Just because you haven’t been told the plan does not mean that there is no plan

Good communications are hard to do. Over communicating can take up all your time. Under communicating can leave your team in confusion.

Figuring out the right line for their team is a manager’s primary job. People need information in order to make good decisions but they also don’t usually need incomplete, possibly wrong or sensitive information.

It is easy as a subordinate to take a lack of information to mean there isn’t a plan. Sometimes there isn’t a plan and you find out only too late. Usually, there is a plan and good reasons for limited information getting out until ready.

Delegation can be a dangerous behavior (even though usually it is beneficial).

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.

The more often you call something easy, the less likely it actually is.

It’s funny to watch the relationship between a plan that is called “easy” versus an implementation that is actually quite difficult. This phenomenon most often happens when people are trying to delegate a task that they won’t be taking on themselves.

Have you ever been told the phrase: “Don’t worry, this won’t take much of your time and we will keep it very simple.”

This phrase is an automatic red flag that something is going to take more time than expected and likely have a lot of complications. If this phrase isn’t accompanied by a good deal of detail and an approved workplan then there is a 99.9% likelihood you are being volunteered for something you don’t want.

As a manager, this is something you need to watch out that you don’t do yourself. It is easy to want to sell someone on a task you are delegating but it is rarely worthwhile to make a bad task seem better than it is. Down that road lies resentment and discontent.

Managers often don’t realize the working habits of their team. #WorkplaceWednesday

I’ve been involved in a few workplace transformation projects in my career and all of them (without exception) begin with managers saying that it will never work for their team. “Sure, in principle, it could work for everyone else, but my team is different. We are all in the office every day, we’re already collaborative and changing how we do things will cost the company money.”

Whether managers intentionally don’t know the habits of their team or simply misunderstand how the work gets done, I’ve never encountered an initial meeting that went any other way. Even project sponsors and champions will fall back on the theory for their own “small” teams. It is an infallible rule of the workplace.

I’ve come to believe that most of this thinking comes down to incentives and expectations (don’t most things in life?). If a manager says that half of their team works from home 3 days a week yet there isn’t a work from home policy they could get in trouble from their bosses above them. If they delegate so much that they themselves work from home 4 days a week and don’t actually know how things happen in the office you get the same effect. Similarly, many teams may disguise their work patterns because they don’t want their boss to realize how often they work from places other than the office.

Much of it can also come down to the office safety net. Many people believe that as long as they have a desk with pictures of their family, pets, and vacations they have job security. Surely it is easier to lay off someone who isn’t assigned to a desk than someone who has a permanent seat? By keeping all the seats (regardless of impact on performance) they are protecting their people.

What they refuse to realize until after it is all said and done is that new workplaces often support teams better and create more flexibility. They don’t realize that refusing to participate comes off like they are going against corporate strategy (what real estate group drives through a workplace transformation without executive blessing?).

Should you be using control or influence to drive action?

Different roles and positions require different approaches to getting things done. CEOs are ultimately in charge of everything that happens in a business but depending on the size of the business, the current business cycle and the degree of autonomy leaders under them have they may not choose to dictate how things are done. Many very effective leaders choose to drive action through influencing the behavior of those under them instead of forcing them to do things a certain way.

There are clear differences between telling someone to do something a certain way and making recommendations but leaving the ultimate decision to that person. Each has its benefits and drawbacks. Additionally, some leaders are more prone to a certain style of management. Some, like Steve Jobs, have a desire to control the entire situation and drive their team in the direction of their desire. Others foster a greater degree of entrepreneurialism and let their teams set their own direction while putting in checks and balances to measure performance.

Then there are people who want to manage through control but don’t have the personality to make it successful. Many, many leaders have tried to emulate Steve Jobs only to discover that their teams rebelled or quit instead of following along. Similarly, many leaders have given their teams autonomy only to discover that their teams immediately and spectacularly fail, bringing everything down. Management style is as much about the managee as the manager.

As with so many things, the correct answer changes with time, team and goals. It takes true self-reflection and understanding to always get the right answer – and it is practically impossible to always get the right answer. Steve Jobs had to first fail at Apple with his management style before coming back to succeed. The past is not necessarily an indication of what the future holds.

My updated thinking on Makers versus Managers

It’s been almost exactly 2 years ago since I last visited one of my favorite concepts of Makers versus Managers. To refresh those unfamiliar with the concept, the idea is that Makers are most productive in 4-hour blocks of free time whereas Managers work best in 30-minute blocks of time. Makers are busy applying thoughts to actions and creating which requires longer periods of time to fall into the right frame of mind, work through what is in front of you and reach a point of productive delivery. Managers deal with many people and tasks that can be more easily broken down into smaller increments of time and measurement allowing them to be more scheduled in their work.

Most people fall somewhere in between these two groups. Most people have some degree of management activities (or dealing with managers) which requires them to break up their day. The worst thing that can happen to these people is to have a 9 hour day of making broken up by 3 short meetings inconveniently spaced out. Having no large blocks of free time is the same as having no productive time at all. A full day of productivity killed by 90 minutes of poorly planned meetings.

There is an interplay between these two groups that is critically important. Managers need Makers and Makers need Managers. Nothing would get done without both ways of thinking but similarly, both groups have the capacity to undermine the other if they don’t plan correctly.

Makers that work in a vacuum can very easily be carried off on their creative side without understanding the drivers from above that will take their work to market. All the productive working time in the world cannot save a product that has no market appeal or driven sales team. Dealing with the occasional Manager day is the cost of long-term success. Planning for those Manager days is how to ensure success. Designating time in advance for short meetings, updates, email, etc and clearly communicating that to the Managers you deal with is the best way to start.

Managers that assume that everyone works like them with meetings and calls back-to-back all day are inadvertently sabotaging the Makers that they interrupt during the course of their work. When your day is meetings and quick responses it can be easy to assume that those you work with do the same. Working with Makers means that you need to know the habits and needs of each individual and work to help them be productive. This may mean holding phone calls for certain times of day or developing 1-bit messages (like a quick text or IM) to see if you get a response.

It all comes back to…….communication! It’s amazing how often that is the solution to the issues I encounter. I have been saved by more “awkward conversations” than by hoping issues simply go away. Awkward conversations are often not awkward at all because it usually turns out both parties feel the same and simply breaking the ice with a simple “Hello” resets that scene.

There is nothing more silly than thinking “I keep meaning to call but it’s been too long and it would be awkward now.” What that thought actually means is “I’d really like to talk to this person but it could be awkward or it could be a great change of pace for both of us to simply see what’s up….and all the more of a pleasant surprise because it’s now unexpected!”

Sometimes the best way to have control is to delegate out responsibility.

Control and responsibility go hand in hand. Some people see that they have responsibility and then try to control everything around them through micromanagement. Some people see that they have responsibility and become paralyzed by the inability to choose a path forward.

Then there are those that realize responsibility and teamwork go together and that the only way to really move forward is to delegate out the responsibility to those around them. The reason that micromanagement rarely works is because it maintains control while taking accountability away from those doing the work. When you have people doing work with no accountability you often end up with people not caring about the results of their efforts.

The entire philosophy of teamwork is that everyone is responsible for their individual part. To have everyone move forward effectively make sure they all understand their responsibilities, how they fit in with everyone else and how to ask questions and raise issues. Rarely can people pull off the Steve Jobs and go total dictator. Figure out how to build your team and make sure you account for how the people around you are most effective.