Category Archives: Delegation Skills

Toughest Thing for a New Manager

“Lawrence, you have been a manager now, for how long?” I asked.

“Two months. It’s really different, but it seems like a lot,” he replied. “Not only am I doing all the stuff I was doing before, but now I have new stuff to do on top of that.”

“Who said you were supposed to keep all the tasks you were doing before?” I wanted to know.

“Well, my boss said I was still responsible for scheduling the people and making sure the materials were ordered. He said if we didn’t meet our daily targets, my butt was still on the line,” defended Lawrence.

“Okay, I understand. And does that mean you are the person who actually has to make up the workload schedule?”

“Yeah, but if it’s wrong, I am still in trouble.”

“Lawrence, do you have to create it to make sure it is right, or do you just have to check it to make sure it is right?”

Lawrence knew the answer, but it was difficult for him to say it. The toughest thing to do, as a new manager, is to stop being the supervisor.

Deadline to Finish and a Deadline to Start

Nicole was exasperated, “I try to delegate, but I always seem to end up with the project back in my lap.”

I was curious, “Tell me what kinds of things do you try to delegate?”

“Some small stuff, but I really try to delegate projects or phases of projects. These are significant responsibilities, not just petty stuff I am trying to dump off.”

“Nicole, when you delegate a project, how does the conversation sound?”

“I don’t know, I get with the person, hand over the file and give them a deadline. I always give them a deadline.”

“So, where do you think the breakdown is?”

“Even though they know the deadline, I don’t think they start fast enough. Or they need help, but don’t even know they need help because they didn’t start the project early enough to find out. Then it ends up on my desk, half finished or half assed, one of the two.”

I pressed for a different approach. “Nicole, what one thing should you change to get a different result?”

“Maybe I should frontload an extra meeting within 24 hours of the delegation to make sure they started the project and to find out what problems they have.”

“Indeed.”

Don’t Fix It, Prevent It

Most managers got where they are being good under pressure, reacting quickly without flinching in the face of adversity. Most managers get their juice operating in the red zone.

The best managers are most effective by sensing pressure before it builds, preventing blow-back that requires extraordinary effort (and overtime). They don’t flinch because they meet adversity early on when there are lots of options. The best managers stay out of the red zone through planning, anticipating, cross-training, delegating and building bench strength in the team.

It is not extraordinary effort that makes a great manager. It is ordinary effort looking forward. It is not heroically fixing a catastrophe, but creating a sensitive feedback loop that prevents the catastrophe in the first place.

A Shell Game for Amateurs

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You talk about time-leverage. You talk about working one hour to gain two hours productivity. How does that work?

Response:
No manager can afford to work at a time ratio of 1:1. Working one hour to gain one hour’s productivity is a shell game for amateurs. Even working managers need a significant focus on time-leveraged activity. How does a manager work for one hour and gain two hour’s productivity, or work one hour and gain five hours productivity?

The central element of leverage comes from delegation. With a five hour project, rather than do the work yourself, try this –

  • Call a 20-minute meeting with three of your team members.
  • In the meeting, you describe your vision for project completion.
  • Describe the performance standards for project completion (including quality and time frame).
  • The rest of the twenty minute meeting is a discussion of the action steps and who will be responsible for what.
  • Schedule two follow-up meetings (ten minutes each).

As the manager, you end up with less than one-hour of meetings, while your team members work five hours to complete the project. You work one hour, you get five hours of productivity. Ratio (1:5).

Here’s is the challenge, what does (1:10) look like? I consistently work with executives whose goal is (1:100), one hour’s work to produce one-hundred hours of productivity. How about you, what is your ratio?

Gain More Control

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You say, your challenge, as a manager, is to work less and gain more control. Easy to say. Hard to do.

Response:
Management is a mindset. Levels of work help us understand that management is not about working more, or working harder, it is about working differently. Delegation is all about working differently.

In every role, there is a level of problem solving and a level of decision making. When Marshall Goldsmith says “What got you here, won’t get you there,” he is talking about a different level of work.

When Albert Einstein says “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it,” he is talking about a different level of work.

Elliott Jaques‘ research on levels of work makes this management advice concrete. Intuitively, we understand levels of work, but only when Jaques defined levels of work related to time span, did we get some useful direct insight.

The time span of the goal defines the level of work. In a technician’s world, goals range from a day to three months. In your role as a supervisor, or first line manager, your longest time span objectives range from 3-12 months. Any task that is shorter is a candidate to be delegated.

In your role as a manager, your longest time span objectives range from 12-24 months. Any task that is shorter is a candidate to be delegated.

What is left? It is those longer time span tasks that make up your role as a manager. It is only when you have effectively delegated shorter time span task assignments that you will get more throughput and more control over the quality of the output. -Tom

Level of Work – Time Span Objectives
S-I – 1 day to 3 months
S-II – 3 months to 12 months
S-III – 12-24 months
S-IV – 2-5 years

Mindset of the Magic Pill

Several years ago, I told the story of the Magic Pill. The Magic Pill is prescribed to every manager and prevents them from working more than 40 hours in a week.

I can hear the protests already. No way you can get all your work done in 40 hours a week.

The Magic Pill is a mind-set. Forty hours a week is a mind-set. Of course, managers work more than 40 hours a week, but the point is the mind-set. If you worked 80 hours in a week, would you be able to get all of your work done? The answer is no. The work of a manager is never done.

The point of the Magic Pill is two-fold. First, when you get tired, exhausted, burned out, your effectiveness drops off dramatically, down to zero. But the most important part of the Magic Pill is to work differently. The role of a manager is not the same as the work of a team member.

Let me tell you about the Super-Magic pill. It only allows for 10 hours of work in a week. If you took the Super-Magic pill and only worked 10 hours a week, what would you have to change to work effectively?

No, I am not kidding. I am as serious as a heart attack (the one you will have working 60-70 hours a week). -Tom

Work Less and Gain More Control

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
Sometimes, at work after hours, it is quiet and I ask myself, why am I here? I should be home with my family. But, there is still so much to be done. And if I don’t take care of some loose ends, something critical will blow up tomorrow. I feel guilty, responsible. But, the harder I work, the more things seem out of control.

Response:
You are not the only manager thinking that thought. This is a self-inflicted wound.

So, you have to think if something doesn’t change, about the way you manage your team, what will happen? What will happen in another week? What will happen in another month? What will happen in another year?

You likely feel tired every morning. You stopped working out because I don’t have time. You feel like a cold is coming on. And you still feel out of control.

This is counter-intuitive. You feel like you need to work more. My suggestion will be to work less.

  • Determine the work that is necessary to be done.
  • In the work that is important, determine the level of work that is necessary for you to work on and the level of work that is necessary for your team to work on.
  • Stop doing the work your team should be doing. Assign the work and spend your time coaching instead of doing.

You are a manager, not a technician. The more you work, the less control you have. Ask yourself this question – If I were to work less, how could I have more control?

Must Become a Habit

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I feel like I am in big trouble. I was just promoted to manager. So, I understand I am the one who is supposed to make all the decisions, and that I am accountable for all the results.

But, it seems like I have to make up all the plays, call the plays, take the snap, throw the football, catch the football, and run for the touchdown. I am a bit overwhelmed.

Response:
Did you forget to block? My guess is you worked over the weekend and logged about 60 hours last week. Your manager probably told you had to delegate, but that has not been in your nature, you don’t have a habit of delegating.

Delegation is more than a series of steps –

  • Selecting the task to delegate.
  • Selecting the person to delegate to.
  • Holding a delegation meeting.
  • Describing the purpose and vision of the completed task.
  • Describing the specific performance standard, goal or objective.
  • Describing the guidelines, constraints, budget, access to resources.
  • Creating the action plan.
  • Setting the interim followup.
  • Evaluating the execution.

Delegation is a mindset. Your first question is not how something should be done, but who? Yes, you have the accountability for the outcome, but you have to accomplish it in a whole new way. And, delegation must become a habit. Over and over. Again. -Tom

A Shift in the “Why?” of Delegation

“I know I have to actually delegate something to make progress,” Ruben confirmed. “But I get to work, things start to happen and before you know it, I am up to my elbows in problems.”

“Tell me what you want to happen,” I prompted.

“It’s not what I want to happen, it’s one thing after another. For example, I can take you through yesterday, minute by minute and you’ll see what I’m up against.”

“I believe you could take me through, minute by minute, but explaining what happens doesn’t change things. Tell me, Ruben, what do you want to happen?”

“I want to be a better delegator.”

“Now, change one element of your thought. Change want to necessary. It is necessary for you to be a better delegator.”

Ruben looked at me with lizard eyes.

“Why is it necessary for you to be a better delegator?” I asked.

“So, I can be more effective?” Ruben floated.

“No, it is necessary, because if you don’t delegate, you can’t play the role. And if you can’t play the role, then we have to find someone who can. That’s why it is necessary for you to become a better delegator.”

The Practice of Delegation

“I’m a little disappointed,” explained Ruben. “Disappointed in myself.”

“How so,” I asked.

“Since I was promoted to manager, everyone said I should delegate more stuff. So, I tried.”

“What have you tried?” I prompted.

“Well, I bought three books on delegating. I finished one and I am reading the second.”

“So, what’s changed, for you?”

“Nothing really. I mean, they are really good books, but I still do everything myself.”

“Ruben, delegation is a skill, a skill that can be learned. Every skill has two parts. The first part is technical knowledge. That’s the stuff you have been reading about in those books.”

“What’s the other part?” Ruben asked.

“The other part is practice. You actually have to get out there and practice. I really don’t care how much you know. I am interested in what you can do.”