Exodus is the second book of the Bible, and it chronicles the life of Moses and his leading the Israelites out of Egypt. The book is home to two of the most famous stories of the Bible; Moses parting The Red Sea so the Israelites could escape into what is believed to be modern day Saudi Arabia, and Moses receiving The Ten Commandments directly from God on top of Mount Sinai.
But as I was reading Exodus recently, I came across another story that I thought was interesting, even though it obviously lacked the historical importance of the two more famous stories. It is estimated that Moses was leading approximately two million Israelites out of Egypt. After crossing the Red Sea, the group stopped in Midian, where Moses met with his father-in-law, Jethro.
One day, Moses began the day by hearing disputes and fielding questions from the Israelites. Jethro was dumbfounded that Moses was spending all day fielding questions and complaints from two million people! Moses explained that they come to him with questions about God’s will and laws, and Moses explains how God wants them to act and Moses works to be a mediator for disputes, etc.
Exodus chapter 18, verses 17-26 details what is likely the world’s first example of management training, as Jethro explained to Moses how to better manage dealing with two million people’s disputes and issues at one time:
17 So Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing that you do is not good. 18 Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself. 19 Listen now to my voice; I will give you [h]counsel, and God will be with you: Stand before God for the people, so that you may bring the difficulties to God. 20 And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do. 21 Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. 22 And let them judge the people at all times. Then it will be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they themselves shall judge. So it will be easier for you, for they will bear the burden with you. 23 If you do this thing, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all this people will also go to their place in peace.”
24 So Moses heeded the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said. 25 And Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people: rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. 26 So they judged the people at all times; the hard[i] cases they brought to Moses, but they judged every small case themselves.
The great matters still came to Moses, but all the small matters were delegated to others. And I love these qualifications that Jethro described for the men Moses would select: Men who fear God, who are of truth, and who hate covetousness. This ensures that the men in charge of handling disputes at all levels will be fair and objective.
This whole episode reminds me of an early work experience I had. During college, I worked night shift at a warehouse that filled retail orders big box brands. Normally, the night shift only had myself and a few other workers. But during the Christmas season, we were much busier, and we often had to bring in temporary workers to help fill the Christmas orders.
I remember one time, our tiny shift of around 10 people ballooned up to a full shift of around 200. And yours truly was put in charge. The majority of these workers were temporary workers who had no experience working for us, and we had no experience working with them. So I had to put people into roles with little or no idea how qualified they were to fill those roles. It was truly trial and error.
I quickly realized that I couldn’t manage a shift of 200 people by myself, so as much as possible, I split the larger group into smaller groups, utilizing many of the same concepts Jethro had advised for Moses. So I went from having to work with 200 individual workers, to dealing with maybe 10-20 who were each overseeing a smaller group.
Another issue we faced was we were running multiple departments at once, a packaging group, a shrink-wrap group, a group for shipping, etc. There were many different jobs that needed to be carried out. What I noticed was that some workers simply didn’t want to work. Some of these workers were simply lazy, but often, it was simply a case of them not being interested in performing that certain task. As much as I could, I would move these workers to another task in another department, and often their productivity would greatly improve. In fact, I started moving workers around to have them perform multiple different functions, then I would go back to the workers and ask them which task they preferred. As much as I could, I would then move each worker into the role performing the task they most enjoyed. This also greatly increased productivity.
The core lesson here to delegate authority as much as possible, and put that authority into the hands of co-workers that you can trust. No one should have to handle all the troubles present within a group, it takes a village.