4 February 2013

Have You Got a Minute?…

Delegation or the lack of it can make or break a business. I do regular surveys with managers and owners in large and small businesses, and most of them consider themselves poor delegators.

Senior people make themselves too available.

Interruptions (many of them unnecessary) plague most people in business, and most bosses are no exception. We’ve come out of the dark ages where managers never communicated anything to their underlings, through the development of open communication and empowerment, to the point where many people feel they have to ‘be available’ all day.

So where does delegation fit in here? Being ‘there for my staff’ 100% of the time is not good management. In fact, it causes bottlenecks, frustration, low morale, and blocks your people from learning and developing their own skills.

I’d been called in to help the partner in a law firm – we’ll call her Deirdre. She was in overload.

‘Tell me about your workflow,’ I requested.

‘I do believe in being here for my staff,’ said Deirdre. ‘It’s an open door policy round here.’

As soon as she said that, I knew I had one answer. Problem is, the little darlings start to rely on a boss who’s always available. Before they know it, many bosses who run such a system end up doing the work of their team.

Now she meets first thing with her PA. The assistant handles more phone calls, makes most of her appointments, and shields Deirdre from many more interruptions. This may seem obvious, but the process constantly needs to be revisited. Many executives don’t use their assistants effectively. When we do a task we could delegate to another who’s paid a lesser rate, we effectively pay ourselves at that lower rate (and it’s easy to slip into old habits). Do the math!

The other short early morning meetings she now runs are with her direct reports. She makes sure they’ve got their work sorted for the day and takes any questions. Then, unless it’s a crisis, she’s instructed them to save further questions until later in the day. No more wandering in with ‘just a quick question’.

Also she now doesn’t accept morning meetings with clients (again, unless it’s an emergency). It’s not hard to do – the PA just says she’s in meetings, and she is – with herself, doing top level work for clients. For many of us it’s our most productive time – use it for the hard work, the creative work, the thinking work.

Result?

Staff are more focused, work output for all of them has increased, staff are taking more responsibility and interruptions have dramatically reduced, profits are up, Deirdre’s personal time has improved, and she is absolutely ecstatic.

Push your staff into taking responsibility

If competent people keep interrupting you with questions they should be able to handle, ask them to come with two solutions every time they come with a question. Pretty soon you’ll find the interruptions have reduced. If they’ve had to work out the answers before they come, they’ll soon realise they don’t need to interrupt you for what amounts to a ‘rubber-stamp job’. If you’re too quick to supply the answer you encourage laziness and dependency and after all, it’s human nature to take the easy road. These kind of people have been rewarded in the past for it, so why wouldn’t they wear out your carpet asking questions? It saves thinking!





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