“Management is about arranging and telling. Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing.” –Tom Peters, American business writer.
If you’ve attained a management position, then you’ve certainly learned that you must delegate some or most of your work, to avoid being overwhelmed by your responsibilities. No single manager can do everything he or she is ultimately responsible for. Having responsibility for something doesn’t mean it’s your job per se—you just need to make sure it’s done.
Take Merck’s Roger Perlmutter. He’s in charge of the R&D Division that manufactures new drugs. He doesn’t invent the drugs. But he makes sure they are invented by people who focus on nothing else. His job is to cut out the fat that slows their production. When he took his position in 2012, he dismissed a surprising number of micromanaging bureaucrats who were slowing the R&D process by their insistence that the researchers go through the chain of command for permission to do every little thing.
This is not to say that you can just dump and forget a task. That’s called abdication, not delegation. No matter who performs a particular task in your team, department, or division, you’re still ultimately responsible for it. So how do you follow up on it to make sure they’re progressing appropriately and going in the right direction, without crossing that fine line into micromanagement? Here’s how to give your people permission to own their jobs and execute on the spot as necessary, without bogging them down with endless surveillance or paperwork:
1. Give the right person a clear goal. Give the project or task to someone with a history of doing that kind of task well, or someone whom you know will rise to the occasion, and trust that person to perform as well as ever. Trust is a huge part of delegation. Outline the objective, point them in the right direction, and get out of the way, remaining open to questions as necessary. Instead of outlining every step of how to get from A to B, clearly define what success looks like, and allow the individual to figure out how best to get there.
2. Give them simple, consistent standards to follow. Clarify responsibilities and authority and let people make decisions on their own within those boundaries. Be sure they know exactly what you want of them. Take enough time to articulate this clearly, if you haven’t before. You don’t want people fumbling around trying to figure out what you do want by doing what you don’t want. Trial and error wastes time.
3. Meet regularly. Yearly or semi-yearly job assessments aren’t enough. You don’t want to bug the person doing the job too often, but do have them report their progress on a regular basis. Establish clear milestones by outlining how and when you want status updates. Schedule those reminders on your own task list to ensure it is received. This can take the form of a face-to-face meeting, a quick email, a written report, or even as part of a regular roundtable meeting with everyone in the group—whatever best suits your management style.
4. Be gentle. Once you’ve set a follow-up interval, be sure to take it easy when you check in. You’re not calling people on the carpet here—that’s another article altogether—you’re just checking to see how the project’s going. If you think they need help, offer it. If they’re off track, get them re-oriented. You don’t want to be surprised by any possible failures or delays. The quicker and gentler you can redirect efforts, the quicker your team members will be back to work doing what they do best.
5. Don’t redo it yourself. Whatever you do, don’t fall for the old “the only way I know this’ll be done right is to do it myself” attitude. That leads to micromanagement, worker resentment, and exhaustion and overwork for you. If someone messes something up, have that person redo it until it’s correct. If you have to dismiss someone, redistribute the work to your other team members until you can promote or hire someone new. If you are the only one who can do it, you deserve it, and your schedule will be one big blur of blue unavailability.
Taking It Easy
You’ll never be able to “loosen your load,” as the Eagles put it, if you can’t trust your workers to do their work on their own terms. Remember, as a leader, you need to facilitate their work. Your goal is to encourage them to engage in and own their jobs, and removing obstacles in their paths. Bugging people doesn’t work well.
© 2014 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, is America’s Premier Expert in Productivity™. For over 20 years, Laura has worked with business leaders to execute more efficiently, boost performance, and accelerate results in the workplace. Her company, The Productivity Pro, Inc., provides productivity workshops around the globe to help attendees achieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time®. Laura is the bestselling author of six books, with over 20 foreign editions, published by Random House, Wiley, and Berrett-Koehler, including her newest work, Execution IS the Strategy (March 2014). Widely regarded as one of the leading experts in the field of performance and workplace issues, Laura has been featured on the CBS Early Show, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. Connect via her website, Facebook, or Twitter.