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Micro–management rarely works. Especially as it always leads to mutual recriminations. Those being managed complain about everlasting lists of little points, feel frustrated and long to have the satisfaction of doing it their way, of being given a chance to fly and to learn for themselves. Those doing the management moan about lack of initiative and imagination, of losing confidence in their staff. Both sides waste hours in fruitless and uninspiring meetings. So why do they do it?

Part of the answer at least is that we do not know how to delegate. We are aware of this, even if only subconsciously, and so, knowing we may not have set things up right, we are afraid the workers won´t know what is needed, be as committed as we are, or care as much about success. I´ve heard employees called shiftless, uncaring, not interested in the company, overpaid, useless.

Well, I´ve got news for those critics – very, very few people set out to work each day determined to fail. They too want to succeed, they too want to climb their own mountains and they too want to fly. It´s our job to be the wind beneath their wings. Understanding delegation is vital to world class management.

There are six steps to it:

  • Defining and communicating success.
  • A detailed and shared plan.
  • Appropriate reporting.
  • Timely and relevant feedback.
  • Constructive interventions.
  • Celebrating the results.

Before I go on, let me make two comments and a quotation: None of these six steps are quite as obvious as they sound, and secondly I have never known anyone who has followed them who has not been an outstanding success.

“You can delegate authority, but you can never delegate responsibility for a task to someone else. If you picked the right man, fine, but if you picked the wrong man, the responsibility is yours – not his.”  Richard E Drafve, President, Raytheon Company

1. Defining and Communicating Success

Start by working out why the project is worth doing. What will ´success’ mean in tangible, graphic and technicolor terms? I´m not just talking about profit. I´m thinking about delighting the client, improving the workplace, having a trouble-free database and so on. I´m thinking about timescales, breaking performance records, setting new standards. I´m also thinking in terms of providing tangible added value for all concerned, in a language that they can understand, and in a way that empathetically involves them.

Then, think in terms of your project workers – what does success mean for them? What feathers are you putting in their caps? How can this project match their own ambitions? Think through the language they will want to hear, think how it may fit their own development ideas. If there are going to be personal issues (time away from home, for example), consider them carefully. Have you chosen the right person? How can you help with the lengthy time away from home?

All too frequently I see managers taken by surprise, frustrated and then dismayed, as the chosen project team raise their own private issues, as they rightly see them. The trouble is the manager has not stopped to put himself in their shoes. He has not thought how they might react when confronted with what is, for them, a sudden change in priorities, an extra burden, possibly at a difficult, perhaps unexpected, moment. Their initial reaction may well stem more from this sudden reassessment they have been asked to make, than any profound disapproval of the project itself. They may simply be feeling threatened and so be defending “their” position.

Furthermore, if their extra efforts in the past have gone unacknowledged, why should they automatically share your own unalloyed excitement at this next call to arms?

2.The Detailed and Shared Plan

The second step is the core to delegation. Write down every step to be taken in carrying out the project. Cover the programme day by day, miss out no details. Then highlight the critical milestones along the way. If you cannot complete the detail, you have no right to be leading in the first place. Get hold of the necessary knowledge, use whatever outside experts you need and then set out the detail. It will provide you with a range of critical pieces of information:

  • realistic timescales;
  • any specialist resources needed;
  • the relevant moments for detailed feedback;
  • the team skills critical to success.

Setting out your planner is, however, only the initial part of this second step. Use it to check your selected team / individuals, and then use it as the basis of your outline to them of how you see the project going. But they are going to do the job, they are the hands-on experts, now you want them to put it all into their language, to add their input and to own this programme for themselves. So ask them to summarise what you are saying, ask them to go away and prepare their detailed planner, milestones, key needs and so on. It is only then that, together, you can agree on a reliable and shared programme, a series of agreed detailed steps, key reporting moments, resource needs, and start to build mutual trust.

3. Appropriate Reporting

The essence of this is:

  • to ensure your needs are met;
  • to ensure their and the project´s needs are met;
  • to build learning, mutual trust and fulfilment.

Your needs are wholly valid. You are the leader. I´m not suggesting for one moment that you abrogate your responsibilities, just manage them in a way that ensures success and helps your people fly.

You may need to have feedback every month, perhaps two days before a relevant board meeting of yours. So organise their diaries to suit. You should be very clear how you want their report to look, so set that out in advance. You will not want any surprises, so make sure they have all your contact numbers. You will want the written report a few days before the milestone meetings, so ask for that. Set out your needs, write them down, then carry them out with zero tolerance.

The project team and the project itself will have their own valid rhythm – recognise this and honour it. Your shared planner will have indicated and justified milestone meetings – why bother to have any others? When you do hold these meetings, set aside enough time to:

  • prepare yourself
  • listen to their full report
  • debate and decide on any key issues
  • give them support, praise and help
  • write your own meeting notes.

Trust – the whole point of the agreed steps, the understanding, reporting dates and needs, and of allowing full time for reporting, is to build a steadily growing mutual trust to reinforce each other and to celebrate hard–won gains. Your own detailed planning in steps 1 and 2 will have ensured you have the right people and resources– the reporting phase should be a fulfilling team experience.

  1. Feedback

    Harry, unfortunately the world is a ragged place. Things do not always go well, sometimes things go really wrong.Confront the need for feedback at once, make it timely, constructive and relevant. A simple handwritten note of thanks the moment a particular battle has been won is worth gold dust.If someone is not performing as agreed, confront the issue at once. This is vital, a triple-whammy:

    • You avoid the creeping unease and mistrust that can so undermine confidence.
    • You head off any real failing and have the maximum time to deal with it.
    • You underline the robust foundations of your trust, because everyone knows you genuinely speak your mind when you need to.
  2. Constructive Intervention

    Keep away from interfering; leave the team to their own space, let them create their own world. But, to be inspirational, anticipate those moments when an intervention by you can really catch the wind. People are working late, or weekends, so you walk in and buy them dinner. A member of the team is unwell, you drop them a personal note. Get your team leader to nudge you when you can help just by being there. And if you are, remember, that is what you are there for– to help, to be positive, to say thank you – you are not there to nay-say, micro-manage, or take over the meeting.
  3. Celebrating the ResultBelieve it or not, this is so rarely done. I suspect it is because you, the CEO, has so many other massive calls on your time, so many other high and low points. One particular project may be of relatively minor significance compared to all the other things on your plate. Not so your project team, and you ignore their success at your peril. For them, this is their major challenge and they have won. So ho;d a celebration, complete a note for their personal records, write them all a thank-you note, send flowers to their wives. It is so easy to do and it cements:
    • their spirit and morale;
    • the team learning;
    • the overall rapport between you and them.

    And, perhaps not least importantly, it reinforces your image in the company as being worth working for.

And finally, Harry, in all this, it can be useful to think about the key drivers that make us committed to a course of action, to a team and to a leader. There has been a lot of recent work on this, and I think it all comes down to recognising and respecting four fundamental needs that we all have:

Need 1: We all want to feel we belong, we are a respected and loved part of a team. Ultimately mankind is a gregarious beast — we like to bond, so make sure we do.

Need 2: We love to learn, new tricks, new skills, perhaps just to understand how something works, how to find joined–up thinking for joined–up problems. So encourage feedback, encourage learning, and give everyone space to learn for themselves.

Need 3: We want to improve our lot. This may be in financial terms, or it may be in many other ways, gaining respect, for example. So find out what makes people tick, reward them well and try to meet their needs.

Need 4:  Finally, none of us likes to be threatened. If we are, we rarely perform better. Most times we become defensive. We stop being open and truthful and instead we cover up, turn a blind eye or blame others. Whatever you do, avoid creating a climate of fear. The moment your people become defensive, your leadership task has become tenfold more difficult.

So there you have it, Harry, my friend, and here ends the lesson for today.

See you Monday.

Yours ever,