A Gopher Won’t Get You Very Far

A Gopher Won’t Get You Very Far

At some point, we’ve all woken up and realized that we have more things to do than there are hours in the day. In fact, it’s likely most of us wake up with this thought every single day. Whether we’re at home or at work, we often find ourselves delegating tasks and depending on others to help us accomplish them. However, to achieve the best results, it is important to consider how we delegate and who we delegate to.

Gophers Versus Stewards

There are essentially two approaches to delegation management: task delegation and process delegation. When we delegate tasks we often create what is known as a “gopher,” or the people we send off to “gopher this” and “gopher that.” They will complete parts of the task, report progress at intervals and confirm when a task is complete.

Task, or “gopher” delegation, is very often the least effective way to get things done simply because each task must be painstakingly explained and every small detail confirmed before the task is finally completed. In fact, this type of delegation can often be the equivalent of a never-ending training session.

In contrast, if we delegate a process, we create “stewardship.” Instead of transferring a single task to a person, stewardship involves transfer of ownership of an entire process. This level of trust and empowerment not only allows us to expand our vision and the completion of more tasks, but also instills a sense of ownership and pride in the person we are delegating to.

A Real-World Example of Stewardship in Action

Here’s an example of how well process delegation can work compared to task delegation. My nine-year-old son wanted to earn some money and suggested mowing the yard. My wife and I exchanged glances, neither of us too keen about him using a sharp-bladed machine, and we calmly suggested we think of something a little less dangerous. So we decided to give him the responsibility of maintaining our pool.

That weekend, I walked him through checking the water level in the pool, testing the chemicals in the water, emptying the skimmer and cleaning the filters. From that moment on, the responsibility was his. Three months later, the pool has never looked better.

In stark contrast, my neighbor allowed his son to take on the duty of mowing his lawn, but neglected to tell him about the process involved, such as using the trimmer, the blower and putting down fertilizer. Needless to say, several months down the line, we still hear them arguing every time the son “mows” the lawn.

Final Thoughts

I’m not advocating that the stewardship model will work for every position in every organization. However, if you’ve surrounded yourself with corporate gophers, not only will you not get very far, but the ground may come right out from under you.