For a manager, it is important to make sure they assign right jobs to right employees. However, at the same time, it is also important to make sure he/she doesn’t come across as unfair or biased while doing such allocations. These are seemingly contradictory requirements, but it is possible to take care of both of these most of the time.
To do this, first of all, the manager has to figure out the criteria that will be used for job allocation. If there are unique roles in the group that is being managed, this is not an issue because it is well known who can do what, and employees self-select into jobs. However, many organizations have generalists, or have many specialists (10 senior software design engineers for example). In these cases, having a criteria is a must. It is also important that this criteria be known to everyone in the team. Here are some of the criteria I have seen used:
Whoever has time to do it (as understood/identified by the manager).
‘Most challenging job’ to the ‘smartest person’, both of these subjective evaluations done by the manager
Random – whosoever asks for it, or whosoever the manager sees first (believe it or not, it is very common)
What I have seen work is a mix of first 2, with a healthy dose of transparency and teamwork. What I mean by transparency and teamwork is this: let the team decide on both of these subjective criteria: who has time and who has not (remember, an interesting/career-enhancing job creates time in most people’s calendar!), and who is the best suitable for the job. Involving your team in doing person-job mapping everytime may seem impractical, but it pays dividends in long term.
This works best if you already have regular team meetings set up, you can then use this meeting to give information about new opportunities and explain the pros and cons of picking it. Here is how I have seen this work well (example job is that of competitive product analysis)
You announce in the regular team meeting that you have been asked to get a competitive analysis done for your product in next 2-3 weeks and submit to business unit manager. You also explain that this data will be used by product managers and some execs to decide what new products to launch and what to drop, thus this will be a big visibility item. However, anyone who does it will likely have to spent quite a lot of time since deadline is short and work is large. You also mention that you want to decide on this by next week’s team meeting, and anyone can apply for this.
Ideally, if your team is motivated and career-conscious, you will get some inquiries for more details in the same meeting, or right after that. If neither happens (or even if it happens), you should walk around and try to get some people interested (including those you think might be suitable for this job). However, make sure you do not set this up as a competitive sport, but instead like initiative-taking and shared leadership opportunities.
In the next meeting, schedule some time to discuss this topic. Explain more details and ask if anyone is interested, and if so, why do they think they will do a good job. This may bring in more questions, insights and clarifications which others may respond to as well, thus sparking some good discussions. Either way, you will get a good sense of who will have time and will be good fit.
After the meeting, reflect on the discussion, make up your mind about the assignment (after all, you are accountable for this task and hence you have to decide carefully), and talk to the person to make sure he/she is fine with this. You should also explore the possibility of making this a team work and get some (or all) of others who expressed interest involved in the job. Whatever your decision is, make sure you communicate clearly to the team.
Most managers, once they have done it a few times with their teams, come to understand the strengths and interests of their reports well enough to take shortcut to this process, and do some of these steps in informal set ups (talk to those who are likely to pick this up from strength or interest perspective and not bore everyone in the team with this). However, to make sure new interests and newly discovered strengths are taken care of, it is always a good idea to do this with entire team once in a while. This is also a good way to understand the strength and interest map of your team, and over a long period, this can be used to plan your leadership development and even succession planning.
What has worked for you as a manager when you have faced this situation? As an employee, do you think you like this approach more than what is currently being followed in your company? I will be interested in hearing your comments.