Archive for the ‘Delegation’ Category

Managing Managers: Avoid Becoming a Victim of Upward Delegation

A common work-happiness killer that lurks amongst senior managers is “I work very hard to meet targets, my juniors do not.  I do their work. I end up spending long hours, I am frustrated.”

This problem is everywhere.  The specific solutions would depend on the exact nature of the industry, organisation, culture, and project situation.  There are, however, some common traps that managers of managers should be aware of and avoid.

Before we proceed, I must reiterate the idea that a good manager must be a good person at heart.  You must have genuine concern for your juniors and their well-being.  Nothing makes me happier than to see juniors blossom under my watch.  I am sure that is the case for you too.  But don’t be naïve.

Trap 1:  Junior says “I don’t have the resources”

In many cases this may be a true assessment of the situation.  In other cases your junior may mean different things:

  1. I want more people under me: I like more people under my control
  2. I don’t want to have to request others to help me.  It’s too much for my ego.
  3. I haven’t assessed the project well.

How to respond: Ask for a detailed assessment of the need, with data.  Question whether your report has looked at available resources within the organisation which, while not directly being under his control, can be borrowed for the job.

When he says “I don’t know how this will work” you can respond with something nice that implies “It’s your job to make it work. Are you up to it?”

If you are pretty sure that he does not need more resources, you could use a more direct approach that wastes less of your time. You can say something to the effect of “I don’t agree with you.  Put your head to it and go solve things.”

If this is his way of breaking bad news about a project, it would be best to tell him what you think of the project status.  “I think you have taken this project into a crisis.  I want you to pull up your socks and sort things out.  I am not sure putting more resources will help.  Figure out all different ways of getting it back on track.”  Put it across nicely.

Trap 2:  “How should I do this?”

Don’t jump to answer this question.

Your mind is telling you “I must help my juniors.  I have to be there for them.”

But beware of providing solutions when you think he is capable of finding his own.  It could lead to a decrease of ownership on his part.  It could set you up for a “You told me to do it this way.”

You can be smart and clarify that you have some ideas but ultimately it is up to him to make it work.

Trap 3: “X is not cooperating”

In many organisations, heads of departments have to make things work across department and team boundaries and they spend a lot of time doing so.

This need not be the case.  Actually, the line managers should be doing it.

You can tell your report to go and build relationships and get things done even when resources are not in his direct control.  “Beg if necessary.  You are a manager.”

Trap 4: “I have done my part”

This is another common retort that you hear often.  Your junior can conveniently redefine his role as “doing some activities”.  In fact, he needs to define it as “doing what is needed” to get results.

Make him responsible for the outcomes.  So what, if everything isn’t in his control?

Trap 5: “We have a crisis”

Actually he means,  YOU have a crisis!  Some people create crises, when none exists, to display their troubleshooting abilities and therefore their worth.

Others create the impression of a crisis to keep you anxious.  That keeps you at bay.  At the end of the day, you should be happy that the project has finished.  Never mind that it was somehow finished.

Yet others find it convenient to escalate when things go out of hand.  Straight into the lap of a willing boss!

Tell yourself, “Relax.  Don’t give in to anxiety.  Let me take a hard look and see what has happened.”  This allows you to make a less emotional and more realistic assessment of the situation.  Get involved only if you need to.

See if you can explore other options like getting another manager to help.  By the way, proud managers usually hate it when other managers are asked to help, as they see this as a reduction of their power and esteem.

Trap 6: “I just want to keep you posted”

Some managers will cc everything to their bosses.  The idea is, when things go bad, he can say “But I kept you informed.”  You could thwart such tactics with a polite “I am happy that you keep me posted.  I would prefer a regular project summary that really shows the current status, rather than a cc of every decision you make.  You own the project and all the decisions there.  Don’t expect me to be on the watch for your errors.”

Trap 7:  Junior barges in for a big decision when you are busy or vulnerable

Clever juniors will carefully pick a time to talk with you and get your go-ahead on big decisions.  Either when you are very busy or most vulnerable, such as, just before the monthly review!

If you can help it, ask him to come later.  If he has finessed you, tell him directly “Don’t ever do this to me again.”

I had a junior who was adept at this.  He forced me to adapt and survive!

Building a Culture of Ownership

Last year I witnessed a leadership development program for top managers at a well known textile brand.  At the end of the program they were all chanting “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.” That line bears repeating.

Encourage your juniors to take charge of outcomes.  Praise them openly for taking charge and delivering.  Don’t rush to pin blame when they fail, as long as they were really earnest in their effort.

Make them understand that they will not have perfect conditions, far from it. They will have to seek help from others not under them.  They will have to take risks.  They will have to suffer from conditions that are outside of their control. That is the nature of things in business.

Your own beliefs about being a “good manager” may come in the way.  Tell yourself “This is the only way my juniors will grow.  I owe it to them.”

Teach Strategic Thinking

Teach your reports to think strategically; to think of the big picture.  This topic deserves a separate post. So I won’t write much here.

The Shadow Side

This post is not meant to be a lesson in “non-stick” management.  Take this in the right spirit.  It’s not meant to be a Dilbertian view of management.  Indeed, you cannot promote an ownership culture without leading from the front.   I only urge you to be watchful for upward delegation.  And keep your wits about you.


Effective Delegation and Task Tracking – Starting with a To-Do List

“Effective delegation and task tracking” is an essential skill to ensure Happiness At Work

In addition to client projects, most of the strategic initiatives are also really projects and need to be managed as such. Task identification, assignment, and tracking are fundamental to the success of a project/strategic initiative.

However, many managers struggle with the idea of delegating projects/tasks and thereby remaining in control of the progress. This is a must-learn hard skill for all managers, which seems to be woefully missing – at least in the SMB segment. Lack of systems is a major reason, but lack of awareness seems to be the real cause. I have seen this cause a lot of heart-burn, ill-feeling and “supposed” communication issues, affecting the “Happiness at Work” for the managers in-charge of such projects, their team members and the clients/executives who are sponsors of these projects.

This article explains how a simple To-Do list can get you started in the right direction.

Many managers just talk about what needs to be done.

Whenever there is a project or a special initiative, the Manager in charge of the project explains the tasks to the team. Sometimes there is a periodic (daily/weekly etc.) team meeting where the Manager describes the tasks for each team member. Some team members take notes; others just listen. And then they perform the tasks as best as they can remember and understand them.

Many a time, things fall through the crack because who is supposed to own them has not been clearly specified. “Everybody thought Somebody will do it, but Nobody did it!

At other times, there are quality issues because of poor understanding of exactly what was to be done. The knowledge about work performed in the project is lost when people leave the organization.

A manager may be able to manage one or two simple projects using such informal and verbal instruction only approach. But managing more projects using this approach is certainly challenging, even for the most capable. And certainly not recommended for your most important strategic initiatives!

So the logical next step is to create a written list of tasks for the team.

You can implement a To-Do list in many ways.

I have seen managers routinely using whiteboards or asking their subordinates to use diaries / notebooks for keeping track of tasks. There are many other media such a To-Do list can use. For example,

  • Daily printout for each team member
  • Email to each team member
  • A shared excel sheet with list of tasks for all team members

At a minimum, a To-Do list should capture, for each task, the following:

  • Task Description – Detailed information
  • Assigned To – Person responsible for carrying out the task
  • Task Status – Not Started, Work in Progress, On Hold (Due to some reason explained as a comment), Completed.
  • Target/Due date (optional) – Date by which the task has to be completed.
  • Priority (optional) – Assigning priority to Tasks helps team members schedule their own work in accordance with the project requirements.

Comparative analysis of various approaches:

Notepads and printed lists, though convenient, are not easy to share, and status updates require additional effort from team members. In fact, the dreaded Status Meetings are a result of such methods used for Task Tracking. In addition, copying, carrying forward tasks or reassignment requires additional effort.

A shared Excel sheet frequently serves well for small projects and teams. Each person has a complete visibility, and status updates can occur offline. However, with shared files, there are issues with simultaneous updates, overwriting each other’s changes, etc. Keeping track of history of the updates is also challenging and requires special effort for version control.

Shared Task Tracking System for the team simplifies communication.

Work assignment and progress reporting becomes much simpler with a centralized task tracking system. Such a system can be used to define, assign, and track tasks and helps segregate the functions of Planning (Task Identification), Scheduling (Resource Identification and Task Assignment) and Tracking (Monitoring progress against plan).

And of course, the same techniques/systems are useful for day-to-day task assignments and action items generated from various meetings.

A web based Task Tracking system is ideal when the team members may not be co-located.

It is simple, easy, and increases team effectiveness.

According to Peter Drucker, one of the secrets of being effective is taking responsibility for communication.

“Whenever I, … start to work with an organization, the first thing I hear about are all the personality conflicts. Most of these arise from the fact that people do not know what other people are doing …, or what contribution the other people are concentrating on and what results they expect.” – (Classic Drucker – HBR 2006 – “Managing Oneself”)

A shared To-Do list goes a long way in developing this understanding and increasing the overall effectiveness of the team.

Success begets success.

The list of completed tasks creates a sense of achievement for individuals and the team. And as Zig Ziggler says, action creates motivation, which is not bad for the success of the project and happiness of the team!

Ramu and Shamu : Reader Comments

This time we cover an interesting thread of discussion initiated Sanjay Gadkari on the post Ramu and Shamu by Sanjiv Marathe

But before that, interesting thoughts from Suman Mukherjee as the year comes to an end.

1.  Success (Meaning how others measure you against some conventional standard) and Happiness (Pertaining to what you feel inside yourself) are tricky ideas when it come to professional growth. The real challenge is balancing the two when we are at the workplace.

2.  Work – Life balance (Implying work as the center of things and how life needs to be balanced around work to succeed at work without destabilizing your home) Vs. Life – work balance (Implying life and living well as the center of things and how work needs to be balanced around life to succeed at living life without jeopardizing your work)

Coming back to the post Ramu and Shamu

Sanjay Gadkari says…

Yes. Both Ramu & Shamu characters are seen every day around us. Today’s world is of street smart – Shamus. But most of us are brought up “Ramu way”. I mean our up bringing taught us to be Sincere, Hard working, Punctual, not to break rules etc. Unfortunately, the time has come to conclude that all these “qualities” are no more good for one’s success. In fact, the story tells us – Being always late, jumping stop signals.. etc. are in a way building the character of Shamu who would succeed in life.

The question is – are our ways of upbringing outdated ? Should we preach our children to be “Street Smart” the way Shamu was ??
I can understand to be little smart & enthusiastic. But today, the corporate world is promoting peolpe who are not sincere, who breaks the rules, or get the result buy hook or crook. Is this a good state of affairs ?

Sanjiv Marathe responds…


But I am also looking at the old man’s judgment. He trusted Shamu in spite of his initial failures and allowed his so called “experiments” to continue. He had faith in him that one day Shamu will learn from his mistakes, and eventually the ROI would be much higer.

Today, as a manager I have say 10 juniors reporting to me. To what extent do I allow them to break the rules? Hardly any!! Today’s juniors will just take advantage of “relaxed rules” and go party !!

How do I bring myself up to the maturity and trusting level of the old man?

Anyway, thank you Sandeep. interjects…

In an organisation we need both kinds of people and we need to encourage each person to develop his talents in the appropriate direction. An astute manager will recognise Shamu’s talents in entrepreneurship. At the same time, watch out for the shadow side i.e. ethically unacceptable practises.

Simultaneously, he will recognise Ramu’s talent for discipline and process orientation (we lament the lack of this in fresh engineers). I would then help Ramu with his shadow side i.e. not trying out new things for fear of being reprimanded.

Comment from Sanjay Gadkari…

It is really a tough task to identify Shamus who have great potential which can be developed. If we aquire that skill, may be we can make leaders for tomorrow ! But identification is the issue. Otherwise, all the Shamus (face value) will keep getting pat on the back; we will develop a culture that the way of life is – Jump the red lights, never be in time.. and so on.
Safer way could be to train Ramu to take some risks; be agressive in life.



Delegation: Allow Mistakes – What Readers Say

The post “Delegation: Allow People To Make Mistakes” has drawn some interesting comments.  We thought it would useful to put these together and see what emerges.

Two comments, from Ramesh Krishnan and Dr Madhu Oswal, tell us that delegation should not be at the cost of quality of the work.  Delegation does not mean giving up.

Ramesh Krishnan

Agree on the ‘art’ of delegation and the important pieces to keep in mind while getting your team to get to do the tasks that you want them to start doing. I dont agree with your view point that it would help bring down your quality parameters just because your team could not reach there or are not looking equipped to do that. You have mixed up 2 messages here, I think. One is why and how should one delegate and the other is to reconcile and be happy.

Dr Madhu Oswal

I prefer to differ.

Delegation is not simply “giving up” a task to others because you have got tired or bored. More so if you believe its an important task. It is an active process of handing over a “defined ” work to a rightly selected person in a phase manner that involves active training, briefing, checking understanding, supporting when asked for and lastly still controlling in a sensitive way. I would like to know if you have delegated in this way and then allowed that person to make mistakes”?

On the other hand, here is what Manisha Gutman has to say….

The problem with ‘perfectionism’ is that it focuses so much on the task that the person doing the task is forgotten. If the growth of the individual is as much part of the task at hand then one need not compromise on quality. One needs to inspire the individual to work towards getting better, and experience the joy of doing things well. I agree with Bhushan that this may not be first priority but it also cannot be knocked off the list of expectations entirely. Successful delegation recognises the strengths of each individual but also helps them understand and overcome their weaknesses. In this way, the work gets better and the individual grows too. Everyone may not want to ‘grow’ however….

Her points focus more on the aspect of personal growth.  It can be seen as a process for growth of the individuals concerned, while being mindful of the individual’s strengths and weaknesses.  It also acknowledges that growth cannot be forced against a person’s wish.

A very interesting point made here by Ajay Kapoor: the biggest hurdle is from within ourselves. Our fear of impact on others’ perception  (“Log kya sochenge”) may make us risk averse.  A careful cost benefit analysis may reveal where it is ok to take such risks.

Ajay Kapoor

The concept of delegation is brilliantly described by Bhushan. However, in my view, letting certain mistakes go past is one side of the story. We , most of the times, get bogged down by the sense of how will others look at this and what will they think about me and my organisation. So, precisely, it is a cost benefit abalysis that we need to do before we comploetely delegate and not bother too much about perfection. Perfection at what cost? Who is perfect any way?

Post Script

I am going to go out on a limb here and say “Even when we fully know that our junior is going to make a serious mistake, it may still make sense to delegate. “  I have tried it.

What do you think?

Delegation: Let People Make Mistakes

We continue our discussion on delegation with understanding the first hurdle to delegation.

One of the first steps to delegation is to let people try to do the tasks you were doing.  It does not help to look over their shoulders every time.  Most of you have already been through this phase.

The next step is to allow for the fact that people will make mistakes and correct it every time.  Sometimes, your juniors just don’t seem to “get it”.  I have seen this cause anxiety, anger and therefore a lot of misery.  This is especially the case for perfectionists.

Here are some points to consider in such situations:

  1. Are they delivering on the outcomes. Then it may be ok to allow some mistakes
  2. Are they making mistakes that really hurt the work? Prioritize the tasks involved in terms of impact.  Consider whether you can tolerate those mistakes
  3. Understand that every person is different.  Your junior may be better than you at different things.  Examine whether you are only looking at those aspects where you are good.

Here is an example from my experience at the NGO where I volunteer.  I was particularly keen that every proposal, letter or document that goes out must be perfect.  Correct English, well formatted and presented.  My argument was that it does matter.  “These are the things that create an impression about us with others.  And impressions do matter.”

I ended up more or less writing everything.  I would completely edit others’ work, much to their chagrin.

After a while, I got tired of this and was therefore forced to think of a solution.

I asked myself this question “Why is it not ok that there are few mistakes our outputs.  Does it matter always?  Why this obsession with correct English? Am I not presenting a face to the external world that is not really true?  As an organisation, we may not be great at English language.  But our folks can write extremely in Marathi and Hindi.  At my business, whenever we received English documents from say Japanese people, we are quite tolerant of their mistakes.  So why not with our own?”

So, here is how I reframed my thinking about it:

  1. Our work in HIV was our core.  We need to be the best there.  Communication in English need not be our strength.  Unless we are writing to funding agencies 🙂
  2. We can tolerate those mistakes in most cases.
  3. Our folks are better at other things than I.  Let me not get in the way. Let me not stifle their creativity.

This line of thinking helped me deal with my irritation and anxiety.  Everybody was happier!

Most perfectionists do not understand that they have a problem.   Find out if you are one.  Examine yourself closely.  Ask others for feedback.  Take corrective action by reframing your assumptions.

Delegate Successfully

Delegation is imperative, if you want to grow and be successful.

For some however, delegation can be painful.  Others have not delegated because they don’t know what else to do with their time.  They just continue to do what they do.  Yet others are not even aware that they are not delegating well.

Lack of delegation shows up as various symptoms… lack of time, a feeling of not getting enough from your juniors, a sense of stagnation…

Why Delegate

  1. For you to be able to do other things and grow
  2. to let your juniors grow
  3. Grow your business, do more as an organisation

Why Does Delegation Not Happen

Some possibilities…

  1. It can be irritating to teach others to do the tasks you are good at.  You may find it easier to do it yourself
  2. You fear that your juniors will make mistakes and that will have an impact on you, your business
  3. You have a belief that things must be done the “right” way i.e. your way. Or else…disaster! (perfectionist)
  4. You underestimate your juniors’ current abilities or their ability to grow to the challenge
  5. You are scared that if your juniors create a mess then you will end up doing a lot of troubleshooting. Something that you hate.
  6. You are scared of receiving criticism from customers, seniors for the situation. Some people more than others don’t receive criticism well.
  7. You are really good at your current job.  Your juniors cannot do it as well.  But you harbor the false belief that it needs to be done that well
  8. You derive a sense of security in continuing to do what you do
  9. You are scared of becoming disconnected from the day-to-day
  10. You have a fear of becoming obsolete or redundant
  11. You think that fundamentally your worth is based on what you are doing today and the skills you have today
  12. You don’t know how else to occupy yourself
  13. You lack the planning skills
  14. You lack the discipline required
  15. You don’t even realize what is happening
  16. There is not enough pressure or work load on you that forces you to delegate.

What Can Be Done

A quick check with your boss and with your reports can tell you whether you are delegating well and enough.  Look at 360° feedback.

If you find out that you are not delegating well, think about the reasons why this may be happening.  Use the list above for pointers.

Think through WHY you need to delegate. The benefits to the organisation, to you and to your juniors.  Does it really make sense?

Imagine what else you could be doing, how life would be, once you have successfully delegated.  Does that alternative look good enough?

What is the biggest attraction to delegate?  Create the drive within you to delegate, with clear awareness of where you want it to lead you.

In Order To Delegate Well

Setup clear goals for your department or business

Give your reports a clear idea of the outcome that they are responsible for, individually and jointly

Give them the space to operate. Don’t breathe down their neck.

Find others things to do. Otherwise you may find yourself getting pulled back in

Communicate well with the team and with each member

Be available, but only as much as required

Teach, coach, mentor your juniors

Accept that there may be failures on the part your juniors when you delegate

Think twice before you jump in to troubleshoot

Have the discipline to conduct strong, regular reviews

Create informal relationships with your juniors’ juniors to get the pulse of the “shopfloor”

Don’t let your reports create empires from where no information flows out.  Recognise such cases and break them up ruthlessly

Don’t Wait For Ideal Conditions

You don’t have to wait for all the pre-requisites to be in place before you delegate. Sometimes putting your juniors on the firing line, may be good training for them.  Let them manage.

Do It Gradually When Possible

Sometimes a sudden attempt at delegation can make it seem like you have lost interest. Especially if you have not communicated your intention or given your reports clear goals.

Don’t “Delegate” Your Way Out Of Trouble

It is unethical to dump a problem situation on your juniors in the name of delegation.  Delegation works only when your juniors know that you own the situation as much as they do.

Reminds me of a Dilbert cartoon strip.  The new joinee is told “We are putting you in charge of the missing funds!”

Become Outcome Oriented

Continuing with our previous post on Avinash’s story.

Avinash realized that he was not spending time on the Outcomes that needed attention.

There are three reasons why this  problem occurs.

Firstly, some of this work is not “urgent”.  The impact of not doing these things is not immediate.

Secondly, significant thinking is required before one can start solving for these Outcomes.  Thinking requires mind space. The busyness of daily work crowds that out.

Thirdly, the Outcomes we desire are realised within an eco-system that spans several people, several departments, several organisations, several stakeholders.   We need to navigate through externalities and unknowns that we are seldom used to dealing with.  Some people find that especially hard to do.

Avinash realised “I need to define my own work.  By unthinkingly going with the daily flow I am letting others define it.”

There is one way to prevent this from happening:  Continuously focus on the Outcomes that matter.  Think again and again of the End Results that you desire.

Ensure that you have listed all the actions that need to get done to realize that result.  Many of these tasks involve other departments.  You may think of these as somebody else’s responsibility.  But the fact is that you need them done to get your results.

This thinking could change your approach in fundatmental ways.

Avinash realized that the desired outcome  “Change the method of allocation of overheads” (see Post “I Have No Time For Life 😦” ),  needs to be redefined as “Get the CFO to approve a new method for allocating overheads to my division”.

This realization completely changed his approach to the task.  Instead of working inside the comfort zone of his office, he started to talk to other stakeholders to get support for his idea. He started to share his idea early on and sought others’ feedback. Earlier he would have simply worked on the grand plan and then sent it to his CFO for approval.

Have you thought through the Outcomes that make the maximum impact? Do you know what ALL it takes to realize those Outcomes. Have you actually realized those end results?

Results matter.

There are several other facets to becoming Outcome-oriented.  Keep watching this space.