Archive for August, 2007
If you can afford to… let them fail
The very best employees are those who not only can think for themselves, but those who insist on thinking for themselves.
Now let’s be honest here. If you’ve been a manager for any length of time, you cringed, perhaps even whimpered, when you read that statement. The easy folks to manage, are those at the far opposite end of the spectrum, those without a thought in their heads, who do exactly what you tell them. The ones filled with ideas and a burning desire to prove themselves are, shall we say (to be polite?) a ‘challenge’?
But they’re important. Why? Because if there’s one thing all organizations need is a constant flow of ideas. Management must not only treasure these people, they must encourage the free-range thinking they offer. This can cause ‘problems’ when delegating work to these free spirits.
Fact. We delegate work with the intention of getting it done correctly. Sometimes, the person to whom we delegate the task has their own idea about how to get it accomplished. When that idea will work? There isn’t a problem. Just leave them to their own devices, get out of their way, clear obstacles for them if you have to, but essentially your job as manager is over. Move onto something else, that particular task is off your plate.
So far so good, but what if…
Their approach to the problem/task is doomed to failure from the start. You know, without doubt, from painful personal experience, that the approach they’re proposing will fail. What do you do?
Let’s get the obvious out of the way shall we? The goal of delegating is to get tasks successfully completed and put to bed. If a proposed solution isn’t going to do that, then we need to change the solution, otherwise we won’t meet our original goal. Fair enough. This is a given. No surprises here.
But… that doesn’t preclude accomplishing all this a little bit later, so that some serious learning can take place first.
There’s a qualifier here. An important one. If you can’t afford a failure at this time… then we have to use the very best solution we’re aware of, and do that now, not later.
But if we can afford a failure… then let the employee try out their idea. Let them fail. They’ll learn far more by having a pet idea fail, that you’ll ever be able to teach them. It’s called ‘the learning moment’ and they’re as rare as hens teeth and worth their weight in gold.
Here’s what happens if you ‘force’ them (persuade/convince/cajole etc.) not to use their idea, but to use yours instead. They’ll succeed (maybe), but their idea will still exist in the back of their head. They won’t truly believe that their idea was wrong, all they’ll have learnt is that your idea didn’t fail… this time.
Affordable failures are priceless opportunities.
We’re cowards, we lie, we cheat, we don’t plan, we’re too optimistic, we steal and we make it all up as we go along – but other than that? We’re well intentioned.
1) We’re Cowards
A project is only as good as the accuracy of the last status report – which means that most projects are doomed from the very first status meeting. Why? Because we’re afraid to provide accurate assessments of project progress.
We could try to argue that it’s not fear that prompts us to lie (we’d prefer the words ‘spin’ or ‘shade’) about where we are on the project, about how badly we’ve missed a deadline, or how hopelessly clueless we are about the problem that’s delaying us. If it’s not ‘fear of consequences’ that prevents accurate reporting then what is it? The version of the Project Management tool we’re using?
Good tasks begin, and end, with ‘Why’
The first question we learn is “Why?” and regardless of how long we live, we’ll never stray far from asking it. From cradle to grave it’s the question that drives us forward. It’s how we determine how the world works, our place in it, the importance of everything around us, how things relate to each other and even the meaning of life – if any. It’s no less important in the task of delegating work.
There’s a line of thought that argues employees don’t need reasons, they just need direction. That a manager’s role is not to explain the importance of a task – just to assign it. In my experience, both as the giver and taker of work, we need both reason and direction. If we’re expected to show any degree of initiative, then knowing the ‘whys’ of any task is crucial.
It’s my Task! Not yours!
Talking about how to delegate is all very good, but it begs an often unasked question,
“Why do some Managers avoid delegating?”
Let’s tackle some of the easy reasons first.
I’ll be touching on delegating all this week, think of the next five posts as a set piece.
Why focus so much time on delegating? Because it’s Management’s primary tool for doing what we do. If we can do this ‘right’, then to a large degree we’re doing ‘management’ right.
As managers we leverage the actions and abilities of others. That seems obvious, or at least it should be obvious. If I have people reporting to me, that means they rely on me for direction, and guidance in the form of both positive and negative feedback. They also rely on me for training, growth and advancement. These are my foremost responsibilities. I can take on additional tasks only to the extent that they don’t interfere with these responsibilities.
Once upon a time, in a land far far away, there was this young, newly appointed manager. He was bright, intelligent and an excellent problem solver. In fact he was twice as good at solving problems than any of his six staff – that frustrated him. He could not rely on them to do the work as well as he could.
Because he was so much better at solving problems than his employees (and he was indeed better. He was faster, more effective and what he fixed? Stayed fixed!) he attempted to solve all the problems in his department by himself. He micromanaged everything. He was swamped. No matter how fast he ran from crisis to crisis there were more problems than he could solve on his own no matter how many hours he worked. (more…)
Six traits of effective leaders:
Make others feel important
Promote a vision;
Follow the golden rule;
Criticize others only in private;
Stay close to the action.
Christian Nevell Bovee
There’s this myth going around that good managers are rare because being a good manager is difficult. That’s just silly.
Examine the list above, is there anything there we couldn’t do, if we understood the need for doing them, the value and the payback for doing them?