Category Archives: Delegation Skills

A Team Member’s Perspective

James stared at the project on his desk. It was a tidy project that he could delegate, probably free up four hours of his time this week.

This is where most managers start. For the manager, delegation is your most powerful time management tool.

I asked James to make a list of the benefits of that delegation to his team member. The list was quick. The team member would:

  • Learn a new skill.
  • See their contribution as valuable.
  • Have a better sense of the big picture.
  • Experience more job satisfaction.

I asked James if the list had anything to do with time management. As he studied each item, it became clear that, from the manager’s perspective, we were talking about time management, but from the team member’s perspective, we were talking about learning and development. Delegation may be a powerful time management tool, but it is also your most powerful people development tool.

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 very long 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 have to devote a significant focus to time-leveraged activities. How do you work for one hour and gain two hour’s productivity, or work one hour and gain five hours productivity?

The central element of leverage is delegation. Take project that would take you five hours to complete. Call a 20-minute meeting with three of your team members. In the meeting, you describe your vision for project completion and the performance standards for project completion (including quality and time frame). The rest of the twenty minutes is a discussion of the action steps , resources and who will be responsible for what. The three team members each take a portion of the project, two 10-minute follow-up meetings are scheduled and off we go. As the manager, you end end up with one-hour of meetings, your team members work the five hours of the project. You work for one hour, you get five hours of productivity. (1:5)

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

Management is about leverage.

Most people work on a ratio of 1:1. They work for an hour and they get one hour’s productivity. Managers have to get far more leverage from their time than 1:1. A manager cannot afford to get only one hour’s productivity for one hour worked.

How can you get two hours productivity from one hour worked? It’s a fair question.

The obvious answer is delegation. But the challenge continues. How can you get three hours productivity from one hour worked?

But here’s the real challenge – How can you get 50 hours productivity from one hour worked?
Chicken feed. How can you get 100 hours productivity from one hour worked, every month, month in and month out?

Most managers view delegation from the perspective of time management. Dumping. If you dump enough stuff, you can get five, six, even ten hours of time back, but you are still working on a 1:1 ratio.

Only if you look at delegation as development, do you begin to understand true leverage. One hour can turn into 100 hours productivity. How would you like to work for 5 hours and gain 500 hours productivity over the next 30 days? It’s all in the way you think. So, how do you think?

Real Leverage

It all starts with purpose And there are only two purposes.

If you make a list of all the benefits to the manager from delegation, you get an impressive inventory (Be selfish, think only of yourself):

  • More time for golf.
  • More time for lunch.
  • More time for surfing the internet.

That’s nice. But you also get:

  • More time for thinking.
  • More time for higher level work.
  • More time for planning.
  • More time for organizing.
  • More time for analysis.

Things you were hired for in the first place, but have no time for.

Now, list the benefits of delegation to the team member:

  • Cross training.
  • More responsibility.
  • Eligible for promotion.
  • Understanding of the bigger picture.
  • Feeling of importance.
  • New skills.
  • Credit for a new “job well done.”
  • Feeling of pride.
  • Eligible for higher compensation.
  • Feeling of teamwork.
  • Higher level of motivation.

Two different lists, one for the manager and one for the team member. Look at the themes. What do you see?
List one, for the manager, the theme is unmistakably time.
List two, for the team member, the theme is unmistakably development.

And, so these are the two purposes for delegation.
One: Time (Delegation is your most powerful time management tool)
Two: Development (Delegation is your most powerful people development tool)

So, which one gains the manager the most leverage?

Can’t Trust My Team

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I have this ongoing discussion with my boss about whether I delegate enough to my team. There are some things that I just don’t feel comfortable delegating to other people. I have been let down too many times before.

Response:
Most management “skills” or management behaviors, we learned from our parents, a teacher or coach when we were young. That’s just the way it happens. As much as we might think that we read and learn better ways of doing things, we find ourselves migrating back to the days in our childhood. Whether or not we delegate has little to do with technique and everything to do with what we believe…about delegation.

Most people believe (because they were taught by their parents) that if they want something done right, you have to do it yourself. You have been let down by a team member in the past (which reinforces your belief). Here’s the real question: “Is your belief accurate, or is it just something that is holding you back?” What we believe is much more powerful than any skill we possess.

To explore this further, make a list of why you don’t delegate more often. Your list will include things like:

  • I can’t trust my team to follow through.
  • No one is trained to handle this delegation.
  • I don’t have enough time to train someone to do this.
  • I can do it myself in one-quarter of the time.
  • My team is better at squirming out of responsibilities than I am at holding them accountable.

It is quite a formidable list. Whatever technique or model you use to organize your delegation, it has to deal with your beliefs. If you still believe this stuff, you will hesitate and ultimately continue to do things by yourself. You will lose the leverage of your team and ultimately underperform as a manager.

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