Half-baked managers fail to pass on their skills

Let me start by confessing how much I enjoy food.  I enjoy watching programmes about it, reading about it, anticipating it, cooking it and yes, I love eating it.  So, it was inevitable that sooner or later food would somehow creep into my writing about management.

Two food-related things happened recently that got me thinking about why managers don’t pass their skills on to their staff.  The first was reading the article A National Tragedy – What Teens Aren’t Being Taught.  In this, the author Denny Coates said that despite being a gourmet cook, his mother-in-law had not taught his wife how to make even the simplest meal.  The second was watching one of my guilty pleasures, Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares USA.  In this particular episode (season 5, episode 7), a father seemed reluctant to teach his son how to cook in the family-run Greek restaurant.

We can only speculate why the mother did not pass on her culinary skills, as the reasons were not explored in the article.  Perhaps she didn’t want her daughter to encroach on her territory, or maybe the daughter felt no need to learn because her mother always did the cooking.  As for the father/son scenario, in true Kitchen Nightmares’ tradition, it took a lot of drama and an emotional showdown before we discovered that both parents felt their son lacked commitment following a monumentally insensitive comment he’d made several years before.

In management, failure to pass on skills or develop staff in other ways is a recipe for disaster.  Managers end up working themselves into the ground, becoming less and less effective; staff become increasingly dissatisfied, with the best leaving to find somewhere that will provide them with opportunities for growth; and organisations end up stagnating, relying on a limited pool of expertise and failing to keep up with the competition.

In many ways, the reasons why managers fail to develop staff are often the same ones that explain their failure to delegate.  Some of these are very logical: when you’re busy, it’s quicker to do something yourself than take time to explain what’s needed and provide the necessary ongoing support; and when the quality of the outcome is important, it’s safer to do it yourself than risk disaster by handing over to someone without the necessary skills.  Sometimes your doubts about the commitment or attitude of the people you manage may be entirely justified.

There could however be other factors at play: you enjoy doing whatever it is and don’t want any disruptions; you enjoy the feeling of being indispensable; you’re a control freak who can’t bear not to be involved; you fear your staff may actually turn out to be better than you; you’re afraid that if they become more skilled they’ll leave.

Whatever your reasons for failing to develop your staff, it’s worth remembering that teaching other people to cook doesn’t diminish your skills in any way.  It allows you to be more selective about when you do so, keeping you fresh for those special occasions when your particular signature dish is required, and giving you time to experiment with new recipes.  And as your protégés gain skill, they will bring exciting new dishes to the table, ideas you never dreamed of but which enhance your reputation as well as theirs.

All these food metaphors have made me hungry – anyone for a little snack?