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When Others Push the Pencil for You, Make Sure It’s Your Pencil

April 29, 2014

From Power Bites Chapter 20.  Note that this is the longest chapter in the book and is reproduced here in its entirety.

Always supervise those to whom you delegate an important task.

If you are a manager, then manage. Learn to manage. Read about how to manage. Take courses. Listen to recorded programs or attend Webinars. Discuss your management style or techniques with your peers, superiors, friends, and outside consultants.

If you are a manager, don’t get caught in the trap of doing the work or taking the responsibility for moving the job forward. Doing is a direct conflict with managing. You can only do one thing at a time, but you can manage, supervise, or train many projects at the same time.

William Oncken Jr. (“Managing Management Time,”in Harvard Business Review, 1984) wrote about the management technique where you should think of the job at hand as a monkey that is on the shoulders of the person who has to do the job. When a subordinate asks for help on a project and the boss says he will think about it, the monkey jumps from the shoulders of the subordinate onto the boss. At the end of the day, the subordinates’ jobs are done. They have no open items—no monkeys. The boss, though, has the load of four, five, or six subordinates, who very carefully and diligently shed their monkeys from their shoulders onto that of their boss. The trick is not to end up with the monkey. I never let a staff person under me leave my office when I have to do something before the subordinate can proceed with his or her job. I do not let him or her give me their monkeys. If a decision needs to be made by me, I ask my team member to lay out two or three alternatives so I can pick the best one. He or she leaves my office with a new assignment, and it is usually one that would help the employee develop further.

Subordinates can’t grow if they are not given responsibility, and if they are not put in a position where they could screw up. Don’t put them where they could foul up a major project or lose a large order, but responsibility for a small part of the project won’t be the end of the world. A proper manager/delegator has the decisions made and the work done at the lowest possible level.

No one is born with all the skills they will need. Help develop younger staff. Don’t be greedy in passing on the skills you’ve acquired. Your skills in delegating will serve you by allowing you to move up to more valuable situations.

Training takes many forms. You can sit down and explain why the job is being done or needs to be done. You can have the employee do something without your explaining the purpose, and when the job is finished, ask him or her to explain why it was done. You can recommend a book or course relevant to their work. You can take less experienced staff members to meetings to see how you do things.

Whatever your method, there should be a payback to you—a dividend. The dividend could be in the form of a comment or question about something you overlooked, the following up of additional work that has to be done, the training of someone else in the skill, teaching the boss something he or she didn’t know, assumption of greater responsibilities, a more alert person, and a better overall product. If you do not notice the payback or dividend, then evaluate your training technique, your standards, and the performance and ability of the person you are trying to train. The trainee may be the wrong person. I use the dividend policy, and it hones me in rapidly to the general abilities of the people with whom I work. I expect frequent dividends from everyone I work with. A quick method to accumulate dividends, or to realize that the subordinate is not getting it, is when I take them to a meeting and there is no follow-up by them of any sort or no expression of further interest. Another tip-off is when I am taking five times more notes than they are.

Understand what motivates people. I have found that people need three things from a job—money, opportunity, and satisfaction. People generally won’t leave a job if two of the three are present. Any two! Many people won’t leave a low-paying job if there is excellent opportunity and high job satisfaction.  However, the easiest one of the three to do is money part.

I always try to have team members go home feeling they’ve done a great job that day. They must feel satisfied. Imagine if they were, and they walked into their homes and were asked by their children if they had a good day and they reply, “I had a great day!” Compare that to someone who feels all they were doing all day is punching a clock. He or she might reply, “Work stinks!” or “None of your business!” or some similar, harsh remark. The feelings emanating from employees about their jobs become the mirror image of how those around them view their work.

When you have to criticize someone, be quick, specific, and to the point. Don’t expand the scope beyond the matter at hand. If the person’s overall performance is poor or needs improvement, don’t do it while you are telling him or her about a specific screw-up. Do that as part of a formal job evaluation. Note that a formal evaluation doesn’t need to be at fixed, scheduled times—it can be whenever it is considered necessary or appropriate.

It is also good to compliment freely. Compliments reinforce the efforts and certainly perk up the ego and future efforts. It never hurts to compliment someone in front of others. It always hurts to reprimand in front of others.

Entry-level or new staff must be made to understand that they must fully comprehend any instructions given, that they are expected to ask plenty of questions and then do exactly what they are told to do. Every detail must be followed. If it isn’t, they have to be reminded each and every time. A confidence level must be built up in that person, and that comes from their ability to follow instructions exactly. Also, it is imperative that your instructions be clear and not subject to misinterpretation.

Don’t confuse sticking to details with micromanaging. They are used in two completely different disciplines. When you are training someone, that is the job at hand. The attention to details is part of that function. When dealing with the big picture of leading people or the business, the details should be left to others.

Don’t let people working for you see you cut corners. That will become their new standard. Instead, let them see you pay attention to the details (and rules) when you are actually performing a task or function.

Measure people by how well they do what they are supposed to be doing, not by what you might want them to be doing but haven’t told them yet.

Keep in mind that when training someone, he or she might be more interested in getting the job done than in understanding the entire history of how you got to this point in your life. My technique is to break the job at hand into small tasks that don’t need more than a few words of instruction. No explanations. Just short instructions. After the employee has done the job a few times, he should understand why he is doing what he is doing. If he still doesn’t, then he can ask me his questions. It is also easier to review a small job than a big job.

Create leverage. Delegate everything you can. If you always feel you can do it better and quicker and don’t like taking the time to train someone, then you aren’t management material.

Everything has some repetitive parts. Start with delegating that.

Learn the strengths and weaknesses of your staff. Then exploit their strengths and shield them from their weaknesses. Use each person to their fullest. Then each person does what he or she does best. Occasionally challenge an employee. If he or she accepts it, you’ve got a winner. And then push like crazy!

Many people are poor starters and finishers but are great in the middle. Most of the work is in the middle. Therefore, find ways to shorten the beginning and the end. This will lengthen the middle. Be prepared to give close assistance when the job starts and when it is about to end. Develop procedures to get people started quickly. In medias res is the way John Milton got the reader started with Paradise Lost. Get someone into the middle ASAP. Finishing up will need more help. Schedule yourself to be available at that point. Until the person has more experience, that is your job.

Have you ever been in a hospital? All the floors are the same, and they all have the same number of personnel. Yet, some floors are more organized and run much better than others. Why is that? Management! Handle your resources, and they will get the job done for you.

Managers who don’t delegate usually get lost in the details. That is a prescription for not seeing the big picture. Effective leaders are goal oriented, focusing more on results than on methods. Too much supervision destroys individual initiative and creates a dependency that makes both the supervisor and supervisee less effective.

Training is an investment in people resources. My firm prefers to hire people just out of school. Sure, there is a tremendous training cost but, if done right (and we do it right!), a much smaller learning curve. There can never be too much effective training. Most of the successful companies I work with know this.

Set deadlines. Project deadlines are sometimes mistaken for starting dates. Break the job into multiple tasks, each with a separate deadline. Don’t try to overcome human nature; learn to live with it—or work around it—and benefit from it.

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