributed to 'this mess'?
"I see no deceit on the part of the woman who wrote in. I do, however, see that her male friend made quite a spectacle of himself. That man would certainly no longer be my friend. The individual who wrote to you should have gone straight to the union, if they had one, or to a lawyer if they didn't.
"You gave her lame advice and, in accusing her of being the guilty party, you really showed your colors."
I hope my answers usually show my true colors. I do believe in people handling their workplace problems themselves, directly, in a straightforward fashion, with those individuals who cause their problems.
I tend to regard third parties -- union representatives or lawyers -- as a last resort. I recognize that it's easier to run to a third party than to face the people with whom you have problems. But the easiest approach is not necessarily the one that leads to the best outcome.
One must recognize that such third parties have their own interests and agendas -- after all, they are in business themselves. Consequently, they may act, by instinct, to enlarge conflicts rather than resolve them.
Andrew Grove is chief executive of Intel Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif., and an author and lecturer on management. Please send questions to him in care of the San Jose Mercury News, Business News Department, 750 Ridder Park Dr., San Jose, Calif. 95190.