The Macro on Micromanagement (Part 3 of 3)

By Tom Davidson

Delegation is not hard to understand. It’s hard to do well. Learn more about how not to have macro problems from your micromanagement here:

When new managers or experienced executives tell me they are struggling with how and when to delegate, I think to myself, “Good. It’s not easy and it’s never perfect. This person is trying to find the sweet spot.” It’s the manager who thinks they have it down pat that I worry about, because they are usually relying on one particular modus operandi (i.e., “M.O.”) and are unaware of their blind spots or the unintended consequences they are causing.

In the first two blog posts in this series, we discussed those “M.O.s” and how the root cause of poor delegation has to do with the manager’s own lack of awareness, lack of repertoire and lack of situational assessment. The extreme cases described earlier were Fastidious, Flyby, Fool-It-Yourselfer, and Figurehead, all of which have significant downsides and none of which containing sufficient range of leadership skills.

This blog post will focus on the three main tactics for positioning a delegation for the best possible result, including the delegation itself, the contract and the follow-up plan of action.

The Delegation Itself
There will be plenty of times when you have to prescribe an assignment, give the delegation without much back and forth. A report is due by Friday. A contract needs to be terminated. A project needs to be initiated. As much as 75 percent of your delegations may be this clear cut, essentially dictated to your staff or other associates.

However, when this happens, you can still get their fingerprints on the assignment so that the associate feels – and actually has – more ownership for the task. More ownership leads to greater discretionary effort, and greater discretionary effort means a higher likelihood of success. Here are three questions for getting their fingerprints on a delegation, even one that was prescribed without their input.

• How would you like to deliver the report, with whose input, in what form and by what time on Friday?
• What will be the best ways to go about terminating the contract? Who should be notified and in what order? What contingencies should we be thinking about?
• How will you go about initiating the project? What will be the first few major steps and why? What else has to happen before the project gets started?

The Contract
Here’s where people get disjointed about delegations. They’re expecting to be treated one way, and their boss treats them another, which breaks (or fails to build) the unstated psychological contract between the two.

For example, without ever discussing it, the manager decides on his own (maybe even considering all the factors discussed in part 2 of this blog series) that he will be very hands-on for the given task, but the subordinate expects to be given the assignment and left alone, just as the manager has done in the past on other assignments.

But the manager may have decided to be more directive because the assignment is new and different to the direct report, because the associate has had a poor track record on follow-through in the past, or because the assignment is developmental and therefore a stretch.

Her assessment is not the problem. It’s the lack of a contract with the associate, a simple conversation that clarifies why – in this case – the manager will be overseeing progress more frequently and closely. By discussing the reason for more oversight, the manager and subordinate would produce a simple-but-important mutual understanding. This avoids the misunderstanding between what the associate expects and what the manager is doing.

The Follow-up Action Plan
The follow-up action plan includes the steps, milestone, checkpoints and deadlines that will help the delegation stay on course. Just as a commercial airliner is off course most of the time it’s in the air and needs regular course corrections to get where it’s going, a delegation needs to similar feedback to be successful.

The manager’s mindset about this is half the battle, the way she puts the milestones in place is the rest. By mindset, I mean that the manager must see the plan of action as a helping function, not an accountability trap to get someone in trouble. If the manager sees the function as helpful, it will more likely be helpful.

If there are pre-determined checkpoints that are nonnegotiable, then those factors need to be made transparent and clear. Beyond that, I recommend using the following questions to install your plan of action.

1. What exactly will you do?
2. When will you do it?
3. How will I know it’s on track?
4. How will I know it was done?
5. What do you plan to learn from this assignment?

Delegation is not hard to understand; it’s hard to do well. However, if you know yourself, know your associates, and make a meaningful plan, most of your macro problems from micromanagement will be few and far between.

For more information on delegation, see Chapter 3 of The 8 Greatest Mistakes New Managers Make by Tom Davidson, Rumford Academy Publishing, 2010).

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