Credit to John Beeson | (HBR)
You’ve gotten feedback from your manager as well as word of rumblings within your team: You’re seen as a micromanager who tends to get into the weeds — and stay there. You produce great results but senior management sees you as an operational manager and questions your ability to let go and operate at a strategic level. Wait a minute, you think. Who are they trying to kid? Delegation sounds great on paper, but you’re responsible for some major projects, and management expects flawless execution. How can they have it both ways?
Managers prone to micromanagement fall prey to several misconceptions about delegating to staff. The first is the assumption that delegation has an on and off switch. That is, that they either delegate totally to all direct reports in all situations or not at all. They fail to assess each subordinate’s ability to operate independently and don’t put in place the “eyehooks” of implementation — the check-ins, milestones, and metrics — that promote predictable execution. And they forget that there are times when they need to get directly involved to get a major initiative back on course.
Chronic problems with delegation can cripple your team’s productivity and create a major impediment to your own career success. Lee Monroe is a cautionary example. Superbly trained and the proverbial “smartest guy in the room,” he put himself squarely in the middle of virtually every decision his organization had to make. Progress within his team ground to a halt, several key people resigned, and Lee ultimately left to pursue other interests. Once seen as one of the corporation’s rising stars, senior management came to the conclusion that he lacked the ability to operate at a higher level.
If you’d like to delegate and leverage your team more, your starting point lies in the answers to two fundamental questions: 1) Where can I add the greatest value to our team’s performance — and as a result, where should I be spending my time and energy? 2) What skills do I need on my team to accomplish our goals and allow me to play that value-added role? You won’t be able to let go overnight. Instead, put in place a six-month game plan that allows you to delegate more and devote your time to the issues and activities that add the greatest value. Be specific. Where do you intend to devote more time: in the marketplace with customers? Dealing with future-oriented strategy or major cross-functional initiatives with peers? And where will you spending less time, for example, in long, detailed project planning meetings with direct reports.
Next, evaluate your staff. Which team members are highly capable and can be stretched to take on more responsibility and operate more independently? Who are the talented people that, although green in their roles, can get up the learning curve quickly with coaching and guidance? Who are the team members that even with coaching can’t or won’t step up? Then use this information to plan your delegation strategy and re-shape your team.
As you give more responsibility and autonomy to your most capable direct reports, focus your conversation less on how they should approach a task and more on the what and why. For example, why is the initiative important? What’s the scope of the task and what is their level of authority: to make the decision or bring options and a recommendation to you for approval? What are the key issues they need to address and resolve? Who are the people in other groups they need to collaborate along the way? What are the key milestones and check-in points and what are your expectations for communication during the course of the initiative? By contrast, with less experienced people you are trying to help move up the learning curve toward greater independence, it’s appropriate to be more prescription about the how things are to be done. Similarly, your check-ins will typically be more frequent and detailed.
To reinforce their delegation efforts, many managers deputize a staff member to monitor due dates and key deliverables on their behalf so things don’t fall through the cracks. They also incorporate follow ups on major initiatives into regular team staff meetings and create metrics that help the team know if things are on track. In the process they create a positive peer pressure within the team, since staff members don’t want to have to present an update to their peers that shows an important priority falling behind schedule.
It’s important to realize that other people won’t do things exactly the same way you would. Challenge yourself to distinguish between the style in which direct reports approach tasks and thequality of the results. As you delegate more and coach those who need it, test whether you have been successful in expanding people’s skills so they can operate more autonomously and whether you’ve made a fundamental change in how you’re spending your time and energy. If the answer is yes, you have succeeded on several fronts. You’ve increased the organizational capability of your group, and you’ve demonstrated the bandwidth to take on a broader range of responsibilities, a win-win for your team and your career advancement.