Category Archives: Delegation Skills

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.

Does Delegation Save Time?

Emily was already in the conference room when I arrived.

“So, what’s the purpose for delegation?” I asked.

“That’s easy,” Emily replied. “To save me time. I have a lot of stuff going on.”

“And if you are able to effectively delegate, what does the team member get out of it?”

Emily looked puzzled. “Well, I guess.” She stopped. “I guess, maybe, that they learn something new.”

“Good, learning is good. What else?” I probed.

“Well, new. Something new would be more interesting. Maybe learn a new skill. Maybe a sense of accomplishment, pride?”

“Good. Now tell me, Emily, do any of those things have anything to do with time?”

“Well, no.”

“So, what do they have to do with?”

Emily was tracing the conversation. “Learning, interest, new skill, accomplishment, pride. Sounds like learning and development,” she finally concluded.

“So one purpose for delegation is to save you time. Delegation is your most powerful time management tool, and it is also your most powerful learning and development tool.”

What is the Purpose for Delegation?

“So, you have selected something to delegate?” I asked.

Marion nodded.  “Yup. I know you have been telling me that I had to get something off of my plate.”

“Why did you pick this project?”

“You said to pick something.  This project will take me about an hour.  I can delegate it, save myself an hour,” she explained.

“So, the reason you want to delegate this project is to save yourself an hour.  You have traded one hour for one hour.  That’s a one to one leverage of your time.  Not good enough,” I challenged.

Marion furrowed her brow.  “What do you mean, not good enough?  How can I trade an hour for more than an hour?”

“If your purpose for delegation is just to save some time, you will always trade one hour for one hour.  My challenge to you is to trade one hour and get ten hours of productivity.”

“One hour for ten, how do you do that?”

“While delegation can be a powerful time management tool, it is also your most powerful people development tool.  If your purpose is NOT to save time, but to develop people, what changes about the leverage you get, as a manager?  Can you spend one hour developing one of your team members and get ten hours of productivity back?”

What to Do With Untapped Potential

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
What action should we take if we have a person with Stratum IV capability in a Stratum III role?

Response:
First, I would ask, how do you know?  What behavior are you seeing?

You might see competence.  Competence with spare time left over.  Spare time to help other people.  Spare time to coach others.  Spare time to train others, teach others.  Spare time to participate in higher level planning.  It’s not such a bad thing.

The problem with having someone with S-IV capability in an S-III role is to determine if there is enough challenge in the role to gain their long term interest.  You might observe boredom with their day to day problem solving and decision making.  Boredom can create sloppiness, inattention to detail.  But boredom can also lead to effective delegation, innovation, efficiency initiatives.  I can hear the words.

“I am a bit bored with this task.  In what way can I make it more efficient?  In what way can I delegate this task to someone who might see this work as a challenge, to help them develop professionally?  So I can get on with more interesting work.”

Having someone with S-IV capability in an S-III role is an opportunity.  Just ask them.

How to Delegate, Not the Right Question

“I guess I am feeling a little burned out,” Cynthia said. “There is just so much to do, now that I am a manager. I feel stretched, way stretched.”

“How did the manager, before you, handle all of this workload?” I asked.

“Oh, that was different. I am still working all my old job responsibilities, plus my new responsibilities as manager.” Cynthia stopped. “So, I am working twice as hard. No wonder I feel burned out.”

“Who do you plan to give your old responsibilities to?”

“Well, I am trying,” Cynthia continued. “I just haven’t figured out how.”

“Wrong question,” I said.

“What?” Cynthia was startled.

“Wrong question,” I nodded. “You will never make any headway figuring out how. You will only make headway when you figure out who. The solution is almost never a how, it’s almost always a who.”

“So, I should stop trying to figure out how I am going to get it all done and focus on who is going to do it?” Cynthia was surprised at her own question.

She knew the answer.