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Stop Doing Other People’s Work Because It Saves Time

My senior had the worst life when I was on his team. I interrupted him every two seconds with one question after another…

after another…

after another…

He was a new senior who had his own workload while managing another associate and an intern, but whenever I asked a question, he'd tell me, “Email me the workpaper, and I'll fix it.”

I can understand his temptation to fix my crappy workpapers himself. It seemed easier and faster –- it was his third or fourth busy season on this client -– he could blitz through tasks that took me significantly more time. Soon, though, this guy was doing both his work and mine. Because cleaning up that sloppy cash rec? Definitely not the work of a senior associate.

While I was trolling GC worry-free and waiting for the senior to fix my mistakes, my senior still had his own set of modules to audit (which he couldn't finish thanks to my constant interruptions), plus my screwed up spreadsheets to fix, a bunch of PBCs piling up, and a manager on his back who wanted to begin reviewing. Every so often I'd ask him, “So, did you have a chance to look at my rec yet?”

I really didn't know any better – I was a first year just following directions. However, saying “Just email me the workpaper, and I'll fix it,” like this senior did, is a common management mistake according to Ken Blanchard, author of The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey. In his book, Blanchard describes the exact situation my senior was in: “going home feeling that you’ve spent the whole day doing jobs on other people’s 'to do' lists instead of your own” and feeling “that you're doing more but accomplishing less.” My senior was doing the job of a senior –- overwhelming in and of itself –- plus the job of a first year associate.

Blanchard explains why saying “Just email it to me. I'll fix it myself” to your subordinates is an issue:

The problem may have been part of your [A1]’s job, and [s]he may have been perfectly capable of proposing a solution.  But when you [offered to fix her tieout yourself], you volunteered to do two things that [Leona] was generally expected to do as part of [her] job:  (1) You accepted the responsibility for the problem, and (2) you promised [her] a progress report.  Just be sure it’s clear who’s in charge now, your [A1] staff member will stop in on you several times the next few days to say, “Hi!  How’s it coming?”  If you haven’t resolved the matter to [Leona]’s satisfaction, [s]he may begin to pressure you to do what is actually [her] job.

My senior, in his attempt to save time, was essentially doing the work of two people -– because he thought saying “Just send me the workpaper -– I'll fix it” was the easiest solution when I asked questions. Meanwhile, he could barely finish his own workload, and I'm sure he felt completely overwhelmed.

What else can a senior in a situation like his possibly do, though, to shift the work back onto the A1?

First, cut the interruptions. Of course A1 questions are inevitable (stupid N00bs), but you can cut down the frequency of interruptions for sure. Give the young, eager, A1 Leona her section. Tell her to write down any questions she has for you, and then agree touch base in 30 minutes or an hour (or if she gets absolutely and totally stuck). That way, you can focus and audit your own modules for more than five seconds at a time, and she has time to think through any questions she has. Maybe she'll even figure them out on her own in that thirty minutes.

Second, when you do meet after thirty minutes, let that A1 fix her own mistakes. You'll probably spot the mistake right away, and the urge just to fix it yourself can be so strong. However, once you show her why the cash rec doesn't tie, have your A1 fix the cash rec herself –- that's her job, not yours.

Another example of “taking on work that isn't yours” is the senior I knew who changed fonts and tick marks on every workpaper the A1 added to the file. Who has time for that? Ain't nobody got time for that. If the fonts and tick marks are really an issue, tell the A1, “I noticed your fonts and tick marks aren't consistent. Can you go through the file and fix it?”  Put the burden back on her -– fixing tickmarks and fonts on her workpapers is her job, not yours. Don't just think to yourself, “I'll rewrite the tickmark legend myself.” As an overwhelmed, overworked, underpaid, and overburdened senior, you have enough of your workpapers to finish.

Shifting the workload appropriately rather than saying “Email it to me. I'll fix it myself” is important. As Blanchard says, “Nobody wins when you take care of other people’s [work]. You become a hassled manager and don’t feel very good about yourself.” Additionally, your staff of A1s and interns will become  even more “dependent upon the boss,” which means you won't have a free five seconds to finish your own modules because you'll be answering a constant volley of questions.  By teaching your staff to manage their own workpapers, you can effectively redistribute the workload and hopefully create a better-trained and more efficient team.