Category Archives: Delegation Skills

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.”

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