Tag Archives: delegation

Learning Something New

What stops us from learning?

It’s not the complexity of the content, or how much there is to learn. The obstacles to learning most often exist in the head of the learner. Obstacles are more about beliefs and assumptions than the details of what has to be learned.

We learn to delegate effectively, not by learning a new delegation model, but by ridding ourselves of the assumption, if you want it done right, do it yourself. We hold back on sharing problem solving, not because the team members lacks the skills, but because there is a lack of trust. We hold back on sharing decision making, not because the team member is unable to make the decision, but because we, as managers, have always made that judgment call.

What stops us from learning is often, something inside our own head.

Subtle Pushback

“He resists everything,” Ruben explained. “We cover the same solutions to the same problems. At the time, Edmund finally agrees, but I sense, he agrees only because he can’t argue the logic. He goes along with the solution, but two weeks later, the same problem pops up and we start all over again.”

“So, you have to step in and it takes up your time?” I asked.

“Worse than that. It’s almost underhanded. Behind the scenes, it’s like he wants the solution to fail. He doesn’t openly sabotage the new method, and I haven’t caught him bad-mouthing the process. Sometimes, it’s just the way he rolls his eyes in the meeting.”

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?”

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.”

What Else Can You Delegate?

It was a big difference in Nathan’s meeting. Instead of barking out the quota numbers for daily production, he had assigned that task to Rachel. The team had responded.

“What else could you delegate during the meeting?” I asked.

“Well, when Rachel announced the quota number, the first questions were about raw materials and machine setups. So, I was thinking about asking Edward to get with Rachel before the meeting so he could report on the status of raw materials. And I was thinking about Billy, he is our line mechanic, to get with Rachel to plan the machine setups for the day. So he could report those in the meeting.”

“Sounds like an agenda is coming together for this daily meeting and you are having other people become responsible for each line item?”

Nathan laughed. “You know, I thought, as the manager, that I had to do all the talking in the meeting. I am beginning to think, maybe, I should just call the meeting to order and sit at the back of the room.”

They Began to Ask Questions

“So, what was the big difference?” I asked. Nathan was getting pushback in his production meeting whenever he went over the schedule. Especially when he talked about the daily quota number for production.

“I assigned Rachel to announce the number,” Nathan replied. “It was the funniest thing. When I talk about production, people grouse and mumble. When Rachel described the quota number, people began to ask questions. Did we have enough materials on the floor and how many different setups would be required on the machine. It was like they wanted to do the work.”

“So, what did you learn?” I asked.

“I learned that I don’t have to do all the talking. I can delegate out important stuff. Instead of me telling people what to do, when they become involved, they actually step up and participate.”

Delegate It Out

“But, I still feel there is some tension in the meeting, especially when I start talking about quotas for the day and some of the production problems that need to be corrected,” Nathan explained.

“So, delegate it out,” I said.

“What do you mean?”

“Look, Nathan. Where do the quota numbers come from?”

“Well, there is a Production Release report that gets posted at 5:00pm for the next day. That is the number that I go over in my morning meeting.”

“So, it is just a number that comes off of a report? And, you are the bad guy because you know the number and report it in the meeting?”

“Exactly,” nodded Nathan. “I feel like a tyrant, when it is just my job.”

“So, assign the Quota Number report to another team member. During your meeting, ask them to talk about the number from the Production Release report.” I could see Nathan pondering my proposal. “Who could you assign that to?” I asked.

“I could assign that to Rachel,” Nathan replied. I could see a sense of relief wash over his face.

“Let me know the difference in your meeting tomorrow.”

Growing Pains

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
As the CEO, I am stretched a bit thin. I have 10 direct reports, with the prospect of adding two or three more as we continue to grow. I have 1-1s with each manager for 60-90 minutes twice a month, but it leaves little time to spend as CEO. I feel a bit like I am pulled into the weeds.

Response:
Your company is too big to be little and too little to be big. Your company is in No Man’s Land. You have enough resources (budget) to make the hires necessary to relieve a bit of pressure, but these are critical hires, you don’t want to make a mistake, so you continue stretching. There is only one way out.

You have to build the infrastructure of your executive management team. You cannot work longer hours. You cannot work harder. You can only spread the burden.

This is a dilemma first faced by every entrepreneur startup, where the Founder makes all the decisions and solves all the problems. As the organization matures, what happens when all decision making continues with the Founder? What happens when all problem solving continues with the Founder? The speed of decision-making, the speed of problem solving slows down, sometimes stops.

You managed to get out of startup, but your inclinations continue. Others, I am sure, have told you that you have to let go. No.

You have to delegate. This is not a task assignment. What you have to delegate is decision making and problem solving. The most important thing you can do, as CEO, right now, is to build the infrastructure of your executive management team. If you cannot do this, you will end up with 13-15 direct reports and you will still wonder why you are stretched so thin.

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.”