Category Archives: Delegation Skills

How to Set Context With Your Team

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I hear you say that management is about setting context. I think I understand what that means, but I do NOT understand how to do it.

Response:
Culture is context. Setting context is the prime objective for every manager. Context is the environment in which work is done. Work is making decisions and solving problems. This is fundamental managerial work. Three moving parts –

  • Communicate the Vision. This is the future picture of a project, picture of a product in a package, the output from a service. This is what a clean carpet looks like.
  • Performance Standard. This is the what, by when. This is the objective in measurable terms. This is the goal – QQTR, quantity, quality, time (deadline or evaluation period), resources. The vision is full of excitement and enthusiasm, specifically defined by the performance standard.
  • Constraints. There are always constraints and guidelines. Budget is a constraint, access to resources is a constraint, time can be a constraint. These are the lines on the field. Safety issues are always a constraint. When the project is finished, you should go home with all your fingers and toes.

That’s it, then let the team loose to solve the problems and make the decisions within the context. Do not make this more complicated. It’s always about the fundamentals. -Tom

What to Delegate, What to Self-Perform?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
Here is what I have noticed about levels of work. When a leader works at a lower (incorrect) level, he/she actually destroys value in the people on the team. The team becomes frustrated and honestly sometimes, lazy, because the boss will come in and do the work anyway.

Response:
Most managers have difficulty delegating because they don’t understand the level of work in the task. Identifying level of work tells the manager specifically what tasks can effectively be delegated and what tasks must be self-performed. In the delegation, level of work tells the manager what decisions, authority and accountability can reasonably be expected. This understanding allows managers to engage in higher levels of system design, planning and problem prevention.

How to Destroy Development Opportunities

“You will never, ever get what you want,” I was calm. “You will only get what you focus on. How will you focus? You think you can determine your future, but you can only determine your habits and your habits will determine your future. How can you build focus into a habit?”

Meredith replied. “I know what my business plan lays out. My goals are well defined. There are three. I will print those out, on card stock, tape them to the bottom of my computer screen. So, when I feel compelled to get buried in my email, those objectives will stare me down.”

“And what is the first of those three goals?” I asked.

“It’s funny,” Meredith smiled. “Develop my two lead technicians to take over supervisory tasks so I can focus on our system of production. And, every time I follow-up on a project detail, I destroy a development opportunity for my lead technicians to follow-up.”

Onward Thru the Fog

Eduardo was hanging up the phone when I arrived. I could tell he was puzzled.

“It’s funny,” he said. “This is the third time I have explained things to my Ron, but it just doesn’t sink in. For two years, he was doing great, but now, he seems to be in a fog.”

“You are Ron’s manager?” I asked. Eduardo shook his head.

“Yes, in fact, he was a good hire. We started him in a little office with only two people. He grew it to six, now he is at twelve. Somewhere along the line, he lost it.”

“Alcohol, or drugs?”

“No, I don’t think so. He is too conscientious for that,” Eduardo observed.

“But he seems to be in a fog? Tell me what has changed in the past year, going from six people to twelve people.”

Eduardo looked to the far corner of the room, picturing the changes before he described them. “It’s like Ron was supervising the work pretty well, but now he is one step removed. He is now managing a couple of supervisors. Maybe that’s the problem. He is too far away from the what he knows how to do?”

“Is it a matter of skill, something he can learn, or is it a matter of capability?”

Outbound Air, Levels of Work in Organizational Structure, by Tom Foster, is now available for Kindle, soon to be released in softcover.

Outbound Air

Keep the Key, Delegate the Key

“So, you are telling me the key-ring has nothing to do with keys?” I asked.

“No more than an open door policy has anything to do with the door,” Ryan replied. “I had to figure out what tasks I need to self-perform and what is necessary to delegate to other team members.”

“And, how do you make that decision?”

“Ultimately, I am accountable for the output, as the manager, but who completes the task depends on the task. I make that decision based on the target completion time. If the target completion time of the task is short, like a day, a week, or a month, the task is a candidate for delegation. If the target completion time of the task is longer, like a year, it may be necessary that I remain heavily involved.”

“So,” I confirmed, “whether you keep the key, or delegate the key depends on the time span of the task.”

The Key Ring

“Why did you think it was so important to give the key ring to someone else?” I asked.

“Because the key ring was a distraction,” Ryan explained. “People would come to me and ask for the key to the tool room, where we keep the calibration equipment. I loved when people asked my permission to gain access to the tool room.”

“Sounds like a powerful position,” I observed.

“And, I discovered that, as long as I had the key ring to all the doors, then people would continue to ask my permission. To the point, where I could not spend time on more important things.”

“What happened?” I wanted to know.

“As long as I had the key ring, I was the bottleneck in every decision. And while that bottleneck grew, I ignored my real priorities.”

“So, you could not keep the keys AND do your job, at the same time?”

“No,” Ryan said. “I had to assign the key ring to a more appropriate person.”

“What did you learn?”

“I learned that the key ring was just a symbol for power that had little to do with effectiveness. And sometimes the key ring had nothing to do with keys. The key ring had more to do with decisions that should have been made at a different level of work, a more appropriate level of work.”

“And?” I pressed.

“And, so I have to constantly look for the key ring, I am holding, that I really need to let go.”

Hidden Power of Delegation

“So, how much time do you want to save?” I asked again.

“It’s going to take me an hour to complete the task. If I can delegate it, it will save me one hour. That’s how much time I want to save,” Roger replied.

“Pittance,” I said.

“Pittance?” Roger didn’t understand.

“If all you are going to save is one hour, then you should complete the task yourself.”

Roger sat upright, a little surprised. “But, I am supposed to delegate more. My manager has been encouraging me for the past year to delegate more. Now, you are telling me I should do the work myself.”

“If you think, all you are saving is one hour, then, what’s the point of delegating. I am looking for leverage from your role. I want you to save one hour and get five hours of productivity. I want you to save one hour and get ten hours of productivity. Twenty hours, fifty hours. You will never get that kind of leverage if you think delegation is a time management tool.”

“But, you said that delegation was my most powerful time management tool?” Roger protested.

“It is,” I responded. “But, it is also your most powerful people development tool. If you think about delegation as time management, you will only gain one-to-one leverage. To get one-to-five, or one-to-twenty, you have to think about delegation as a people development tool. That’s the real power of delegation.”

Running Out of Gas

“I know,” Roger replied. “The reason I don’t delegate more is that I don’t have time to teach the skills in the task. If I stop to teach, the ordeal will take 45 minutes and I will still have to do the work over, anyway. If I just do it myself, I can finish the task in 15 minutes and get on to the next thing.”

“Roger, the last time you took a road trip, did you run out of gas?” I asked.

“Well, no, of course not,” he chuckled.

“But, you were excited about getting on the road, likely in a hurry to get to your destination. Why did you not run out of gas?” I pressed.

“I stopped to fill up before I left town,” his chuckle disappeared.

“As a manager, you don’t have time to teach someone how to complete a task. It’s like running out of gas on a road trip because you didn’t have time to fuel up.”

Roger was silent.

“Why did you fuel up before you left on your road trip?” I wanted to know.

“Because it’s necessary,” Roger’s face was turning red. “It would be stupid to run out of gas because you didn’t have time to fill up.”

“The reason you don’t delegate, is because you haven’t made it necessary in your life as a manager.”

The Problem with Delegation

“How much time do you want to save?” I asked.

“I want to delegate this project because my manager told me that I needed to delegate more to my team,” Roger explained.

“Why does your manager want you to delegate more?”

“He thinks, and I agree, that I have too much on my plate. I work too many hours and many things don’t get finished. My manager thinks if I delegate some of my projects, that more things will get finished.”

“So, what’s stopping you from delegating more often?” I wanted to know.

“The things I have to do are complicated. I can’t just dump them on someone, they won’t know what to do. They will do it wrong and I will have to come back and fix it anyway.”

“Really?” I looked surprised. “Here are some other reasons you don’t delegate –

  • Your mother told you if you wanted it done right, you had to do it yourself.
  • You don’t trust your team.
  • No one on your team is competent enough to complete the task.
  • Your team members are already overworked.
  • You don’t have time to train someone to complete the task.
  • Your team will resent you dumping more work on them.
  • You will lose control.
  • You will have to actively manage other people, when you have difficulty managing yourself.

Open Door Policy Has Nothing To Do With The Door

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
A bit frustrated. My role dictates longer time span strategic projects, but I continue to get pulled into tactical issues on smaller pieces of that project, or tactical issue on other people’s projects. I find myself often saying “what does our process say the next step should be?” or pointing back to our documentation to find the facts. I have to stop, interrupting focus on my own project segments. How does one balance these interruptions without coming across as “that’s not my job” to address tactical daily activities?

Response:
Two things necessary. First, you have an interruption problem. Second, as a manager, you have a coaching problem.

1. Interruption problems. Do you remember when you were a student in school and had to take that final test on Friday morning? So, late Thursday night, you settled down to study for the test? You know, right after Thursday Night Football? Because you procrastinated to the last minute, you had to make sure you got in some quality cram time. And you did some things that you can adapt to today’s situation.

  • You asked your roommates to take the keg of beer down to the other end of the dorm so you would not be tempted.
  • You told your other roommate to take a hike.
  • You took your phone off the hook (remember when phones had hooks).
  • You hung a shoe on your doorknob, a signal to all that you were busy and not to be disturbed (usually a signal for other activities beside studying, but a signal nonetheless).
  • You went to the library because no one would ever think to find you there.

These same strategies can be adapted to make sure you capture large (enough) blocks of uninterrupted time.

  • Put a sign on your door that you are in a meeting, not to be disturbed.
  • Communicate with your team that they need to cover all phone calls and visitors for the next three hours.
  • Relocate, find a spot where no one will find you (temporary, of course).

You might think that might communicate your inaccessibility (it does), but remember that an open door policy has nothing to do with the door.

2. Which brings me to your second problem, coaching. In a managerial role, it comes with the territory, get over it. And, yes, you can manage it. Set aside specific blocks of time for “office hours,” and specific appointments for 1-1s for each of your team members. This dedicated time can be controlled by you to prevent interruptions when you are working on your projects.

It may seem painful to help a team member walk through documentation, but it won’t take long before the team member knows how to walk through the documentation without you. This is not a “not my job” attitude, this is mandatory for all managers to bring value to the problem solving and decision making of the team member. And you don’t bring that value by providing all the answers. You bring that value by asking effective questions.

Now, close your door and get back to work.