From the Ask Tom mailbag:
What are your thoughts on management that attempts to be so effective with controls that they create an element of fear within employees – paralyzing them when it comes to making independent and discretionary decisions? A side effect of that is when questioned, explanations are seen as being defensive rather than attempting to communication future solutions.
Some companies, some managers believe that, inside every task assignment, all duties are meticulously prescribed by the manager and all decisions are reserved for the manager. This belief is naive and if enforced, will fossilize the organization into rigid inaction. If every decision is reserved for the manager, normal workflow will become bottlenecked at that point, pressure will build and something will break. Managers cannot be everywhere at every moment, even managers have to sleep.
Managers (organizations) fall into this trap because they have little (or no) understanding of the difference between prescribed duties and discretionary duties. Understanding this difference, measured in Time Span begins the journey to effectiveness, for the manager, for the organization.
Prescribed duties are easy to understand. Prescribed duties are part and parcel of every task assignment. Where there are prescribed duties, there are few (or no) decisions surrounding the task. But every task carries some discretionary duties. It is those discretionary duties (discretionary decisions) that are appropriately placed in the hands of the team member. So, what’s the difference, between prescribed duties and discretionary duties?
A technician running a CNC machine (cutting metal) may have the prescribed duty to cut ten pieces of metal according to specification prior to noon. That task is prescribed, no discretion.
However, if the machine begins to make an abnormal noise, we have to depend on the discretion of the technician (not the manager) to shut the machine down. And not all abnormal noise requires the same decision. The technician, knowing the noise, may need to shut the machine down immediately, after the current cut or at the end of the shift. It is a discretionary decision based on the noise.
So, the prescribed duty, ten pieces, according to spec, cannot be modified by the technician. Shutting the machine down, based on an abnormal noise, is absolutely within the discretion of the technician.
When managers understand this difference, magic begins to happen.