Category Archives: Delegation Skills

Decisions at Every Level of Work

“You said that if the manager is held accountable for the output of the team, the manager might take better care in selection?” I asked.

Pablo nodded. “It does no good to bring someone on board without the capability for the work, only to later blame that person for underperformance.”

“If that is the case,” I picked up the unspoken question, “then why do managers struggle finding the right fit for the role.”

“They struggle,” Pablo replied, “because they rarely sit down and figure out the work. Most managers see work as a series of task assignments. Do this, do that. No more. Following the task assignment, the manager often asks, ‘So, do you know what to do?'”

“And?”

“You see, it slips by so easily. That question barely begs understanding. The question from the manager should more properly be, ‘In completing this task assignment, what decisions will you have to make? What problems will you have to solve?’ Most managers miss that completely.”

“But, if the team member knows what to do, what decisions are left?”

“See, even you, my most aware friend, have overlooked discretion built into the work. There is always appropriate decision making at every level of work. Take a fork lift driver, and a pallet to be moved from point A to point B,” Pablo laid out.

“I got it.”

“Do you?” Pablo pushed back. “What decisions are to be made by the forklift driver?”

“It’s obvious,” I said. “Am I moving the right pallet to where it needs to be placed?”

“You’re right, that is the obvious question,” Pablo started. “And, let’s look at some other questions, any one of which could create failure.

  • How heavy is the pallet?
  • Is the pallet properly balanced?
  • Is my forklift rated to handle the weight of the load?
  • Will the size of the pallet, plus a safety buffer, clear the designated pathway to location B?
  • Are there unanticipated obstacles that might temporarily be blocking the pathway?
  • Are there any over height restrictions to the movement?
  • Will this move require flag walkers during movement?
  • Is the forklift in operating order?
  • Are all safety signals, warning lights and sounds operating?
  • Am I wearing appropriate PPE during the move?
  • Is the designated point B a permanent location within a specified perimeter? Or a temporary staging area that must be flagged for safety?”

“Okay, okay,” I laughed. “I get it.”

“Most managers rarely sit down and figure it out,” Pablo was adamant. “What’s the work? What decisions have to be made? What problems have to be solved?”

Accountability for Wrong Decisions

“You have talked about managerial systems and organizational structure,” I started. “Those are well-worn labels, but the devil is always in the details.”

Pablo nodded. “Yes, the detail of structure is simply the way we define the working relationships between people. The success of any organizational structure rests on its effectiveness to define two things – in this working relationship, what is the accountability and what is the authority?”

“But, isn’t it second-nature, that especially in a hierarchy, the manager has the authority and the team member is accountable to carry out the decisions of the manager?”

“Not so fast,” Pablo said slowly. “Each has the authority to make decisions within an appropriate span of discretion. And it is the manager accountable for the output of the team member.”

“But, if the team member, within an appropriate span of discretion, makes the wrong decision, how can you hold the manager accountable?” I asked.

“Because the manager selected the team member, trained the team member, assessed the team member and then delegated the decision to the team member. If the team member makes the wrong decision, that outcome is the accountability of the manager.” Pablo stopped to let that sink in.

“When we are clear about accountability, behavior follows,” Pablo continued. “When we accurately define the accountability, people know what to expect and they behave accordingly. If the team member is held to account for a wrong decision or underperformance, there begins a mistrust about whether the manager was clear in their instruction, whether the training was adequate, the right tools available, the circumstance not anticipated. If the manager is held to account for the team member’s wrong decision or underperformance, there begins a supportive relationship to ensure the training was adequate, the working conditions conducive, the selected project appropriate, within the team member’s capability.

“You see,” Pablo said, “the manager cannot allow the team member to fail. In a punitive context, that is why the manager often snatches back the authority for the decision and simply assigns the task. In a trusting context, the manager has to make sure all the variables around the team member are adequate and conducive to success. And, that includes the manager’s selection of that team member in the first place. The success of the organization starts with being clear about managerial accountability.”

The Delegation Paradox

“But, it seems to me, that accountability is already fixed,” I replied. “The manager makes the decisions and the team member carries it out. Isn’t that the pervasive understanding for everyone?”

“You might think that, but you would be mistaken,” Pablo ventured. “For a company to grow, it cannot be so. If the manager makes all the decisions, eventually, what happens to the speed of decision making?”

“Well, it begins to slow down,” I observed.

“Or stops, when the manager becomes overwhelmed with all the decisions. As the organization grows, there are too many decisions to be made by one person.”

“And?” I prompted.

“For the organization to grow, the manager has to delegate,” Pablo flatly stated.

“But, every manager already knows they have to delegate, happens all the time,” I said.

“No, every manager knows they have to delegate, and they think, what they have to delegate are task assignments. In the delegation of a task, the manager also has to delegate appropriate decision making along with the task.”

“But, shouldn’t the manager reserve the authority for the decisions to be made?” I wanted to know.

“Only, if the manager wants to slow things down, or bring things to a crashing halt,” Pablo chuckled. “Appropriate decision making has to be delegated along with the task assignment. Most managers, at the end of a delegation meeting, ask ‘Do you understand what to do?’ A more relevant question would be ‘As you work through this task, what decisions do you have to make?’ Every level of work has appropriate decision making.”

“Well, that should get some things off the manager’s plate,” I said.

“Not exactly,” Pablo had a hint of a smirk on his face. “You see, the manager is still accountable for the output of the team member. If the team member underperforms or fails, it is the manager who is accountable. And that changes everything.”

The Weeds Part of “In the Weeds”

Nicole was complaining. Her department was behind. She worked 10-12 hours per day and could never seem to get ahead. She thought her boss should appreciate her efforts and hard work, but instead, she got quite the opposite. He was disappointed in her performance and intended to follow-up on her numbers every two weeks instead of once a month.

“What am I supposed to do?” she said. “I get here an hour early and leave an hour after my team has gone home. It seems, they always pull me into the weeds. I just can’t get anything done.”

“Tell me about the weeds part. How does your team drag you into the weeds?”

“They always need help. I try to work alongside them for most of the day, but then I cannot get my stuff done.”

“Then, stop!” I said. “You are the supervisor. You are there to make sure the work gets done, NOT to work alongside your team. If they have a problem, help them through it, but then get back to your responsibilities. You are supposed to do production counts three times during your shift so you can know if you are ahead or behind. That’s your job. Your team is not meeting its daily production and they don’t even know it.”

Always a “Who”

“Jeremy, when you decide on a project to delegate, how do you decide who to give it to?”

“Well, that used to be easy. Louis was always my guy. He could handle almost anything. My dad used to say, if you need something done, give it to someone who is busy because they will get it done faster than anyone else.”

“How is that working for you?”

“Not so good. Lately, Louis has been, well, not slipping, but, he just isn’t hopping like he was, even six months ago. I am beginning to wonder if he even likes working here anymore.”

“Think about the last delegation you gave to Louis. How much of a challenge was it for him?”

“Well, for Louis it was piece of cake. He should have been able to do it in his sleep with one hand tied behind his back.”

“Jeremy, I want you to think about something. Is it possible that you should have given that delegation to someone else and considered something more challenging for Louis? For delegation to be successful, the team member must see the task as a challenge.”

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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Hiring Talent 2019 (our interactive hiring program) is scheduled for release, Mon, Jan 7, 2019.

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.