New Normal Consulting | Delegation is a discipline
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Delegation is a discipline

Delegation is a discipline

In our careers and in our companies, there is a crux moment that comes when we are recognized as a terrific individual contributor and are asked to begin to supervise or manage others, doing the same tasks. As executives, we would expect most of us have promoted promising staffers to managerial roles. This is wonderful. This is the “farm team” process in action, the “garden” in which we grow future leaders. Great news! Promote from within!

However, our New Normal View is that very, very few of us truly understand what is happening at this juncture, and moreover, we all too frequently fail to arm our new leader with the right tools, or even any tools whatsoever, in order to succeed.

We suggest that “doing” and “managing” are two entirely different skill sets, requiring equal attention and training. Being a great “do-er” has little bearing on how well we will manage others “doing”.

So many of us, without real training in the skills of planning, communication, delegation, project management and analysis, stumble into management falling back onto the same behaviors we employed to earn our “do-er atta-boys’s”: We work harder. We walk around quickly with a serious expression. We stay late and come in early. “Atta-boy!” And, often, we have managers who see us doing these things who feel comforted. “Someone else here cares as much as I do!”

Delegation is the core activity that creates the resource leverage allowing one person to effectively organize, inspire, train and lead a team to produce more work, more ideas, more sales, than they could individually do otherwise. And, it often requires the leader or manager to NOT do those things.

Delegation is a Discipline

Most of us think of “delegation” as asking some dude to go do something. “What’s the big deal? I told him to do it, I’m the boss. It’s simple. Do it!”

We strenuously object. Our New Normal View is that “delegation” involves active engagement by the “delegator”, before, during and after the work is being done.

Before the delegation, we need to consider and determine:

  • What is the project? Have I written it down? Are the goals clear to my delegate? Am I even clear?
  • What is my risk here? Can I afford to have this be a learning opportunity?
  • If so, do I have a young team member ripe for growth?
  • Or do I have to nail this perfectly, the first time, and fast?
  • Do I have an expert who can guarantee success so I don’t have to worry?
  • What is the “operating model” I want to use for this project? Who makes decisions? How do we communicate? How often?
  • Does the rest of the organization know I have delegated temporary authority to one person? Certain failure results when we skip this step.

During the project, we must still be engaged. Remember, as managers, we can delegate activity and authority, but never responsibility:

  • What kind of reporting do we need? Daily water cooler check-in? Okay. That works for some things. Weekly written reporting? Fine. Team meeting every Friday? Good. Match the reporting to the task.
  • If the project begins to come off the rails, what do we do? Swoop in like Iron Man and take over? Re-direct? Give a little advice and stay out of the way? Put someone else on the task?
  • Who else needs to know project status in the organization? Who keeps them informed?

After the work is completed, most of us assume we can “check the box” and move on. Not so fast. We still must:

  • Assess the outcomes against the original plan.
  • Give our delegate feedback, praise and recognition where warranted, advice for the next time if not. This is the critical growth step for young leaders. “How did I do?”
  • Archive the project and the outcomes for future reference. How many of us in organizations have chased a problem/solution down the same rabbit hole multiple times?

We might suspect you are feeling this is way too involved for most tasks. We urge you to consider that the framework of a delegation, as outlined above, can be elastic and dynamic. For activities of lesser impact, we may smooth this out and abbreviate some aspects. A simple hallway conversation may suffice for some of the steps. But the bigger the project and the higher the risk, the more important it is that we be deliberate and tactical.

Learning to delegate is a key management skill. Delegating effectively will build strong teams, individual initiative and a “deep bench” of talent.

-Geoff O’Keeffe

New Normal Consulting offers a comprehensive training in delegation skills for managers, supervisors and teams — click to learn more.

Geoff O'Keeffe

Geoff O’Keeffe is an outdoor industry professional with over thirty years’ experience in every aspect of operations and management. Geoff has served as president of four companies, held executive roles in five others, been part of two start-up teams, and has operated in branded wholesale, brick-and-mortar retail, e-commerce, manufacturing and non-profit environments. Geoff’s unique areas of expertise include general management, strategic planning, project management, merchandising and inventory planning, sourcing, and supply chain. Geoff takes a particularly keen interest in the subtle dynamics of building, training and sustaining the “human engine” of creativity, teamwork and commitment within organizations. Geoff has served five non-profit boards, including ORCA (early Outdoor Industry Association), the Conservation Alliance and Paradox Sports. Geoff was a founding member of the organization that became the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance.

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