What's a senior executive to do?
This is not simply a personal problem. Your company's future depends on what you do next. As you drive your organization beyond its current plateau, you must change the way you relate to your work. There are three stages to making the transition from chief-cook-and-bottle-washer (CC&BW) to CEO (source of the management and direction of the business). They are:
* Understanding your highest value contribution to your company and focusing on that role.
* Recognizing your position as a leader and owning the job.
* Delegating everything else, and holding others accountable.
Previous articles, Time Well Spent, deals with transition one; Visions of Leadership addresses transition two. This article examines the problem of delegation - giving the work away.
You have doubtlessly concluded your next level of company performance requires a managerial change. And hopefully, you have realized the changes necessary are with you. As CEO (or, on a divisional or departmental level - senior executive) your jobs include holding the vision; inspiring your senior management and your staff; fostering key relationships with customers, vendors, investors and the public, etc.
You now need to let go of some cherished things like product design, hiring, perhaps day-to-day sales - many things you handled in the past, often out of necessity - and focus yourself on your role as CEO. What about all these things you used to do? Delegate them. Assign the job to someone else. This doesn't sound like a big deal, why write a whole article on it?
Do you delegate? Of course you do. But do you delegate the important things? The things you "know" you could do better? The things you are "best" at? Probably not. The question is, should you?
Your highest value contribution
Think about your highest value contribution to your company. Which of your activities generate the most revenue, profit, market share, etc.? Where do you get the most bang for the buck? Like most chief executives, your greatest leverage is in mobilizing the forces around you - your senior staff and your employees, plus key customers, prospects and vendors. Everything else becomes secondary to that in terms of impact.
So the answer is yes. You should give away even the things you are "best" at. And then make sure they are done right. Make sure they are up to spec and delivered on time.
The cost of holding on
Now, the thorny part. Many executives refrain from delegating responsibilities they've labeled "critical". They fear the job won't be done correctly. Or no one else can do it as quickly, and it won't get done on time. Or the right attention won't be paid. Or something. Or something else.
Give it up! The growth of your organization will be stifled to the extent that you hold on to critical functions. Your company will suffer in the exact areas where you think you are the expert!
Product design? You hold up the development of a key component, because you are the expert, yet you are away at a customer meeting. Staffing? Two engineers can't be hired because you haven't signed off and are out of town at a meeting with investment bankers. Sales? Negotiations on an important deal are held up because you are in Asia meeting with a vendor.
You become the choke point on each of these vital functions. And you feel - of course - "I have to be involved." No you don't. To the exact degree you have not developed your staff to assume these functions, the growth of your company will be retarded.
Aside from fear the job won't be done as well, there is another, more insidious reason senior executives (particularly entrepreneurs) do not delegate. If you aren't doing the "important" stuff, you become redundant. Dead weight. Overhead. If you have a great VP of Sales, or a Chief Technologist, what will you do?
You feel this way because you haven't completed transitions one and two: you haven't taken the trouble of understanding how you personally create value in your company, and you haven't fully assumed the role of leader. Once you make these transitions, you won't have time for the rest. Delegation, not abdication.
Many executives delegate like this. They say, "John, would you take on this project? It has to be done by next Thursday. Thanks." That's it. Then, when the job comes back incomplete, they are infuriated. What happened? They left out accountability. They neglected the structure for making sure things happened according to plan.
There are five components to successful delegation.
1. Give the job to someone who can get it done.
This doesn't mean that person has all the skills for execution, but that they are able to martial the right resources. Sometimes the first step in the project will be education. Maybe your delegate has to attend a seminar or take a course to get up to speed.
2. Communicate precise conditions of satisfaction.
Timeframe, outcomes, budget constraints, etc.; all must be spelled out. Anything less creates conditions for failure. It's like the old story about basketball - without nets the players don't know where to shoot the ball.
3. Work out a plan.
Depending on the project's complexity, the first step may be creation of a plan. The plan should include resources, approach or methodology, timeline, measures and milestones. Even simple projects require a plan.
4. Set up a structure for accountability.
If the project is to take place over the next six weeks, schedule an interim meeting two weeks from now. Or establish a weekly conference call, or an e-mailed status report. Provide some mechanism where you can jointly evaluate progress and make mid-course corrections. This helps keep the project, and the people, on track.
5. Get buy in.
Often timeframes are dictated by external circumstances. Still, your delegate must sign on for the task at hand. If you say, "This must be done by next Tuesday," they have to agree that it is possible. Ask instead. "Can you have this by Tuesday?" To you this may seem a bit remedial, but the step is often overlooked. Whenever possible, have your delegate set the timeline and create the plan. You need only provide guidance and sign off. As General Patton said, "Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity."
If you skip any one of the above steps, you dramatically reduce the likelihood things will turn out the way you want them to. On the other hand, if you rigorously follow the steps, you greatly increase the odds in your favor. Isn't this more work than doing it myself, you ask. No - it isn't.
Establish the goals, review the plan, and monitor the progress.
The time it takes to do these things is not equal to the time it takes to execute them. That is how you gain leverage. This is how you multiply your efforts.
(Occasionally it does take longer to communicate something than to do it yourself. Delegate it anyway. The next time will be easier.)
Above, I've referred to projects. This is not to say delegation is reserved for discrete tasks and problems. You also delegate ongoing functions. The process is the same in each case.
As an exercise, ask yourself, what am I unwilling to delegate? Make a list of the reasons why not. Identify the best person in your organization - not you - to take on this project or function. Then call a meeting. Begin the meeting with step one, above.
If there is no one to whom you can give away key functions, you have to look carefully at your staff situation. It may be time to hire the right people. If you don't have the revenues to support the staff additions, consider what is restraining your growth.
Review your relationship with your assistant or secretary. Have you let them take on there fair share of the workload? Are you giving them sufficiently sophisticated work to do? Are they ready to upgrade?
Some situations call for you to dive back in. Perhaps you are the only one in your company with some particular technical knowledge, or your insight will accelerate the design process, or you have the long-standing relationship with a vendor or customer. Go ahead, dive. Do your thing - briefly, complete the project and resume your leadership position.
Oh, one more thing.
The only point to delegating something is if it frees you for things which create greater value for your company. Don't give away the hiring function if you are spending your time fiddling with the corporate web site. Don't hire a Sales VP, if you are spending your time on purchasing. The greatest leverage you have is in leading your company. Lavish your time on that.