You delegate a lot, but are you really getting work done through people? Let’s look at delegation carefully. Theory says you should offload the routine, freeing you to focus on strategic issues. You see this as managing, not doing. But aren’t you just switching the focus of doing from implementation to strategic thinking?
Instead of getting tasks done, now you’re doing the big picture thinking. So, you’re still a doer.
If the point of delegation is just to free you up to do the interesting stuff, then maybe you’re operating like the managing partner in a law firm. In this role you want fully competent subordinates who can work without bothering you too much. This frees you to focus on your own legal case load, the interesting work you were trained to do. But if you need to coordinate the input of diverse team members to create a single, unified output, then you have to work more extensively through people, not just make time for yourself to do what interests you.
Let’s get back to basics. I’m sure we agree that management means getting work done through people. But what sort of work are we talking about? In the good old days, work meant doing tasks, getting things done. Now, we work in a world where knowledge is king, not static information, but the ability to think creatively, to develop novel solutions and to be innovative. Work has shifted from physical to mental. Thinking smart is now front and center.
To get physical work done through others, you obviously have to ask them to do it, but today, knowledge workers also do a lot of mental work: to solve problems, make delicate decisions and innovate. To get people to think more creatively or broadly you need to ask them questions like: What do you think? What do you see as the options for dealing with this issue? What are the pros and cons of your preferred option? What obstacles do you foresee? How do you propose to get around them?
Asking questions means being a facilitator, catalyst or coach rather than a doer. Now, you are not doing the thinking or problem solving, you are stimulating others to do it. So, now you have two tools for getting work done through people: delegation and facilitation. Projects and other tasks can be delegated, but when would you use facilitation? The mental work you need to get done through people is precisely the interesting strategic stuff you thought you should reserve for yourself. But why should you do this? The reason is that you can’t get the most out of people by just offloading the easy stuff onto them. To really motivate, engage, develop and retain them, you need to involve them in the creative aspects of your work. Sure, you can delegate some of this thinking too, but brainstorming as a group is proven to yield better decisions than any one person can make alone. Your role is to be a catalyst in such brainstorming sessions, using questions to strike the right balance between challenge and support so people are forced to think harder while still feeling safe to say what they really think.
Not only do we have mental as well as physical tasks to do, but managers also have to manage complex projects that require coordinating inputs from diverse specialists. Getting this type of work done through people calls for even more complex facilitative skills. Here it is not just a matter of asking stimulating questions but of continually liaising between your team and your client so that you can adapt as your understanding of the client’s needs are refined and you learn what works as the project unfolds. Getting the best out of people requires a combination of skills: getting the right people doing the right things, delegation and the facilitation of brainstorming to solve problems. The key point here is to avoid relying on yourself to come up with the answers. Your role is to be a catalyst, facilitator and coach at least 80% of the time if you adhere to the 80/20 rule.