Dotted line reporting results in poor work, staff burnout, and turnover: it assumes employees can tell their two bosses they can’t carry the double workload. But redrawing the line re-routes the capacity management responsibility to the senior managers, where it belongs.
See Chart A. Let’s all say a prayer for Sally. She reports to Meredith (nice, but busy) and she also has a “dotted line” relationship to Jason (also nice, but busy and not as well organized).
It’s Friday at 2:00 p.m. Sally gets an email from Jason: “I need you to help with the Acme Widget report next week. It’s due Thursday, and we need the graphs and tables done by Tuesday.” Now, Sally’s already got 40 hours of work scheduled for Meredith next week, but whoever drew the dotted line assumed Sally is comfortable telling Jason, “No, I’m too busy.”
Well, that’s naïve. First, Jason, like any senior manager, has enormous power over Sally. He can criticize her to Meredith, he can insist she come in on the weekend, he can yell, he can comment negatively on her performance evaluation. The reporting relationship is of utmost importance to employees. It must always be singular and simple.
There’s another reason dotted lines are naïve. Sally can’t predict her workload nearly as well as Meredith and Jason can. They’re getting information she doesn’t see: other projects, other problems, other people. It’s precisely because senior managers can see farther and wider that they should be given the responsibility for allocating work. Let’s revise our previous story:
See Chart B. It’s Friday at 2:00 p.m. Because of new pressures, Jason now needs 10 hours of support to meet his report deadline. He emails, not Sally but Meredith: “I need 10 hours of Sally’s time next Monday and Tuesday. Can you help me out?” Meredith replies, “Yes, I can” and does so. Then she emails Sally (copying Jason) to say, “I’ve freed up your Monday and Tuesday next week so you can help Jason. I’ve let everyone know and changed other assignments and deadlines. You’re a great team player!”
Wow, all that planning and managing seems hard for Meredith and Jason. Yes, it is. But they get paid twice what Sally gets paid.
So, if you think someone can split their time, do these things:
- Don’t kid yourself about workload and capacity.
- Have the skills to forecast time needed from all your staff.
- Draw the dotted line through the manager’s box, making them responsible for managing time.
And ensure everyone has five hours of spare capacity every week because you never know what can happen.