I just listened to the podcast regarding handling the 6th big ball wehn you already have 20. I enjoyed the podcast, it was very informative. I am new to manager tools and have found it to be a wonderful resource.
I manage a small business and to be honest...I have some problems. I know that the problems are a result of my management style (if you want to call it a style) so I am trying to learn some better methods to manage the office.
I have a question. When you are talking about delegating projects would you delegate to someone who does not have the skills required and teach them the skills? Is there a line between teaching and developing skills? I know that as a manager I should be helping my directs to develop their skills but for example, if I am the only one in my office that can manage our server...should I teach someone else and how do I do that? How do I teach someone a skill that took me years to learn? And, is it my responsibility or the directs? Should they take action to learn skills necessary to move them into a better position or should I just teach them?

Here's why I am asking. I am the manager and also the IT department, the marketing department, the legal department, the leasing and rental department (for another company not related to the one I manage), the one who fills in whenever someone doesn't show up for a job, the fixer of all things broken...I think you can see where this is going. I do it all. I don't complain (and am not complaining) I enjoy the challenge! But, I also know that I do not currently have anyone on my staff that can assume these responsbilities. As a manager I want to grow the staff I have but most of them are older than I am and most of them show no interest in learning new things. But, I know that as we are growing, if I do not have someone to delegate to I am going to be in trouble. So, do I teach them or are they responsible for teaching themselves? I took initiative to learn the things I know. I learned on my own with little to no assistance from co-workers. I read books, I bought training materials, I invested time in learning these things on my own. I have no problem teaching my staff anything that is directly related to the company and company procedures. But, am I responsible for teaching them added skills? Skills like IT, like Web design, like data management? I am not sure where the line is when it comes to helping your staff grow? So, where is the line?

bflynn's picture

The line is where your business can stand it. Should you delegate something to somebody so they can learn it? Yes, as long as it won't irreparably harm your business if they mess it up. Even then, you can delegate and retain the oversight at a level that protects the business.

Note that in all these cases, I said BUSINESS, which is separate from YOU. Your business probably can stand a bit more variation than you can. You can count on it not getting done "right". Somebody else isn't going to do this exactly the way you do and that is OK. This is one of the things that keeps high Ds and Cs from delegating; they can't stand to see it done "wrong". In most cases, they need to change their focus to the results and not the process.

Remember the difference - skills vs process. Did it take you years to learn skills or did it take years to develop your process? Skills are general categories like IT, networking or accounting. Processes are how your business does the skill.

How do you teach someone? You give it to them and let it go. Give them guidance, help them acquire the skill and teach them the standards for success. Then don't care about how it happens.

Helpful? I'm sure that it feels like jumping off a cliff, so take it slow and go with one activity. Remember that ultimately, you don't have a choice. It sounds like that right now there is no successor to you. If something happened to you, it would not only affect your family. Your business would stop and your employees would be out of work. At the very least, you owe it to them to help protect their jobs.

Start slow - if you're not doing O3s, start those now. Start feedback now. Let O3s run 2-3 weeks before you bring in coaching and delegation. Having the time with your folks will give everyone more comfort with the delegation.

If I'm off mark - sorry. I'm probably filling in some empty spots in the picture.


bmillard's picture

Brian, thanks for the comments. I am not sure I phrased my question exactly right. There are many tasks that I delegate but I delegate tasks based on current skill levels. If my employees do not have a skill then I do not delegate the task to them. Which, as you see, puts me in a position of no successor. However, as an employee, do they have a responsilbility to learn new skills for positions they want or is it my responsbility to teach them the new skills? I learned the skills I have in order to make myself more valuable. I taught myself (or learned on my own) I did not expect my manager to teach me. So, if an employee doesn't have, let's say, accounting I teach them or should they learn on their own? I may teach them a particular area of accounting like how to enter payments when they are received but I don't know how I can teach them everything.
And to further clarify my position here is an example of something I am struggling with.
I have an assistant who is responsible for a certain task. I have shown her the necessary steps to complete that task. There are many other aspects of the task that she could learn by simply reading the materials provided on the task and by working through tutorials. I have suggested to her on many occassions that she should utilize those resources to further her knowledge. She has not done that as of now. For her particular task the version she was using changed and therefore brought many changes in her task. I forwarded all the supporting documentation regarding the changes and asked her to familiarize herself with the new processes. She did not do so. When the new version was released I found that she did not understand the changes and was not able to continue doing her task and the information in the program was messed up during the upgrade to the new version. She came to me and said, "I don't how to do anything in this new version, will you fix it for me?" I replied that I had given her the information she needed and asked her to read it again and if she had any questions to come see me.
Now, I think that it is her responsibility to learn her task. I believe that I have not only provided the encouragement but also the tools necessary to help her learn. I am now concerned because I am not sure if I should have sat down and walked her through the learning process (taught her).
This is the line I am having a problem figuring out.
I want her to grow but honestly I want her to take some initiative and utilize resources other than me. I think it is the "easy" way to learn to have someone instruct you. Taking initiative to learn on your own and only asking for instruction when you hit a road block...I think that is what separates the great employee from the average employee. Am I wrong for thinking that or am I just being unrealistic?

juliahhavener's picture
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Different people learn in different ways. Some people would read the documentation you've provided, understand it, and fly. Other people need to see something done or hear the process or even do the process before they will understand it. Adults learn best with combinations of these ways. If you listen to the teaching vs. coaching (not sure the exact title without looking) podcast, the advice is to TELL them the process, then SHOW them the process, then have them DO the process. It works extremely well.

Do you offer your employees educational benefits? Would you reimburse them for successfully completing training/college coursework that would prepare them to take over some of your current responsibilities? Are they truly encouraged to enrich their skills? Some small companies need people to increasingly grow but they aren't always able/willing to compensate them accordingly. WIIFM (What's In It For Me) from the employee's point of view?

You'll need to find a balance there. You may start someone interested in taking over some of the IT aspects of your job with very basic processes. If they do well with it, consider paying for basic coursework (or reimbursement, you might be surprised at the leaps people will take when there is some way to compensate them for their time/effort).

bflynn's picture

I see - in this specific instance, I would say that its the employee's responsibility to stay current on their job. This isn't about delgating a task and coaching them to do it or about having a successor. This is about employees keeping up with technology.

In the end, you pay this person to get a result. The technology under her has changed and she is no longer able to give you the same results right now. That will probably come around. Working with the new system, she will re-learn these things.

My real question is why this comes a surprise. Were you unaware of the her lack of readiness for the coming change? Did you give her feedback on her lack of preparation? Did she get feedback on not embracing the coming change? All that is in the past, the question is how to move forward.

Ultimately, you need the job done, so you will have to arrange to have her taught about the new system, either by you or someone else. The past is a sunk cost now and you have to leave it and move on.


duckboxxer's picture

One thought on this is everyone needs to have a backup of sorts. (or backups for specific parts). You may be in an accident or even a vacation and things could need to get done. Phone calls on vacations can really mess with your vacation (what is the point if you still have to work on a vacation?). For some, this may simply be documentation, for some it may simply be commented code. Here, we just laid off 23 people. As a result of people not having backups, no one had any clue as to how to order the coffee.

That is just a small example. Someone ought to be able to be able to (or at least to some degree) begin fixing a server if it were to go down. Rebooting it doesn't always work.

As far as the assistant. You gave her the information. As we have said in the IT realm before, RTFM (read the 'freaking' manual). I think it was good that you offered to answer questions, but as an employee, she needs to be able to do her job, especially if you have given her the tools to do so.

Also, being the manager, you can delegate tasks to anyone under your supervision. This may require some training of some sort, but you can control employees' tasks.

Mark's picture
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My apologies for my delay.

Delegation is absolutely normal for those WHO DON'T HAVE THE SKILLS RIGHT NOW.

Julia is only partly right when she says that everyone learns differently. Everyone develops understanding of different things at different speeds with different exposures.

But all adults LEARN BY DOING.

Delegation is EXACTLY the tool for you - though certainly with consideration for the business and failure (though mistakes are not failure). You wouldn't want to delegate ALL of the finances or network admin to someone who can't count or turn on a PC.

Your JOB as a manager is to achieve results. For your org to grow, you either have to hire more people or grow the skills of those you have. For them to learn, they must DO... and the best doing for employees is "their job +1".

Again, I regret my absence.