The Buck Stops Here


If you've already started our Love 'Em or Lose 'Em Alphabet Blog Series, please skip to "B is For Buck". If this is your first time reading this blog, welcome! If you’ve read Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em (LELE), you’re familiar with the alphabetized list of employee retention strategies Sharon and I offered to managers back in 1999. While the alphabet hasn’t changed in the intervening years, a lot of other things have in addition to writing a 6th edition 20 years later.

As I was putting the finishing touches on the 6th edition, a friend asked, “Bev, what have you learned from the LELE ABCs?” But I decided to try answering her question -- and it turned out to be the best therapy session ever. Some of you may think this suggests admirable introspection on my part and I’m grateful for that interpretation. But – full disclosure – I was motivated as much by curiosity as by self-improvement. So, having made that admission – and at the risk of sounding like a Sesame Street puppet – I’m going to talk about the letters!

B is for Buck

In the Love 'Em or Lose 'Em alphabet, “B” stands for “Buck” – as in, “When it comes to managing talent, the buck stops with the manager.” I absolutely believe that. However, I also believe that not all bucks stop there. In fact, if I were writing a note-to-self on the topic, it might read, “The buck stops here, but...” Let me explain.

Few people know this, but I have long suffered from a career-threatening syndrome known as “ABSH” -- “All Bucks Stop Here.”  Those who suffer from ABSH believe they have no choice but to assume responsibility for every buck that raises its ugly head. Now, as a “thought leader” in the area of employee management and retention, one might assume I always practice what I preach. Au contraire! Though I always prided myself on NOT passing the buck, over time I came to recognize – with the help of a few disgruntled colleagues – that I should actually pass it more often than I do. And that I needed to differentiate between stopping the buck and hoarding the buck, passing the buck and delegating the buck.

Hoarding the buck is similar to stopping the buck, but it’s dangerous. It occurs when a manager subscribes to the notion that, “If I don’t do it, no one else will” – or worse, “No one can do it as well as I can.” I have been known to suffer from this and can attest to its virulence and lingering effects -- futile attempts to do everything, misplacement of bucks, work overload, husband (!!!) and general irritability. My advice: Don’t hoard the buck.

Delegating, on the other hand, while similar to passing the buck, is better but not as easy.  Or involves entrusting a task to another person. Delegating engages employees. It gives them an opportunity to demonstrate talents that may go beyond the limits of their job and to acquire cross-functional experience, blah, blah, blah. I knew all that! But I saw delegating as a crime against nature – at least against mine. And as a manager, I had all kinds of excuses for not doing it. Fortunately, I also had my alter-ego, author and “thought leader” Beverly Kaye, to counter my assumptions. A few examples:


I can’t delegate because…


Try this:

  • I’ll have to spend time bringing her up to speed anyway.
  • Give her the basics and the career-building opportunity to figure it out!
  • There’s no one to delegate to.
  • Jeez! You’re a manager in a major metropolitan area, not a contestant on Survivor!
  • I don’t have the time, energy, talent, or resources to do this now.
  • Then don’t. Put it in the “Not Now and Maybe Not Later Either” folder.
  • The buck stops here.
  • Not always!

Good advice, Bev. The truth was that I didn’t know whether I could trust someone else to do what I knew I could do better if I only had the time, talent or resources. For me, trusting was a risk that ranked right up there with climbing Everest in winter. I won’t burden you with the details of how I overcame this fear, but I will say that my Mom was right – “The only way to learn to trust is to trust.”

Now, having made the argument that all bucks don’t have to stop with the manager every time and that delegating is not the same as passing the buck, let me finish by also differentiating between passing the buck and pausing the buck – a practice that got me into trouble during the last recession. Like so many business owners, I was faced with the need to “let my people go” – and I did it as unwillingly as the pharaoh.

I kept asking myself, “How can I let anybody go? I wrote the book on retention!” But, after a couple of heart-wrenching weeks, a colleague pointed out to me that I was “pausing the buck” – a potentially more troublesome practice than passing it. Specifically, my delaying was causing “death by a thousand cuts” to my people – and to my savings. She was right. Pausing the buck was stressful for them and financially draining for me. I had to “stop the buck” and “bite the bullet” – to coin a mixed and misbegotten metaphor.

So, to summarize, though adhering to “The buck stops here” admonition is probably good management advice generally, I’ve changed the sign on my desk to read…

The buck may not always stop here, but it definitely starts here and it’s up to me to figure out what to do with it.