Posts filed under ‘Delegating’
Regardless of our circumstances we often share the same thoughts. The notion “It can’t happen here”, is such a common way of looking at disaster, that even Kissinger got into the act with his famous “There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.”
Humor aside, disasters happen regardless of what you had planned for the week. How badly they affect us, is determined by our ability to respond without warning to crisis situations.
The traditional approach to disaster planning is to create a methodology, install contingency plans, ensure that proper backups of crucial data are made, and place all this documentation in yellow binders on a shelf. If we’re diligent, we take it out once a year for some exercise.
This way of planning for disaster, while it provides many benefits, also contains a serious flaw. It’s not so much the cost – insurance of any type always costs money. The flaw is more subtle, but it is potentially serious enough to scuttle the best laid plan.
It is this, Disasters by their very nature, happen unexpectedly. Our success on the day is based upon how we react when we’re confused and don’t know what’s going on. Planning allows us to think through the process of what to do if (when?) something happens, before it actually occurs. That thought process alone is the central core of any contingency plan, but just thinking about it, isn’t enough. We have to go into the water before we know how to swim. We have to live it, to learn from it. Planning for the experience is not the same as experiencing the plan.
How to improve a disaster recovery plan? Given the stated nature of disasters, ‘unexpectedly and without warning’ seems like the right approach.
At 9:00am on a Monday morning, inform 50% (or a mere dozen if that would be too disruptive) of your management team, individually and personally, that they’re leaving immediately for an off site location for an emergency meeting. No prior warning. No details provided. No excuses accepted. All meetings regardless of importance are ignored. No notification to secretaries/assistants or clients allowed. All cell phones and blackberries collected. In other words, just like a real life crisis.
When they arrive via the waiting bus, they’re told of the ‘disaster’ that has taken place. They are to respond to this ‘disaster’ over the next day or two. What is the ‘disaster’? That depends on how severe you want it to be and what you think would provide the best information.
There’s a certain beauty to this exercise – NO PREPARATION IS REQUIRED. (except possibly for the bus) The Exercise starts at 9:00am when your employees are informed. NO hotel is booked – no coffee pre-ordered, no Flip Charts on site.
I already hear the objections… we need to book the hotel in advance otherwise…
Question… on the day our building is on fire, bombed, flooded, the senior exec team all killed in an air crash, captured by ninjas etc. etc. will we already have a room booked? If we cannot manage this minuscule exercise in crisis – then we are fundamentally incapable of handling a real emergency.
Back at the office the remainder of the management team can take the exercise one step further and pretend the entire off site team are victims of a disaster. This secondary exercise might be more than your organization can handle without severely impacting day-to-day operations. The alternative is to merely explain what is going on and cope with their unexpected absence for two days (week?). There is learning even this minimalist approach.
The exercise provides two benefits. First? An immediate and relatively inexpensive evaluation of how well your management team responds to an unexpected crisis.
Secondly? In a very short period of time, with minimal impact to your organization, you highlight those areas most vulnerable to the ‘disaster’ you selected. With that in hand you can now move forward to a ‘real’ contingency plan with specific objectives in mind.
The objections to this exercise are many and obvious. You can’t afford the time. The board would object. You can’t afford the negative impact to the business. Your schedule is full next week.
I’m a bright lad. Honest! But even with this as a given, if you give me a set of instructions, then the chances are better than good that I won’t understand exactly what you meant. It’s not that either of us are terrible at communicating, it’s that communicating is terribly difficult.
We do our best to ensure that what we understand is what the other person meant to say. The strategy we use most often is asking for confirmation. We repeat back, or rephrase what we were asked to do, with the goal of getting a nod of agreement. The person we’re speaking with, is expecting this approach and is all too eager to agree that we’ve ‘got it’… then they can get on with their next task. It’s a small room version of Groupthink.
Forget the title on our business cards. We’re not “Store” managers, “Operations” managers, “IT” managers or “HR” managers. All those prefixes are gross typos, they should all spell out “People”, because that’s the primary responsibility of any management role. Yes, we might have responsibility for the Store, Operations, IT or HR and more besides, but we can only discharge that responsibility through our ability to manage people.
Management isn’t a form of Magic. There are no secrets here. How can there be secrets? Management is about working with people, therefore it is a transparent activity. You can’t ‘manage’ without being seen by someone.
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.
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.