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Delegating – Let It Go!

When I was merchandising manager at ACDelco, my team was responsible for liaising with the managers of our 36 different product lines — over a billion dollars worth of auto parts! 

In one instance, one of my employees was managing support material that would go into thousands of stores.

Jill, my agency representative, produced one of the pieces (a poster) and showed it to me upon completion. I was surprised at what I saw, as it wasn’t at all what I had imagined. Jill saw my reaction and assured me it could be changed.

And that was surprise number two for me. I remember thinking “why would I change it?” No, it wasn’t what I would have done, but it was okay the way it was. I trusted my employee to do her job. 

Risk and Reward

This particular situation was not complex, and it was not a high-risk decision. Yes, it was going to cost thousands of dollars, but it would work just as my employee had intended.

So, it was easy for me to “Let It Go.” 

Trust and Delegation

Trust and delegation go hand in hand. This was not delegating in its purest form, but rather, trusting my employee to do her job and not imposing my own view. Leaders who trust their employees to do their jobs, and delegate when the time and situation is right, realize many benefits:

  • Time savings 
  • Empowering employees
  • Developing employees
  • Tapping into the wisdom of the system for more ideas
  • Diverse approaches
  • Building trust
  • Creating and harnessing energy
  • Focus on priorities
  • Productivity increases
  • Making use of strengths

In more complex situations, letting go of some of our beliefs about delegation can be even more beneficial.

Let Go Of Beliefs

What might you need to Let Go of in order to delegate more? I’ve heard some of these from leaders I’ve worked with who have shifted gears:

  • Let go of the time and energy it takes to manage the work that your employees can and should be doing.
  • Let go of the idea that if it’s going be done right (whatever “right” is), you have to do it yourself.
  • Let go of the habit of holding on to something, when others could be learning and growing by doing it (and maybe even doing it better).
  • Let go of constraining talented employees from using their strengths.
  • Let go of the fear that if you don’t do it, you might be viewed as a weak leader.
  • Let go of the thought that teaching someone else to do the work will take more time than it’s worth. (It might take more time initially, but invest for the long run.)

Self Reflection To Act

The reality is that leaders are less productive if they’re trying to do it all. A few questions that can get you started today:

1.   What specifically am I holding onto that can/should be done by someone else?

2.    What is keeping me from delegating? (fear, my beliefs, skills gap, lack of process etc.,)

3.    What would the benefits of delegating be, to me and/or others? 

4.    What is the first step I can take today to delegate?

5. When specifically (time/day) am I going to do this?

6. How do I measure success?

7. And, how can I do more of this? 

I won’t break into song with Disney’s Let It Go theme, but permit me one line of encouragement:  “Let it go, let it go. Can’t hold it back anymore…”

The results that come from your choices to delegate will be worth singing about.

Please let me know how it goes, how it goes.

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Lighting The Spark

At a recent Women Presidents’ Organization conference, 17-year-old CEO, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and author Maya Penn keynoted. She started her first business at 8 years old. She’s both impressive and inspiring, and she shared her journey and her wisdom.

In her talk, she called out a few things that have worked for her in her short but accomplished life so far. Among them:

  • Be positive so you can do your best work
  • Celebrate your failures and wins on an ongoing basis
  • Light your spark so it shows up in all you do

These are important areas on which to focus for all leaders, but coming from this young girl, especially surprising!

After Maya had finished speaking, an attendee approached the floor mic with a question for a book she is writing. She asked Maya “What extinguishes your spark?”

The audience was on a high. We had started thinking about how to follow her lead, and how we could look forward in our own work. And then, the question. I believe, this was the wrong question!

Map Making

Our brains connect events to make sense of our experiences all day long. They’re busy making maps and connections, and putting things together.

Exploring and asking about what we want (so that our brains focus there, and help us map our way) is much more effective than asking about what we don’t want. Why?

Because our realities and actions are shaped by the questions we ask.

So, when we ask questions about what we want to move toward (How do I best “light my spark”? How can I fully use my strengths in this situation? What outcome would have us both win in this conversation? How can I support and build more capacity in this person? How do I build a culture that the best workers are drawn to? How do I invite my people into the conversation? How can my employees contribute? What was my best experience when innovating on a team, and how can I replicate it? How can I challenge myself beyond my comfort zone today?), our brains are already starting to build the map to get there. They are filling in the blanks for what doesn’t work.

We begin to get somewhere in this question from a noted performance coach and psychologist: “When our questions focus on shortcomings, can we truly expect great things to be forthcoming?”

Flip The Script

However, the better question flips this around to: How can we ask questions that help recall our peak experiences, so we can amplify them? How can we ask employees questions that build their capacity and inspire them to be their best?

So, if we turn the earlier question to Maya around to: “what most lights your spark?” we bring forth an inspired journey that our brains then begin to map.

Strengths focused. Assets focused. Solutions focused. Amplifying peak moments.

Our Daily Spark

What questions are we asking during our meetings with “difficult employees”, during feedback, in strategic planning work, and in every day conversations?

Learning to ask these appreciative, spark-based questions seems simple, but takes a lot of practice. Finding a partner with whom to practice will help you make quicker headway. (Think; a trusted colleague or even your family).

The inner and outer dialogue and enacted changes that come from these simple, positively-focused questions can positively power an entire organization toward new ideas, engaged employees and provide greater returns.

What new questions will you begin to ask, in order to light your own spark and that of your people, and your results?

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Inviting An Employee Off the Bus

In 2016, one of my clients was going to let an employee go.

This employee had been at the organization for some time, and he knew his stuff, but the “fit” was not good. The employee’s communication style with clients, and interactions with fellow employees was not positive. They felt they had tried everything.

A Save

However, with some coaching intervention and tools, the client was not only able to keep the employee on the bus, but another employee remarked they wished they could clone this “new version” of the employee.

Leaving The Bus

While it’s often quite possible to keep an employee on the bus who some think may be a lost cause, there are other times when employees don’t have the right skills, aren’t a good fit for the culture, not engaged etc., when the ride must come to an end, and the exit door must open.

For some leaders, however, letting go of an employee is the most difficult thing they do at work, for many reasons; a long-time employee has been committed to the company, may not easily secure another job, is very likeable despite not being a fit, etc.,

When All Else Has Failed

When it’s clear an employee needs to be invited off the bus, there are a number of guidelines to follow below. Number four is something I regularly see as a coach:

  1. Make sure it’s legal + no surprises – Whether fit or performance, have you discussed expectations and given the employee an opportunity to improve?
  2. Be prepared – Every employee reacts differently to the news. If you’ve followed guideline #1, the employee will likely know what’s coming. Be kind, but not lengthy. Don’t go on and on. And do offer an exit interview. You will likely learn something. 
  3. Be generous – When you’re letting someone go, if you are able, be generous. No matter the situation, the employee will likely experience financial hardship. If you can be generous, do.
  4. Don’t delay – After you have made efforts to remedy the situation, don’t delay. Other employees know when someone is not doing their job, not a good fit, not committed etc., Keeping an employee on the bus when he/she is not working out negatively impacts employee engagement. “If what this employee does/doesn’t do is okay, I guess it’s okay for all of us.”

In The End

After the employee has been released, leaders often feel increased energy, see an uptick in engagement, and increased productivity.

If you’ve been waiting to invite an employee off the bus, delay no more.

Make room for employees who want to find a seat, who will do the type of work you need, and be a good fit. Who knows, they may even bring a few more passengers and clients along with them!