Monthly Archives: September 2009

How to Delegate Effectively

Last week’s post, The Pros and the Pros of Delegation, covered the What and the Why of effective delegation. This week’s post is about the How. Here is a step by step guide to assigning a task to someone else and then putting a system in place to provide that person with meaningful support.

1. Deciding to Delegate

The first step in delegation is deciding whether or not a responsibility or task should be delegated.

A good rule of thumb is for business leaders to spend the majority of their time on tasks and responsibilities that directly impact organizational or personal objectives.

These mission-critical tasks that affect long-term success require leadership attention. Everything else is fair game for delegation.

This cut and dry rule of thumb is good when there is a clear delineation between mission critical and non-mission critical activities. For situations with more of a gray area around the nature of responsibilities, use the following questions to determine whether or not a task is worth delegating. The more yes answers, the more likely a task or responsibility should/can be delegated:

  • Does someone else have (or could be given) the necessary information or expertise to complete the task?
  • Would this be an opportunity to grow and develop another person’s skills?
  • Is this a recurring task?
  • Has this task not yet been delegated because of expediency, habit, or because it falls squarely in the leader’s comfort-zone?
  • Can you schedule sufficient time to delegate appropriately and thoroughly?
  • Can enough time be allocated for adequate training, questions and answers, progress checks, and possible rework?

2. Selecting the Right Person

To ensure that the task is completed to the leader’s satisfaction, it is crucial to select the “right” person for the job. Effective delegation is about assigning challenging jobs to the person most qualified to complete the work as well as most interested in taking on the challenge. When deciding with whom to trust a task or responsibility, consider the following questions.

  • Once trained, will this person have the capacity to do the job unsupervised?
  • Does this person have a track record of open communication?
  • Do this person’s strengths match the required skill set and/or knowledge base to successfully complete the assignment?
  • Is it realistic to add another responsibility to this person’s workload?
  • Do you trust this person enough to be patient as he/she progresses through his/her learning curve?

Again, the more “yes” answers, the more likely the individual is a good candidate for delegation.

3. Setting the stage for success

When the time is right to assign a task or responsibility to the carefully chosen person, use the following steps as a check list. Covering each of these items gives the person receiving the assignment the best possible chance for success.

  1. Gain the Person’s Buy-In. At first, the person receiving the assignment may not see all of the benefits of having something added to his/her workload. Before speaking with the person about the assignment, consider what he/she values. What outcomes would this person deem worthwhile? Then, when presenting the assignment, take the time to discuss the upside to successful completion of the task from the other person’s perspective. Cover the impact on financial rewards, future opportunities, recognition, and other desirable outcomes that would motivate the individual to willingly take on the challenge.
  2. Set Clear Expectations. Include specific parameters around performance standards, a detailed explanation of the desired results, the scope of the individual’s authority, available resources, communication strategies, and schedules. As much as possible, capture this information in writing.
  3. Explain/Coach/Train. Make sure the person knows what works. Alert the individual to potential pitfalls as well as methods that have had less success in the past.
  4. Keep an Open Mind. Unless the particular steps to completing a task or carrying out a given responsibility are truly “written in stone” or must comply with a particular mandate, maintain the flexibility to consider different methods. Be willing to entertain the possibility that the other person may devise a better way to get the task done. Whenever possible, focus on the end-result and leave the means (the how to get there) up to the individual. The more input a person has in the task/responsibility, the higher their level of personal ownership; which will in turn enhance their attention to detail and the quality of their output.
  5. Maintain Communication. Talk about what needs to be done and the specific output you expect. Proper communication prevents misunderstandings and helps the other person to fulfill his/her potential.
  6. Establish and Adhere to a Periodic Review Schedule. Make yourself available for progress reports and questions.CB100472
  7. Try Not to Catch “The Boomerang”. If there is a problem, don’t allow the person to throw responsibility for the task back to you. When presented with an issue, avoid the urge to provide an immediate answer. Ask the person to provide recommended solutions instead. Then, ask the person to prioritize the options and explain the rationale he/she used. Work with the individual to select and refine the best option until a mutually agreed upon solution is developed.
  8. Provide Recognition. Be generous and genuine with praise. Give recognition in a manner that is most valued by the individual. For example, publicly thank an outgoing ambitious person in front of an audience of organizational leaders.

Well executed delegation is a morale booster, a tremendous force for productivity gains, and a significant development tool.

The key phrase is “well executed.” Haphazardly throwing responsibility over the wall in hopes that the other person actually catches it will only frustrate the person hit with the added burden and cost the leader precious time fixing mistakes and rectifying issues. When delegation is properly leveraged, leaders are free to concentrate on organizational imperatives and the individuals entrusted with tasks and responsibilities grow their skills and enhance their importance within the organization.

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The Pros and the Pros of Delegation

utilitybeltDelegation is a vital yet often underleveraged tool in the “Leadership Utility Belt.” Long-held misconceptions about delegation cause many leaders to deprive themselves of this valuable resource. When used effectively, delegation improves productivity, develops employees, and makes the assigner and the assigned more influential.

A Few Rotten Apples Have Spoiled the Bunch

Delegation has a troublesome track record. Throughout history, less than noble superiors have proudly carried the flag of delegation as they foisted undesirable time-consuming menial tasks onto their underlings. This particular style is referred to as “seagull management.” seagullManagers swoop in dump all over their team and fly off without so much as a backwards glance. For those who’ve experienced life in the “drop zone”, the blatant abuse of an otherwise virtuous process has left a nearly indelible stain on the reputation of delegation.

Setting the Record Straight

Delegation is not the assignment of unwelcome tasks to the person least likely to protest. Nor is it an abdication of responsibility. The giver and the receiver of delegated assignments are equally accountable for their timely completion. Delegation is entrusting people with responsibilities that match individual strengths, holding them accountable to performing to their highest potential, and providing them with the support needed to succeed. Tasks and responsibilities are given to the most qualified person who is also the most interested in the challenge.

Another misconception about delegation is that it takes more energy and effort than it’s worth. For example, leaders who earned their role through personal excellence are often reluctant to put their tasks in the hands of another. These individuals fear that the other person will either not complete the assignment as well or might take a different approach to completing the task. When these leaders think about what it will take to get someone else “up to speed,” they conclude that “it’s just faster if I do it myself.” While it is true that effective delegation requires an upfront commitment of time and attention this should not be viewed as a hassle. The rewards of well executed delegation dwarf the initial investment of time and energy.

The Pros to Delegation

Assigning certain responsibilities to individuals who can complete them even when the leader is not present, frees the leader to focus on mission critical activities. Well organized schedules and balanced workloads allow leaders to oversee operations, spend time coaching, and think strategically.

If you are holding tight to non-mission critical tasks that you’ve mastered long ago, take a moment to consider why. Are you spending time on these tasks because the more vital issues awaiting your attention will force you out of your comfort zone? You could be stunting your growth as a leader if you tether yourself to tasks and responsibilities that can and should be delegated to your team.

Leaders who delegate correctly improve the overall responsiveness of the organization. People closest to day to day issues have the most relevant and recent information upon which to base intelligent decisions. By empowering these individuals with the authority to carry out their assigned responsibilities, the leader is facilitating the organization’s ability to react to or even anticipate environmental changes.

Delegation brings out the best in people. Participation in the decision-making process improves employee morale and performance and earns sincere buy-in to organizational initiatives.

When a leader delegates meaningful challenging work to motivated employees, the recipients of these assignments are given opportunities to add value, build their credibility, prove their trustworthiness and ultimately strengthen their influence in the organization. Delegation is trust in action. Trust granted is repaid by employees in the form of positive results and loyalty toward their leader. Being surrounded by a core team of competent energized influencers increases the leader’s ability to influence change and expedite decisions.

In the next post, we’ll cover how to delegate effectively.

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Managing Up: How to Influence Your Boss

The ultimate challenge or maybe it’s the ultimate irony when it comes to influencing without authority is to influenceladder those with authority over us. Compelling a direct manager or senior leader within the organization to support someone else’s agenda requires patience, planning, and the diligent application of effective influence techniques.

The first thing you must do before devoting time to enhancing your influence is to honestly assess your intentions. Attempts to persuade someone with higher authority to consider an agenda that at its core is self-serving are quickly recognized as manipulative and potentially counter-productive to the interests of the organization. Promoting personal gain, especially at the expense of the greater good, quickly erodes trust and credibility. However, if the intention behind achieving targeted objectives is to benefit the organization, then efforts to exert influence will be applauded not rebuked.

Once you’ve passed the “gut check” on intentions, use the following process to improve your ability to “manage up.”

See the World as the Other Person Sees It

An important part of influencing people with authority is to begin to see the world from their point of view. Even if your manager was once a peer, keep in mind that the promotion came with a new perspective, modified priorities, and different pressures. Make time to walk in the other person’s shoes. Start by strolling down the value path. Ask yourself:

What does this person value? (Recognition, acceptance by peers, respect, networking opportunities, open communication, a sense of belonging, solving problems, helping others, etc.)

Once you’ve determined what the person values, consider what contributions you can make or actions you can take that would add value from this person’s perspective. For example, if your manager values problem solving, be sure to include well thought out options when communicating issues or opportunities.

In addition to value considerations, a terrific question to contemplate when walking a mile or two in the other person’s shoes is:

What keeps this person up at night?

This question forces you to think about his or her role, responsibilities, life outside of work, hopes, aspirations, as well as how his performance is being evaluated.

Define Your Objectives

Write down a clear statement of what it is you believe needs to be achieved. Support this statement with a list of relevant business reasons and/or confirming information. If possible, segment your objective into milestones. Decide which milestones are non-negotiable in terms of a successful outcome and which could be skipped or postponed without dramatic consequence to the realization of your goal. The greater the clarity you possess the better prepared you will be to articulate this vision in a compelling reasonable manner.

Set yourself up for success by visualizing the end result and sorting your “must haves” from your “nice to haves.”

Plan Your Approach

When influencing up the hierarchical ladder, cool heads prevail. Often, we let our excitement get the best of us and spew forth our ideas in a downpour of disjointed exclamations. A good influencer uses an empathetic understanding of the other person’s world to tailor his/her engagement approach. Three factors to consider when developing a plan for discussing issues, ideas, and opportunities with senior leaders are framing, communication styles, and timing.

Framing

As you plan what you will say, position your message in a way that demonstrates your knowledge of and respect for the other person’s perspective. Frame your case in terms of the value it can deliver relevant to the senior leader’s objectives, challenges, or organizational focus.

Communication Styles

Select a communication medium based on the manager’s preferences. If this is someone who prefers face-to-face interactions, schedule a meeting at a time and place that’s conducive to focused conversation. If the person likes to mull things over and study up on the topic, develop your case in writing and email it along with suggested times for follow-up discussions. For the chronic multi-tasker, break down your message into smaller chunks. Be prepared to deliver the pieces during fleeting windows of opportunity.

Timing

Timing is of the essence. Carefully consider the best time to approach the other person with your ideas. Face-to-face meetings and even pre-arranged phone conversations demonstrate courtesy and offer control. Once you have a meeting scheduled, send the person a bulleted list of objectives or key points for the conversation at least 24 hours in advance. When it comes to “bad news,” inform senior leaders as soon as possible. Always have options for resolution prepared when presenting a problem. Remember, people need time to absorb information and process their thoughts. Give the person space to “catch up” to you in terms of experience with and depth of knowledge about the information.

Present with Passion (but don’t over do it)

State your ideas with conviction and clarity. Modify your style to honor the other person’s preferences. For example, if your manager is a visual person, use images to illustrate key points. For a numbers person, be sure to come armed with relevant data. If your manager is a relational person, use stories to captivate while you communicate. Stay on point. Try not to become defensive when the person with authority questions your game plan. Challenging your ideas is not an attack on you personally but rather a sign of interest, an act of collaboration, and even an indication of progress toward acceptance. Lastly, maintain the credibility of your case by adhering to this sales axiom: Don’t Sell Past The Close. When the other person has either agreed with you or indicated that they need time to evaluate the situation, thank him or her for the time and exit gracefully.

Realistically, these steps are proven but not bulletproof. If your direct attempts to influence a senior leader are fruitless, the indirect route is a solid Plan B. Use the process above to enlist the support of another senior leader who is respected by the person you are trying to influence.

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Leadership, Risk, and the Need for Shoulder Pads

During his interview at the NFL pre-season game between the Patriots and the Red Skins, quarterback Jason Campbell jasoncampbellbriefly explained how he’s learned to deal with the direct pressure the quarterback and the head coach receive when things aren’t going well. He spoke of staying focused despite all the negativity. Campbell’s comments made me think about the need for and effects of risk-taking on a leader’s life.

Risk is a carnival ride that can swing a leader on a pendulum’s path from the exhilaration of reward down through the gut-wrenching sweep to reproach.

When times are good, it’s all about being carried off the field held high on the shoulders of an appreciative team—doused in champagne as the boisterous noise bounces off the lockers and fills the room with a cacophony of happiness. When times are not so good, the unfortunate flipside is the relentless click of cameras in an otherwise quiet room at the press conference announcing the canceled contract—enduring the jeers and insults of angry fans, and the lonesome concern as the unknown future lays ahead.

Sometimes the drama in the business world can be just as hyperbolized as it is in the sports arena. I’ve never seen an executive doused with champagne, but I have seen company leaders accept awards as grateful employees stand to their feet cheering wildly. On the other side of the coin, the press is filled with coverage of fallen CEOs and scorned Board Members. Ultimately, no matter how public the deification or the demise, there comes that moment where the leader is left alone to either smile or scowl.

The majority of leadership triumphs and tragedies are played out every day in simpler ways and smaller venues. A manager and her team share shrimp teriyaki at the local Benihana in celebration of the project completed on-time and within budget. A toast at the local bar to honor the sales person who landed the big account. A director quietly empties out his desk following the third straight quarter of missed projections. A woman flushes with hurt and anger as she accidentally over hears her co-workers mocking her outspoken ideas for improving departmental productivity.

When people think about influence and leadership, they imagine the glory, the power, and the devoted followers. Rarely do people take the time to consider the vulnerability of leadership. Calculated or foolish, risk is risk. A risk pays off or it doesn’t meet expectations. Either way, it is the leader that made the go-no/go decision who is held accountable for the outcome. Stepping up to leadership requires strong character, applicable skills, credibility, trust, and a quality set of emotional “shoulder pads.”

Even with body armor though, sometimes the pain of failure still gets through. For example, in the Patriots-Redskins tombradygame, Tom Brady’s arm was twisted when he was tackled resulting in a sore shoulder. In most non-sports related cases, leaders aren’t physically sacked by opponents (we hope); but being proverbially pinned to the wall comes with its own level of discomfort. How well a person absorbs the blow of failure and rebounds speaks volumes about his or her worth as a leader. People are always watching and assessing. Everybody loves a winner. But winning often masks true character. Over the long run, people follow winners who also lose well. Effective leaders who take educated risks that pay off more often than not develop loyal followers not necessarily because of the leader’s win-ratio but rather because of how the leader handles the loses. The real winners, the people truly worth following, are the people who:

  • Handle disappointment with dignity
  • Hold themselves and others equally accountable
  • Acknowledge and share lessons learned
  • Come back stronger the next time

Though the upside to winning is attractive, it is the unsung reality of the downside to risk that either consciously or unconsciously holds people back from getting in the game. There is safety in watching from the stands or from a cozy chair in the den. Sports spectators have strong opinions. Yet most armchair quarterbacks don’t actually expect the head coach of their favorite team to call them up and ask for advice on the next set of downs. However in business, it’s common for people who have consistently shied away from leadership responsibility to be puzzled and dismayed that their suggestions aren’t taken seriously or that they aren’t as influential as they’d like to be. It’s unrealistic to expect a team to defend you on the line of scrimmage when you’re not willing to risk taking the snap. When it comes to leading, you have to be willing to persevere through the good and the bad. As you build your personal influence and take on more leadership responsibility, wear your shoulder pads.

React to the wins and the losses with equal amounts of humility and professionalism so that either way people feel good about following you.

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