Law Of Diminishing 'Managerial' Utility

Most of us have learnt about Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility (LDMU) in our college days. To put it simply, it means that, as we start consuming, the utility of the commodity decreases. To bring in an analogy, the 10th bite of your favourite sweet dish will not give you the same amount of 'happiness' or 'delight' that the first bite did!

Coming to the topic, can the relation between a manager and his team be mapped similarly? Can the 'relevance' of a manager be kept away from diminishing over a period of time! Can it be 'commoditised' and measured the same way as a utility of any consumable product?

Btw, it is not about the manager being 'good' or 'bad' or the subordinates being good or bad… My theory is that, all other things remaining constant, the 'relevance' of a manager diminishes over time!

As a manager, when you take charge of a team, you put in your best efforts. You are out there to prove your value and to prove that your recruiters were right. You obviously pick the "low hanging fruits" first, solve them and get some quick brownie points among your team members.

You exhibit your decision making skills, listening skills, empowering skills and try to tick all the right boxes en route. If you are at least an above-average listener and have a decent authority to implement certain stuff, you will come out with flying colors during this phase (and will be accorded with a perfect 10 on 10 score by your team members).

Photo by Jo Szczepanska on Unsplash

Few months down the lane, when there are no more "low hanging fruits", is when your real acumen as a manager will be put to test. This is the stage when your conflict resolution skills (of course your team members will have conflicts — within themselves and with you), putting a vision for the team, your ability to take some tough decisions and above all, your ability to clear roadblocks for your team will be judged. In this phase, not everyone will be happy. Some will appreciate, some will not-appreciate-but-understand and some will outrightly be furious. Your score will vary from person to person and it flatly depends on whether you have been of any 'utility' to them!

The toughest time for a manager is when the team fully understands your 'utility' — what you 'can' and 'cannot' do for them; in essence, when they fully understand the 360 degrees of your personality and capability. There are no more 'surprise' factors from there on!

To continue the analogy, its similar to having tasted several bites of your favourite sweet dish and you know exactly what ingredients have gone into making the sweet dish. At this stage, there are no more additional 'flavors' to surprise you. That's the break-even point. Your 'utility' is benchmarked!

So, how can a manager keep up with the expectations and not follow the law of diminishing utility curve? Even as it is almost certain that the curve is going to be downward trending, is there any way to flatten it out a bit and to stay relevant for a a slightly longer duration? How can you as a manager stay relevant and an integral part of a demanding team and not have them roll their eyes at the sight of you?

Not as easy as it sounds, but here are some tips that could help you command the same respect for a longer duration!

Open/Candid discussions & feedbacks — As cliche as it sounds, it is utmost important to have open and candid discussions with your directs to understand what aspects of you is still appreciated and what aspects are suffocating to them. If you are able to understand what you need to 'STOP', 'START' and 'CONTINUE' from your team, it will help you reprogram yourself. Having said that, be prepared for contradictory feedbacks coming from your team — for ex: One might ask you to be more serious and the other wanting you to be a bit more chilled out :) …

Reinventing yourself — Once you have the feedback in front of you, it is now time to try to reinvent yourself. Again, it is easier said than done. Right? How can you behave differently than what you have trained yourself your entire career. For ex — having worked your entire career as an early-to-office-early-to-home, would you appreciate the millennial way of coming-late-and-working-till-midnight (or not coming to office at all and preferring to work out of a Cafe Coffee Day)? Would you comfort yourself and continue to be the "old school" type or really put in effort to be counted one amongst the "millenials" by acting, dressing and behaving like one?

Old habits die hard and believe me, that is where your team will have majority of feedback about you! You would, in fact, feel a sense of Deja Vu, when you are receiving feedback from your colleagues/team members.

Growth & Delegation — A growth phase ensures that everyone will be busy and when you keep delegating more responsibilities to your directs, they will be busy in discovering themselves. As a team, you will spend more time chasing the moving goal posts than to take a break and think how each one is performing and how relevant they are to each other. By nature, the growth phases will ensure enough challenges that will reflect your newer / undiscovered personality aspects to your team and vice-versa. The challenge is that, you cannot artificially induce a growth phase! But if you are in one such phase, count yourselves lucky because LDMU will not hit you hard.

Internal Mobility — As someone rightly said, if you cannot 'change' the manager, then change the 'manager'. Similarly, if you cannot 'change' the team, then change the 'team'. When you opt for internal mobility, you will have a fresh team, with fresh set of objectives to chase and fresh set of challenges. This will bring out skills that are either not explored earlier or will ensure you become more seasoned by repeating what you have done well in your previous role/team.

Expectation Setting & Unwritten Agreements — At the end of the day, its a blessing to be working with the same team and team members over a continued period of time. The comfort level and understanding developed over a longer duration, will help you focus on the work rather than being in a continuously 'adapting' phase. And thats exactly the point. To be having the 'comfort level' and 'understanding' that makes the Law of Diminishing Managerial Utility Curve to be a bit more flat. Expectations settings and having some unwritten agreements with the team will help you establish your utility. The leadership qualities in you will help you make that utility relevant over a period of time.

Hope you found this write-up useful. Will look forward for your thoughts and your experiences on how you managed to tackle the law of diminishing managerial utility!



I like blogging about Indian Politics, Management and other interesting things in general. My political opinions are typically biased towards right of centre.

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Rajasimha Karanam

I like blogging about Indian Politics, Management and other interesting things in general. My political opinions are typically biased towards right of centre.