Igniting Workplace Enthusiasm

"Delegate or Die!"


BCCJ ACUMEN E-Bulletin, April 2012

Managers and leaders already know that you have to get the right people on the bus and in the right seats. They also know that the seat allocation and the task alignment need to be in the correct balance. High cost resources should be doing high value tasks and vice versa.

Well knowing it is fine, but take a good look at what you are doing every day and check if you are actually delegating tasks off your desk to your subordinates. Are you still doing them or even worse, buying them back?

In the November-December 1974 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Bill Oncken and Don Wass released what is now a classic "Who’s Got the Monkey?" about delegation. We should have mastered delegation by now, shouldn’t we? Actually, "No".

The title of this article is not facetious. We now know that stress is a killer, and often we are stressed because we are drowning in a sea of tasks – a great number of which we should have others doing, rather than ourselves. Take a simple example - how many of us are driven by our email in-boxes, (usually arranged chronologically)? They pile up, we drop behind, and the stress starts to build.

If you were to print it, put in your in-tray and tell your boss you were going to tackle that huge pile of paper, starting with the most recent, with no prioritization involved, "Huh?" would probably be the response! We need a better approach to increasing work loads and we need others to help.

So what do you do about it? There are the Six D’s of productivity. Doing is the most common. Productivity goes down though, when under stress, we start Dumping on to our subordinates ("Seagull" Management anyone?). When it all gets too much, we really lose it and start Dropping the tasks. Leaders improve the organisation’s productivity when they start to Distribute the workload. Delegation takes this to the next level and on a bigger scale. We often hear about "empowerment", but what we actually are referring to is to Deputise our subordinates.

There are Eight Steps to Delegation.
(1) The first thing we have to do is to Stop Doing! Get the cost-task-productivity alignment correct and move stuff off your desk. But simple Dumping is like spreading an infection, you take your inability to get things done and spread it around the rest of your team.
(2) Select the best person for that project.
(3) Then start "Selling". That’s right selling, not ordering. Tell them what is in it for them to take on this project, given they consider they are already considerably overworked.
(4) Show how to do the task, Modelling the approach needed.
(5) Let them do it but Watch and Coach. Make sure they are taking the project along the path you need, rather than along some tremendously interesting but unneeded diversion.
(6) Next make it theirs, by Letting Go (Ouch!).
(7) When they complete the task, give them Feedback. The two most effective ways of giving feedback – tell them what was "good" and what would make it even "better" next time.
(8) Reward and Celebrate their achievement.

Sounds simple enough. What happens in reality though is we get sidetracked. We buy it back or put the "monkey" on our own back. People who work for us are often savvier than we are, they know how to get us to buy it back and we accommodate them. Another common outcome is the projects drifts, has no clear owner anymore and no one is accountable.

The key is to keep the delegatee accountable and the method needed is adequate communication. Clearly explain the (a) desired results, (by the way, always check for understanding), (b) the performance standards, (c) the measures, and (d) the timing. Changes will always occur, so we have to be flexible regarding the execution.

Ultimately, it has to be a win-win situation or the chance of buy-in diminishes and we are left with more stress and no result. Now that is a killer.

BCCJ ACUMEN E-Bulletin, April 2012
"Delegate or Die" by Dr. Greg Story, President
Read the article in Japanese.
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