Managerial Discretion: Its Privileges and Obligations

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managerial discretion

Credit for this article’s topic goes to Steve Cobb, Chairman of Henny Penny who shared with us this idea during a workshop that we recently did with his executives. An hourly employee stuffing sausages at a sausage factory is expected to put in 40 hours a week and get paid for 40 hours of work. Occasionally, if the supervisor wants him to work extra hours to meet a deadline of sausage shipments, the hourly employee might agree to do so and be paid overtime. When the hourly employee takes time off or goes on a vacation, he expects somebody else to be stuffing sausages while he is gone and does not expect a backlog of sausages to be stuffed left at his workstation. In contrast, most – if not, all – of you that read this article simply put in the hours needed – often, more than 40 hours a week – to get the job done. You have managerial discretion to prioritize your work and schedule it based on the combined needs of the business and your personal life. There are privileges and obligations that come with that discretion. There is value to underscoring both the privileges and obligations to your exempt employees and management.

I once sent an email to a group of employees in the office, expressing my frustration at a behavior that I had observed. These employees had total freedom in their work hours. They could come and leave at any time. They could take time off whenever needed. They had unlimited vacation time. Each of them had individual responsibilities, much of which was self-imposed and self-managed. All they had to do was to make sure that their work got done and do a good job of it. Yet, I observed that every afternoon they all left at the same time, around 5 pm. This bothered me. Did they all come to a reasonable closure on their day’s work at the same time? Did it just coincide with 5 pm? Or were some of them tired at 4 pm and did not feel comfortable simply calling it quits for the day? Likewise, did some of them have pressing work beyond 5 pm and did not feel obligated to stay late and get it done? Did the en masse departure – and, that too, at 5 pm – indicate a lack of comprehension of the privileges and obligations of managerial discretion?

So, what are those privileges and obligations? In contrast to a sausage stuffer that is expected to stand in a production line and stuff sausages, management has considerable discretion on the hours they keep, the quality of their work product, and the scheduling of that work. They decide when the amount of research they have done or data they have collected is adequate to make the decision. They decide when the report is good enough to be shipped out. They decide what needs to be done now and what can wait, or even simply ignored. If they need to attend to a sick child or leave early for their child’s baseball game, they do so and manage the impact. If they choose to work from home one day to get that project completed, they do so. With all that privilege come obligations. You are expected to err on the side of higher quality in your judgment of what is good enough. You are expected to work late, take work home in the evenings or work on weekends to ensure that critical projects are completed on time. You are expected to take on that extra workload when the unexpected happens, even though you already have a full workload. You define your hours not by the clock but by the work that needs to get done; and, it is always more than what the clock says.

work_hoursWhile the privilege gives you a lot of freedom, the obligations impose a workload that adds up to more than 100% of your time. And, the higher you rise in management, the more your privileges and your obligations, resulting in greater disparity from 100%. We have tried to provide a rough idea of that disparity in the adjacent picture. Is it fair to expect management to spend much more than 100% of a work week on a regular basis? Is this a recipe for burnout? Should this expectation be implicit or should leadership explicitly discuss this expectation with management? Would an explicit conversation lead to problems and resentment? If executive leadership does not exhibit this practice, can they expect lower level management to do so? In a private company with an operating owner, can the owner expect this behavior without he or she walking the talk?

We believe that management needs to fully understand this concept by cherishing the privileges and rising to the obligations. Top leadership raising awareness of these privileges and obligations will cause management to become intentional.

via Balaji Krishnamurthy, LogiStyle, LLC

Balaji Krishnamurthy

Chairman, –Think.Shift. has been recognized by TIME,CNN, Wall Street Journal and other national publications for his unique and innovative style of corporate leadership. TIME magazine included him in their list of 25 Global Business Influentials for his influence on corporate leadership. Unlike most consultants, he is an operating executive with 30 years of experience as a corporate leader in both large and small corporations, during which he has personally modeled his innovative leadership principles. Food for Thought is our way of sharing interesting concepts on corporate leadership and management with others who might find it useful. The thoughts offered are intended to be controversial and thought provoking. They are intended to help our readers intentionally realize their potential, what we call Potentionality.

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Chairman, –Think.Shift. has been recognized by TIME,CNN, Wall Street Journal and other national publications for his unique and innovative style of corporate leadership. TIME magazine included him in their list of 25 Global Business Influentials for his influence on corporate leadership. Unlike most consultants, he is an operating executive with 30 years of experience as a corporate leader in both large and small corporations, during which he has personally modeled his innovative leadership principles. Food for Thought is our way of sharing interesting concepts on corporate leadership and management with others who might find it useful. The thoughts offered are intended to be controversial and thought provoking. They are intended to help our readers intentionally realize their potential, what we call Potentionality.

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Last modified: September 23, 2014

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