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Hole in Three management

Many managers consider management to be a Hole-In-One game.

A Hole-In-One game is a game where participants try to win as soon as possible and make no progress in case of a loss. 

Conversely, a Hole-In-Three game is a game where participants choose their strategy to optimize their chances of succeeding in three attempts. The point of the first and second attempts is not to win but to create progress so that the third shot is almost certain to win.

Managers who consider management a Hole-In-One game delegate to get things done, and neglect any other effect of delegation than whether the task got done. Over the short term, this is great! But over the long term, it becomes problematic, as the subordinate’s skills hardly grow.

Conversely, wiser managers consider management a Hole-In-Three game. When they delegate a task to a new employee for the first time, they do so not (only) to get things done but, more importantly, to build skills, trust, and engagement. They know that if they do this well once or twice, by the third time, the employee will be ready to tackle way harder tasks and perform them with more autonomy and effectiveness.

When you delegate a task as the first shot of a Hole-In-Three game, what matters is not much the outcome of the task, but whether – after working on the task and after receiving your feedback – your subordinate is more likely to be engaged in the execution of the next task you delegate and more able to complete it with effectiveness.

So, how do you delegate as part of a Hole-In-Three?

Here are a few rules of thumb:

  • Pick a task small enough to feel actionable and to have a short feedback cycle but not so small to feel insignificant. Think of it like how video games calibrate the difficulty of their levels. Each level is hard enough so that it feels a bit of a challenge but never so hard that the player gets frustrated, nor so easy that they get bored or learn nothing.
  • Give specific feedback on how they did the task. Highlight both the good and the bad. The more specific you are, the more your employees will feel that how they do things matters and will pour more effort into the next task.
  • Be sincere while giving feedback. If you are fake, they will notice. On the other hand, you want your feedback not to feel discouraging or micromanaging. This is why the first point (choosing a task of the right difficulty) is so important! If you choose a task that’s too easy or too hard, giving feedback that grows your employee’s skills and engagement will be harder if not impossible.

Remember: the point of Hole-In-Three management is to play the first and second shots to win with the third. It’s to delegate not only to get things done and to give feedback not only to correct behavior but, more importantly, to develop the skills, trust, and engagement that will make your employees more effective.

Of course, not all situations are suitable for Hole-In-Three management. There are moments when you just need to get things done. But if you never think about your people’s development, you will severely limit what they can get done in the long term (and, therefore, what you can get done in the long term).


Note: you might be interested in my effective delegation workshops.

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