How to Delegate

By: John F. Graham

hands passing the batton against blue sky

How not to delegate

Dumping work on your subordinates just to survive the week is not really delegating. It may be necessary at times, but it should not be business as usual. And employee should always know why he/she is receiving the project (and it is normally a project, otherwise it is just part of his/her normal job description) and is already being done.

Why we must delegate

There are several valid reasons to delegate work to your employees

  1. There is just not enough of you (the boss) to go around. If you try to do all the projects yourself, you will be overwhelmed and end up doing lots of projects below your expectations.
  2. Time is of the essence. This happens because the time window is too small or the project deadline just got moved up.
  3. To develop subordinates. Sometimes it truly is better to just do it yourself. I am picky and sometimes I remember the old saying: “if you want it done right, do it yourself.” I am currently teaching my teenage son to drive. I rarely have plenty of time to just take him driving. But I know if I don’t teach him, he is not going to learn. Yes he will be taking a Driver’s Education class later, but I want to make sure he gets it sooner. So when we go places together in my car, I find a lonely course close to home and make him drive home. At first he was very uncomfortable and at times resisted. Now he is doing very well and getting the hang of it. Sooner or later he has to be independent and drive himself around. This will help him and allow him to help his parents. Your employees aren’t much different. They have to learn how to do things and it will take some of your time. But it will save you time later. Develop your employees.

The proper method

  1. Identify the need/taskYou must clearly know in your mind what needs to be done before you can make it clear in someone else’s mind. It is frustrating and unfair to ask an employee to work toward a vague destination or goal.
  2. The goal of the project must be clear. It is better to over define a project than to leave requirements vague. Well-meaning employees will be left to guess at some of the requirements and when one guesses one might guess wrong. Take the guess work out.
  3. Choose the right employeeIf you have the options, select the employee who can learn and grow from the project. As a young engineer, I was given projects that made me uncomfortable at first but, I sure learned a lot each time and my confidence grew. I remember my boss assigning a really tough project once. I replied, “Wow that is not going to be easy.” He said, “If it was easy, I wouldn’t have picked you.” I walked out with clarity and confidence and did a great job.
    1. Review the task with the employee
    2. The Need – Make the objective crystal clear.
    3. Desired Outcome – Where do you want this journey to end? Define the output. Do you want a report with lots of attachment? Do you just want an executive summary? Do you want charts and graphs? What exactly do you want?Timeframe Exactly when is the project due?  Do you want some small submittals due along the way? If so, when? Again, make it clear. You may also want to ‘pad’ the time a little. Give yourself room for unforeseen obstacles. What if upper management suddenly turns up the heat and the project comes due sooner? The achievement milestones will certainly help.
  4. Follow up, Measure and AdjustAgree up front how often you two will meet to review the progress (Once a week is normal). Tell the employee what you will be looking for and the format expected. This will allow you both to make adjustments along the way. Too many managers wait until the project is due then have the “1st review” with the employee only to find the project had drifted in the wrong direction.
  5. Completion & ReviewOnce the project is completed, have a final review with the employee. As what lesson were learned and how it might be done different next time. This is not the time to reprimand the employee, but discuss openly. If done right, it is a learning opportunity for both of you.

Things to remember

It takes time: Don’t expect someone new at a task to do it exactly right the first time. A “B-“ is still a good grade. Be patient and allow time to make corrections, especially on high visibility projects.

Different is not wrong, just different. There are lots of different ways to get a bus from here to downtown. But in the end the result is the same. Don’t micromanage and insist that the employee do the project exactly how you would do it. Tell them “what” you need done, and not “how.” Many younger employees who need help will ask about the “how.” Then you can offer suggestions and options.

More experienced employees don’t need much direction, just follow up. Some well-groomed employees will need no direction on how to get there, only the end point. Respect their experience, yet always leave the door open for guidance. Don’t make them feel less competent if they want to discuss options and concepts. These employees normally know they are helping to relieve the work load, not for personal development. Give appreciation for the help.

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Why People Stop Buying You

We are all in sales and we all have someone we want to buy our ideas.

This concepts applies to official sales reps and then to the rest of us. We are all in sales and must get a lot of other people to buy into our ideas. Think beyond the official “selling” to customers, but we will cover that too.
One of the hardest sales is getting someone to marry us. That is huge. Think about it. Will you spend the rest of your life with me? I didn’t say “will you spend a few years working with me or being my customer,” I said, “will you spend the rest of your life with me?” That is selling at its finest. Or how about selling your teenager on doing the right thing? Or selling your fellow employee on doing what is best for the company?

First I want to cover the subject of:

  • Why customers go away from companies

Sales reps work very hard to get new customers, but normally only after a company has gone through considerable expense to market their product or service and then get leads. Once the valuable lead is in hand, the designated sales rep makes contact or frequently makes multiple contacts and then closes the sales. For most company this is tragically where the selling stops.

According to a national survey (Gallup® if I recall) I found some time ago, the key reasons customers leave are:

  • 4% died
  • 5% moved away
  • 9% found better service
  • 14% had a specific grievance
  •  68% because they were treated with indifference

Now you have little or no control of someone passing away or moving away. So let’s move on. Some will truly find a different product or service that is a better fit. Good for them. Then there are those who have specific grievances and these many times can be resolve. And because you stepped up and resolved the issue, the relationship was strengthened for the long term. This leaves the last one which is over 2/3’s of everything – being treated with indifference. This basically leaves the customer feeling that you just don’t care. Then the customer leaves you.

How does this happen? Many sales reps are incentivized to close deals, not maintain deals. If you promise the moon and deliver much less, the shine will quickly wear off.

Looking at the last two reasons, we realize this makes up over 80% of everything. Therefore, a company and its sales reps can be in total control of over 4/5’s of keeping a customer or not.

Given the high price paid to find and acquire a new customer, you would think it valuable to do a better job managing these relationships.

The second subject can be somewhat painful so I saved it for last.

This is the selling we all do in our everyday lives to our bosses, our co-workers, our subordinates, our spouses, our children, etc. Let’s go back to the biggest sale of our lives – marriage. Almost no one goes into a marriage thinking it might fall apart one day. Well if you are over 30 and reading this article, that has happened to approximately 50% of us. We certainly meant well and wanted everything to work. But why didn’t it?

Probably some variation on this:

  • 4% died
  • 5% moved away
  • 9% found better service
  • 14% had a specific grievance
  • 68% because they were treated with indifference

The good news is, we can be in control of well over 90% of all of this.

We have to keep selling and avoid sliding into indifference. Most all of us are guilty of selling hard to close this “marriage” deal and then forget to keep selling and maintaining the relationship with the ‘customer.’ I know I am guilty of it way too often. There is travel, schedules, deadlines, and bosses, but in the end we all have to come home.

But what about relationships with bosses, co-workers and subordinates. Don’t these relationships need maintenance too? Of course they do. But it is very easy to forget about how important these people are to our lives.

So now you know: you are in control of most of it.
Everyone’s in sales, yet we all need to work on getting better at it.

Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast

About 100 years ago, Henry Ford was quoted as saying “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”  That was a long time ago and the business world has changed a lot since then.  But ironically the truth in that statement has changed very little.

A few years ago, I was hired to audit a recent merger of two rather large oilfield service companies.  My mission was to find and identify some specific performance issues in their quality system.  Before I began, my host closed the door and began to explain how the one larger entity (company A) bought out the other entity (company B) from the shareholders.  However, the new combined company was presented more as a merger of equals.  The equality was not working too well.  He told me that when I talked with the members of the old ‘A’ company, I would get one attitude represented by a culture of large company protocol and adherence to hierarchy.  He also said when I talked with the members of the acquired company ‘B,’ I would notice resentment and a lingering culture of a maverick attitude in the employees.  That maverick attitude is what the founder of the original company ‘B’ promoted throughout the original organization and it had made that company very successful.

The new merged company had developed a new grand strategy.  He summarized the new strategy for me.  I then continued and conducted the audit as required.  I quickly noticed the attitudes of each of the two member sets just as he had predicted.  The company ‘A’ members acted according to the old larger company culture and the company ‘B’ members retained their maverick attitudes from the former culture.  I got the feeling that this new ‘merger of equals’ would never work or at least never be able to achieve the strategic intent.

Now, fast forward a few years.  The ‘merger’ eventually did work out.  However, the strategic objective did not succeed in the desired time period.  It took about twice as long as desired.  The reason for the delay was clearly the culture clash.  Eventually the cultures melted into one another and the result was something much closer to the original ‘A’ culture.  The true mavericks of the original ‘B’ company left the merger for employment elsewhere.  This of course made the eventual success of the merger a bit easier.

I strongly believe that the success of any company is built around the concept of:

People, Processes & Strategy.

The strategy is the plan, the grand plan if you will.  It is what the executive have derived and refined as the direction and target for the organization.  The strategy is supported by the business processes.  Yet the business processes must be run by the people.    But the people are not mere positions being filled by robots.  These are people with people issues.  They bring experience – all of it, good and bad.  I once read a quote that said:

“We hired workers, but human beings came instead.”

Why is this the #1 Employee Complaint?

As an employee productivity expert, I often start the consulting process to improve a client company by interviewing lots of the key employees. By key employees, I mean anyone I think can help us get an accurate assessment of what is really working and not working at the company. I always talk to a few ‘mover and shaker’ types; some new employees; some long-term employees and of course, to any malcontents. Why malcontents? They usually have some useful information once you get past their complaining. Perhaps they are complaining for good reason or perhaps they are just because they are complainers. I still want to hear it regardless.

Anyone can sway your conclusions if you let them. The key is to ask the same basic questions to everyone and to count the number of repetitive responses you get. I rarely put any credibility into any one answer. I am looking for consistency and trends – things that will prove useful to helping the company.

I always start with a basic list of questions that normally prove useful and then review the questions with the executives that hired us. This does two things. First it reassures the executive that I am not going to ask any inappropriate questions. Second, it allows the executives to modify the questions. Usually, they change the questions to make them more specific and pointed.

Next I interview the employees. Ask questions and take notes. I build trust and assure the employees that I am not going to reveal anyone’s names along with the answers. This will allow the employees to speak freely. Without asking any questions about communication, we still get a lot of comments about communication. I do ask some generic questions like “what do we as a company need to do better?” This where we normally get the answer: “we don’t communicate enough.” Oddly, this is the number 1 answer or complaint that we get consistently amongst most all client companies.

When we report this answer back to the top executives “we don’t communicate enough,” the executives usually become very frustrated, even irritated. They say they don’t understand how so many employees could say this, because as executives they are overwhelmed with communication. They have too many emails, too many meetings, and too much of everything.

The truth is that most all employees are experiencing lots of communication too. The other truth is that the executives are trying to communicate or at least not trying to hold back most communication. The problem is the executives are too busy to do a good job communicating with the rest of the organization. The other problem is the perceptions that employees are not receiving the right communication. They don’t feel like they are ‘in on things.’ Even if they are really getting the necessary information, the issue of their “perception” of not being in on things is a problem. It is hard to build a consensus culture with everyone focused on the company strategy when a lot of the employees feel left out of the communication loop.

So what is the solution? After the executives discuss this answer and come to realize that we all need to do a better job communicating – they agree that improving the feedback loop to all employees in general will improve real communication and the perception of communication. There are various ways executives can do this. Some options include:

  • Direct face to face meetings with different groups
  • Town hall meetings with everyone
  • A newsletter
  • A memo
  • Twitter
  • Emails to all
  • Etc.

Regardless of the method selected, the executives in charge of communication to the troops must do it on a regular basis, such as weekly, monthly or quarterly. Now that you know ‘how’ and ‘when,’ the only question left is what you will communicate to the employees. If we communicate the wrong thing or watered down messages, the employees will still have the perception that ‘we don’t communicate enough.’ I can give you my suggested answers on what to communcate, but there is a more accurate answer. The executives should go and interview 7 to 10 employees and let them tell you what they would like communicated on a regular basis.

You will hear such answers like:

  • Be honest about the truth of the State of the Company
  • Tell us what we really face in the near future
  • What is working
  • What is not working
  • Where do we stand in the market place
  • Etc.

If you get these answers from the employees and then regularly communicate this information back to the employees, you will find two amazing things:

  1. More employees will support and contribute to the company’s strategy, and;
  2. Communication will no longer be the #1 complaint.


Motivation in the Work Place – How did Christopher Columbus do it?

From Chapter 4 of “Why Give 100%, I just work here?”  Available on  Hard copy and Kindle

Because of the fear of the future and the unknown, I am unable to fill my ships with enough hired sailors. I stand before you, the worst criminals of the prison, knowing more of you will say yes to avoid execution.  I can sail, I can navigate, I am a good captain.  There will be lots of uncertainty, but I can guarantee your freedom if you come along, even though I cannot guarantee your exact future and where you will end up.

Knowing that…….Are you coming with me?                                                                                               C. Columbus 1492

The 4 Stages of a Job

From Chapter 3, Why Give 100%, I Just Work Here

The 4 Stages of a Job as I have observed over the years:

  1.  Excitement:  You just arrived and everything is new.  You are eagerly learning all  there is to learn about the position and the company.
  2. Contribution:  The excitement is fading a little bit, but you now have your feet solidly on the ground and you have learned a lot about the position and the company.  You are now making a solid contribution.
  3. Frustration:  This happens once you realize there is a significant amount of repetition in the job.  You tire of dealing with paperwork and the problems with customers, co-workers and demanding superiors.
  4. Disengagement:  This is when you mentally start giving up and think “What’s the use?”  This is when you start looking for another job or at least seriously consider it.  Now you have a few choices.  One choice is to move through this stage quickly and move on to another organization.  Moving through this phase is actually best for everyone.  Some people find a way to recommit and move back into the “Contribution” phase.  This is not easy and takes some serious self coaching.  But it is a good thing.  The third and worst choice is to do nothing (or very little) and keep showing up and going through the motions.  These people have mentally quit!  This is very costly to the company and not a good place to be stuck.

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My attitude is not my fault

From Chapter 2 of “Why Give 100%, I Just Work Here?”

Whatever forces of the universe have guided me here to this job, I may not understand.  It all seems very random – but maybe it is not.

Maybe I was meant to be here – so I can make a difference right here- at this organization.

Or so that I can learn from this place so I can make a bigger difference in the next place I arrive.

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Something you need to know about work

From Chapter 1 of Why Give 100%, I Just Work Here

Various studies show that only about 10% of people really like their jobs.  The remaining 90% are at various levels of complacency or dissatisfaction.  A small fraction actually hates their job, but far more have just settled into a tolerable discomfort.  The people in the dis-comfort zone find it easier to just put up with the not-so-great situation versus face the greater demands of going to find another job.  I don’t know about you, but I either want to be in the 10% group that likes his/her job or headed for it.

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