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June 16, 2003
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Overnight Delivery

The HR daughter and fourth-year medical student, Rachel, called excitedly last week to report that she had delivered her first baby! Even though she had been working for 31 hours straight with only a few hours sleep, I could tell by the excitement in her voice that something extraordinary and wonderful had happened.

I heard many details about what happened, although not any reference, dear HIPAA Compliance Officer-readers, to the name of the patient. This was a time of celebration and satisfaction in knowing that Rachel was there, knew what to do, was part of a strong team and had prepared for contingencies.

I later recognized that the elements are the same ones that make any project successful. This includes those far less dramatic achievements we see every day at work when we imagine a particular outcome, develop a plan to make that outcome possible, anticipate possible problems and symptoms of trouble we might encounter, and prepare for likely contingencies. The result of this process will very likely translate into a successful project!

Our work "project baby" will, hopefully, be delivered on time, within budget and will achieve what it was designed to achieve. Our hard work would have paid off as we leave at the end of the day to catch up on our rest. We can feel satisfaction and excitement about what we have helped accomplish.

The attending physician in the OB/GYN unit said to Rachel, "Now that you have delivered your first baby, you’re a real doctor!" Not quite true, although the milestone is significant. The reality for a teacher in a medical school, or a mentor at work, is the fact that our job as an executive is often to encourage other people to accomplish their goals, sometimes through constructive criticism, and to be ready with recognition and praise when they are successful.

When a project is assigned to a new employee, especially one whose career is just beginning, it is also important for the mentor or supervisor to recognize that a very big part of their responsibility is "just to be there" in the case of a question or a problem. Arguably, that is the major role of a physician during childbirth.

For millions of years, babies have been born to people who are not members of HMOs and who had no attending physicians or medical students in sight. The outcome, despite the lack of sophisticated high-tech health care support, is overwhelmingly successful.

Before we get too arrogant as supervisors, it’s a good thing to look back and remember that often our main job is to get out of the way of other people and enjoy watching their success without micro-managing it. "Just being there" Just being ready to intervene if absolutely necessary is very important. Knowing when not to intervene and letting a person grow from experience and sometimes take a reasonable risk is equally important.

Whether the subject is delivering a baby, preparing a staff report on a new project, or helping a manager deal with something new, such as an employee disciplinary action, the need to be ready to help without overwhelming or frustrating the efforts of a colleague is a delicate balance to be learned through experience not necessarily gained in a classroom. It is an art to be practiced consciously. Achieving this managerial balance between encouraging a subordinate to risk and excel versus just jumping in, taking over and running the project, is perhaps the best marker of a seasoned supervisor and manager.

Years later, the baby just delivered, the new project just approved by the elected officials, or the brand new subordinate just out of school may come back and pay you a visit so you can see first-hand the achievement you helped to deliver.

All the best wishes for speedy delivery of results.

Phil Rosenberg
The HR Doctor


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