Delegating authority: Learn to let go
Thank you for all of your great comments and questions this week on topics ranging from being a young government leader to dealing with micro-managing supervisors and delegating tasks effectively. Please continue sharing your ideas and questions by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To start, I wanted to share a reader's experience about how she battles office stereotypes as a young federal employee. I love her ideas on tactfully educating others about your experience.
Q: I have been at my federal job for just under a year and work in an office that is predominately male and in the 45-60 age range. It was a little overwhelming at first. I realize that people have misconceptions, even if they try not to make assumptions. Being a woman who looks even younger than I am (most people put me at about 26, I'll be 33 next month), I knew these assumptions might work against me. So, I was sure to quickly decorate my office when I arrived, putting up several of my military awards and photos. When older colleagues stop by, they often ask about my time in the service. It not only gives me a little more credibility, but offers others a way to relate to me or start a conversation so we can get to know each other a little better. Besides, I enjoy learning about fellow veterans in the office. - Federal employee (GS-11) at the U.S. Department of Energy
Next, here is some advice around the topic of delegation:
Q: I work for a manager who wants to be the decision-maker on all 20-30 projects in our office. The result is that he makes decisions based upon how fast he can get them off his plate - and sometimes these are not the right decisions. The problem has become more significant as our workload and workforce have grown. As a consequence, his best team members are thinking about leaving. What are the positive steps we can take to address this issue? How can we get him to give up some authority and trust his best employees to make decisions? - Federal employee (GS-14) at the Federal Aviation Administration
Depending on your manager's approach and style, there are several steps you can take to positively address the issues around workplace trust, decision-making, efficiency and morale.
First, consider whether your manager will be open to direct, upward feedback from the team. If he is, the team should discuss how best to deliver the feedback. What message will most resonate with your manager? Will he be concerned about staff morale, perceptions of trust or the impact on results? Crafting a message that talks about the team's productivity and results will carry far more weight than one about his deficiencies.
Next, determine the best way to deliver this message. Consider your team's pace of operations as well as your manager's preferences and decide if he is most likely to read and consider a thoughtful email or would respond better to an informal, face-to-face meeting with one of the most senior and trusted members of the team. Think about those who have enjoyed success on your team and reverse-engineer their approach before answering this question.
What if your manager isn't open-minded? I suggest seeking counsel from other experienced agency leaders to explore what steps are appropriate for your agency's culture. Can you use OPM's Employee Viewpoint Survey and the Partnership's Best Places to Work in the Federal Government as data points to drive action? Can another senior leader approach your manager about his style? Is your manager's supervisor open-minded enough to help him accept and respond to the team's feedback?
I hope these ideas are a useful starting point for your team. I suspect that your team will know the best course of action once you commit yourselves to change.
Q: How do you know when it is appropriate to pay attention to detail and when to pay more attention to the bigger picture? - Federal employee (GS-14)
This question is as much about attention to detail as it is about delegation. As a leader, you spend a fair amount of your day making a set of decisions about who does what. Should you complete a new task yourself? Or, do you delegate the task to someone else, but retain ultimate authority? You might also decide to delegate a new task and never see it again or just refer the task to another team entirely.
What makes sense in theory can be exceptionally difficult to apply in the real-world - especially when the buck stops with you whether or not you actually completed the work. Here's a rule of thumb: the amount of time you spend on quality control and details should be in direct proportion to your employees' experience and the distribution of your work.
For example, you don't need to micromanage the quality of an internal team memo unless you're supervising a new employee who needs direction. Assuming that you've provided the right amount of guidance- an outline of the topic, quality expectations and timelines - your experienced folks should be up to the task.
Of course, if that memo makes its way to your team's senior leaders or anyone else in the chain-of-command, then you should have someone proof-read the memo in addition to reviewing the whole thing from top-to-bottom yourself. It doesn't matter how experienced your folks may be, it's your responsibility to pay attention to those details. Just don't micro-manage the process. Manage the output and the results.
Government leaders, mark your calendars for September 1st! In just four weeks the Partnership for Public Service will be releasing its highly-anticipated 2010 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings. An important tool for federal leaders, the rankings are the most comprehensive and authoritative rating and analysis of employee satisfaction and commitment in the federal government. Agency leaders use the BPTW rankings in their recruitment and retention efforts, as well as to provide managers and leaders with a road-map for boosting employee engagement. To learn more, visit bestplacestowork.org.
August 5, 2010; 5:06 PM ET |
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