I love the start of a new year. It is as if the slate has been wiped clean and I am ready to begin anew. I know this is an illusion; most of what is on my plate is not new work but the continuation of contracts begun months ago. But there is something about that turn of the calendar page to January that makes me feel like everything is new and different.
If the work is not new, at least my attitude toward it is refreshed. I like to spend time the first quarter of every year reflecting on how to be focused, efficient and energetic. I doggedly seek out inefficiencies in my work habits and look to streamline work in a way to get more done in the limited time that I have. One question I always ask myself is “Am I the best person to be doing this work?” Should I do it or should I delegate it to another resource?
Delegating work can be a real challenge for business leaders yet it is critical that all work be in the hands of the person most suited to get it done quickly and accurately. For a business to thrive and grow, many hands need to be in the mix. When leaders fail to delegate work, the business climate suffers, as I wrote about in my blog in September on Trust and Risk. I even tackled the “it is easier to do it myself” excuse in another blog on Delegation: Never Enough Time.
If delegating work makes so much sense, why is it so difficult to do well? In my opinion, leaders shy away from delegating because of some pretty powerful fears, not because they do not know how to transfer work to others. Read on to take a closer look at what may be behind a reluctance to let go of work and what you can do to reduce those barriers preventing you from sharing work with others.
May your winter months be filled with good health and high productivity!
ON DELEGATION: MANAGING RISK, MAXIMIZING RESULTS
By Dr. Alice Waagen
I recently shared coffee with a colleague who told me a sad tale about leadership in her organization. She’s a C-Suite executive in a trade association known for its strong advocacy mission. We were looking at the year ahead and sharing hopes and concerns for 2014. “If only I could get my CEO to ease up a bit,” she related to me. “She is working herself to exhaustion every week. Her staff is frustrated and disillusioned. I hear the dreaded phrase ‘micromanager’ at least five times a day.”
I responded to her story with the one word I know would fix this problem: delegation. For some leaders, transferring work to others, letting go of control, can be a real challenge. Yet nothing will promote growth and business sustainability more than a healthy flow of work down through the ranks. Healthy delegation, and its negative counterpart, poor delegation practices, are essential elements of organizational culture.
Delegation is so much more that simply workflow. Every layer of leadership, from the top down, that delegates and empowers, demonstrates trust and respect of their staff. When a CEO empowers his/her C-Suite to make decisions and manage work, these execs in turn will transfer work and responsibility downward. The challenging work assignments and projects cascade down the organizational chain. These stretch assignments not only develop skills and experience, they form the foundation of personal development and ultimately build the bench strength needed for succession planning. Healthy delegation produces healthy organizations which produce healthy productivity. What‘s not to like about that?
If the benefits of delegation are so profound, why is it done so poorly? I believe that the root cause of delegation aversion is fear. Fear of letting go, losing control, having someone else do the work differently from my way. The fear may be real and well-grounded. A CEO may be reluctant to turn certain difficult key clients over to an underling if the client demands to only speak with the top exec. But not all fear is grounded in sound business reasons. Some execs are reluctant to delegate for fear of loss of control. Others may see delegation as an erosion of their power. Others are perfectionists by nature and cannot tolerate the learning curve required when giving new assignments.
When I am asked to help leaders who are reluctant to delegate, I start by getting them to objectively evaluate the risks in transferring work. We examine every body of work on their desks, answering the following 5 key questions:
- Do you have enough time to delegate? Every delegation needs some amount to training and guidance. Do you have the time to initially guide the work? Good delegation is not dump the work then run away.
- What is the bandwidth for errors and mistakes? For delegation to be a learning assignment, mistakes and rework need to be tolerated. What are the consequences in dollars and impact on the business if something goes wrong?
- What are the interpersonal challenges in the assignment? Does it involve working with a demanding client, or a difficult Board member?
- Does the project have a high level of visibility? Does it involve being the public face for the company? Does it involve interaction with regulators, Board members or competitors?
- Are there cross impacts to other teams or other parts of your organization that make the work especially volatile?
Answers to these questions will give the leader an objective assessment of the risk associated with the assignment. The assessment can then be used to guide the level of responsibility and timeframe of the delegation. One exec I worked with using this process originally felt that a very challenging data analytics project could never be delegated yet it took up vast amounts of his time. Working through the 5 questions gave him insight in gradually delegating parts of the work over a 12 month period. Today he has 3 of his direct reports running the data analytics, freeing up nearly 5 hours a week for him and creating layers of backup talent to cover this critical work.
The ultimate goal of any business leader is to maximize resources. Objectively analyzing risk and consequences allows work to flow to the best person for the job and not get stuck in boxes on an org chart. That maximizes efficiency and produces results. Great way to start the New Year!