Delegation is often considered one of the signs of a good manager and leader. Ensuring that large tasks have shared delivery is often the only way to get things done.
But delegation has a dark side. Some people interpret the above paragraph as meaning that managers are supposed to only delegate and not own things themselves. This is where things become dangerous because instead of augmenting delivery capability, it removes that manager’s own delivery capacity.
The idea of player-coach is one I strongly endorse. Managers got to the role they are in now because they were good at something more than just overseeing the work of others. They received their promotions by proving they could do the job and understand it. Why would you then remove that from the team’s delivery capability?
Dangerous delegation is most obvious in a couple of key cases:
- Managers who own a process but delegate the outcomes to teams outside of their control. Processes cannot be separated from delivery.
- Managers who delegate everything to their team and do not personally own any outcomes. This behavior encourages teams to think that tasks aren’t actually important because otherwise, their manager would have a role.
- Managers who delegate outside of their team and use their team to only oversee the work of others. Similar to the ones above because ownership of outcomes is important to performance.
Do your best to not encourage dangerous delegation. It may look appropriate on the surface but leads to bureaucracy, lack of ownership and destruction of innovative culture.
Branding is important to getting things done. Personal brands tell you about the nature of the people you are dealing with and how to get things done working with them. Product brands tell you the safety and risk associated with a procurement activity if something were to go wrong. Corporate brands tell you about the team and their goals, objectives and working styles.
Branding can, to a large degree, also be thought of as culture. The Google brand and culture often go hand-in-hand. Same for Apple and Microsoft. Look at the list of best companies to work for and you also encounter many of the best companies to hire.
The brand of your team will let people know when you will be easy or difficult to work with. It will tell them what kinds of projects you will endorse to move forward and which you will push back on. It will tell them what work is prioritized and which is delayed. Ensuring that this branding is clear both internally to your team and externally to your customers is important.
Externally, if you are sending conflicting messages about the type of work you do then you will constantly be stuck dealing with inefficient pre-planning sessions to get people to the right starting point. You will also constantly receive project requests that don’t meet your requirements that you have to send back. This will only lead to wasted time and organizational frustration.
Internally, if your team doesn’t understand the types of projects they are supposed to endorse they can’t be educating and training their customers. Also, at the end of the year, their actions will not have aligned with the team objectives leading to a lesser review or lost personal opportunities.
Branding and culture are ultimately about communication. If you are clear, direct and concise you will be able to position you and your team for increased success. If you leave things open to interpretation life will get a lot messier.
I was in a workshop recently where the word neighborhood was used a lot. The context was the workplace and how to promote cross-team collaboration. The solution our workplace partner had given us were neighborhoods.
There is nothing particularly unique about thinking of the workplace as a series of adjoined neighborhoods. This thinking goes back a long way and doesn’t even need to be tied in with a modern, open workplan. What got me really thinking about it though was the discussion of it from a colleague perspective and not just a seat layout. The workplace as neighborhood allows for us to think differently about how people work within an office.
I’m going to own up that I’m a bit behind on the most recent thinking on this topic so it’s possible that many in the industry and sitting there laughing about how far behind I am. But I’m guessing there is a large group that, like me, may not have been exposed to this yet. So for their (and my own) benefit I’m going to keep going.
The beauty of neighborhoods (geographically speaking) is that they don’t have firm edges. Maybe today they are bounded by a particular street but the reality is that tomorrow the neighborhood may have crossed over culturally. Neighborhoods are collective groups of people that are located together geographically which causes them to experience many shared events, allowing them to think in similar patterns. Some neighborhoods are big and diverse. Others are small and personal.
In the workplace, the exact same is true. Some groups of coworkers will grow and include 20 or more people that enjoy a shared drink after work every week with an interchanging group of people that are as much socially connected as professionally. Other neighborhoods may only be 2 people that happen to keep the systems on and running and their introverted natures keep them from branching out into something bigger.
Setting up the workplace to encourage soft boundaries that are easily crossed and easily can quickly and efficiently promote a one team mentality. This serves to more readily allow people from different groups to work directly together but also to allow the many micro-cultures in the office to move closer to a single norm.
Speaking yesterday about noise being a healthy part of culture, made me think about the difference between resistance and inquiry. Some types of noise imply dissatisfaction or resentment (resistance) while other types are genuinely trying to be constructive or innovative (inquiry). But sometimes it can be very difficult to tell the difference.
For example: “I can’t believe how long it takes us to process these forms!” Could fall into either bucket depending on who is saying it, why they are choosing to say it, who they are saying it to and how often they’ve said it in the past. If it is something they’ve been saying twice a week for 10 years without doing anything about it, it’s most likely resistance. But if they are saying it with the desire to improve and fix the process, it becomes inquiry.
To be a good leader, you must be open to noise and able to tell the difference between when you need to walk someone off of a ledge versus push them to take their ideas to the next level and actually effect change. It’s not easy; it’s actually impossible without empathy.
Noise is something that people complain about regularly. In the office, noise is thought of as distracting. In gossip, noise is thought of as inappropriate. In management, noise is considered a nuisance.
However, noise is a key sign that people care. They are actively trying to collaborate, share and find out more information. Noise is the symptom of a workforce that is trying to do better.
Silence is what you need to watch out for. When people stop raising issues to management and simply do the job they are asked to do the culture has declined to such a point that things are about to get much worse. Silence is also very hard to diagnose because it means that issues are no longer being raised and “no news is good news” mentalities start taking over.
There is a lot spoken these days about the value of culture. Separately there is a lot spoken about the value of efficiency and getting things done. Even further there is a lot spoken about the value of leadership in making sure that the things that need to happen happens.
All three of these concepts merge because leaders foster culture and define the actions that people perform (efficiently or not). Within a culture employees strive to get things done while also furthering the cultural norms of the organization and seeking to satisfy their leaders. It’s the circle of business. Lead, perform, live, lead.
For the past 10 years, I have sought, and watched other seek, the definition of efficiency and productivity. There were many brave attempts to find metrics or benchmarks seeking to prove improvement or to quantify the qualifiable. The closest I ever came to putting a true definition in place was by comparing team outputs and trying to understand the relative impacts of the leaders versus the soldiers bravely soldiering on. Some would invariably be consistently better but ultimately my conclusions were inconclusive because individual performances are nearly impossible to compare.
However, in those 10 years I have seen some cultures foster performance that others struggled to achieve. I’ve also seen how a change in culture can destroy performance even when the teams remain the same. Sometimes the simplest changes destroy and chaos can lead to something amazing.
In all of this I’ve come to believe that there is a need to align culture with the team. The best way I can articulate it is to compare back to sports teams. Sometimes a coach’s philosophy is antithetical to the peak performance of his team and leads to suboptimal performance. Other times a coach comes into a new environment and immediately makes a team better than anyone ever expected them to be. Alignment of culture and performers is the real value.
Amazingly this concept still seems to work at an organizational level. When an entire organization is built around the same ideas and performance concepts their collective contributions are greater than they should be in isolation.
I don’t know if there is a science to performing this alignment but I will definitely be investing a bit more time over the next decade looking into it.
Authenticity is a word that is used a lot these days when it comes to culture. Leaders that are authentic are more likely to be looking forward and are easier for their teams to predict into the future. Their grounding can serve as a base for others to act from without needing to worry about unexpected pivots.
I have been fortunate in my career to work for a number of leaders that were both consistent and predictable. Did I always like their direction? Of course not. But knowing where they stood and the direction they wanted everyone to move in provided a lot of opportunities to drive things forward and still impact the direction.
One of my favorite ideas these days is “a bad decision is often better than no decision at all.”
Leaders that are inconsistent create an environment beneath the surface of indecision where there is often a lacking of accountability. When people don’t know what path they should take moving forward and leaders are not giving clear direction things quickly begin to stagnate and stop. Yes, activity continues but it is the continuation of past decisions and just keeping the lights turned on.
Innovation requires knowing where the path forward is. My favorite example of this currently is Microsoft during the Steve Balmer era versus where it is now under Satya Nadella. For a decade they lacked a strategic understanding other than “keep Windows dominate.” There wasn’t a future mission, it was all from the past. Now they have become an innovation monster. Their advances in every area they are focused on are moving entire industries forward and their brand has a cool factor it has long been missing. That’s the power of authenticity and decisiveness.
You don’t have to know what is going to happen. It’s your job to provide the culture and environment that allows everyone else to thrive and succeed.