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Who, not What

Who to delegate to, not What to delegate

The more high performing you are, the more biased toward action you can be. You go from identifying the problem to solving the problem in compressed timescales. This is natural; you likely got promoted on this ability. However, as you get more senior and hence further away from the actual problem, you need to be more and more clear that you're solving the right problem.

Many of the successful people I coach face a paradox: their most meaningful tasks and decisions are less likely to have deadlines than relatively unimportant tasks. If you're like most people, the true priorities often slip to the back of your mind while you work on the visible shallow work.

Therefore, effective delegation and empowering one's team is a crucial skill that needs constant use.

The first step to helping busy, successful people is often assisting them with working out their priorities. Using something like the trusty Urgent and Important 2x2 matrix, we either say no and stop doing low-value things or delegate less important tasks to others.

But many people refuse to delegate to others because they feel it takes too much time and effort and they could do the job better themselves. This occurs even though effectively delegating to others is perhaps the single most powerful high-leverage activity there is. Transferring responsibility to other skilled and trained people enables you to give your energies to other high-leverage activities. Delegation means growth for individuals, teams, and organisations because it can be a powerful learning experience that you are taking away from people in your team by not doing more of it.

But what if the issue isn't an inability to prioritise tasks? Or even an inability to overcome assumptions made from framing delegation as increasing the burden on our team members rather than a growth opportunity for them and us?

What if the root problem is something entirely different?

How we see and frame the problem we are working on determines the solutions we'll find. Too often, the first definition of the problem isn't the correct one - has it been stated correctly? Is it the right problem to solve? Otherwise, we waste a lot of time and solve the wrong problem, not the root problem, which is the one we really need to solve.

Perhaps the focus shouldn't be on what to delegate but on who to delegate to.

Who, not What

In the seminal book "GOOD TO GREAT", Jim Collins refers to the moment when you feel you need to tightly manage someone as when you know you need to make a people change and act. As the boss, we've probably all experienced or observed the following scenario. We delay, try alternatives, give third and fourth chances, hope the situation will improve, and build systems to compensate for a person's shortcomings. When not in the office, we find our energy diverted by thinking and talking to friends about that person. All that time and energy is siphoned away from developing and working on opportunities and top priorities. In GOOD TO GREAT, there is the concept of having "the right people on the bus." Letting the wrong people hang around is unfair to all the right people in your team, and it can drive away the best people.

If this sounds familiar to you, then you don't need to work out what is Urgent and Important and what isn't, as your most important decision is a WHO decision, not a WHAT decision.

I will take you through an exercise I recently worked on with one of my longstanding clients. I had challenged him to why he wasn't focusing more on the big-ticket items and the future and less on the day-to-day operational weeds. I floated across a hypothesis that perhaps he didn't have enough A Player direct reports. Instead, he had been accepting B and maybe even C players.

This made him stop and think. It is one of those moments in a coaching session where you can almost see the client's brain working.

Silence is crucial at this point - interruptions are unlikely to be generative.

After a few seconds of silence and peak mental load on the part of my client, he spoke:

"You know, I think you might be on to something…"

A players

In the book "Who: The A Method for Hiring", the authors state that "the most important decisions that people make are not what decisions, but who decisions. Who refers to the people you put in place to make the what decisions."

Obvious, right?

But stop and think. Do you really follow this principle? My client certainly wasn't, and from my perspective, nor do many successful executives.

So who are the A players?

An A Player is defined as a candidate who has at least a 90% chance of achieving a set of outcomes that only the top 10% of possible candidates could achieve.

How do we ensure we have A players in the most critical roles?

This is where the scorecard comes in. The scorecard takes the theoretical definition of an A Player and puts it in practical terms for the positions you need to review or recruit for. It is a one-page document that describes exactly what you want a person to accomplish in a role. It is not a job description but a set of outcomes and competencies defining a job done well.

  • The mission for the position,

  • Outcomes that must be accomplished, and

  • Competencies that fit with both the culture of the company and the role.

Mission: The essence of the job

The mission is an executive summary of the job's core purpose. It boils the job down to its essence, so everybody understands why you need to hire someone into the slot. For a mission to be meaningful, it has to be written in plain language, not business jargon.

Outcomes: Define what must get done

Most jobs should have 3 to 8 outcomes, ranked by order of importance. Outcomes should be set high enough – within reason – to identify the kind of A players who thrive on significant challenges that fit their skills.

Competencies: Ensure behavioural fit

Competencies flow directly from the first two elements of the scorecard. Competencies define how you expect someone to fulfil the job and achieve the outcomes – they are the skills and behaviours required for the job.

Be honest. Do you have this system in place for your direct reports? I mean something other than the job description used to initially hire the person for the position, which probably contained a very long list of primary responsibilities - just like I wrote about in a recent newsletter.

Exercise: A Players - Review

We aim to delegate more because empowering our teams through effective delegation is perhaps the single most powerful high-leverage activity there is. To this end, you will create scorecards for each of your direct reports.

  • Mission: Write a short statement of 1 to 5 sentences that describe why a role exists.

  • Outcomes: Create 3 to 8 specific, objective outcomes that a person must accomplish to achieve an A performance.

  • Competencies: Identify as many role-based competencies as appropriate to describe the behaviours someone must demonstrate to achieve the outcomes.

Like with writing, the first draft is rarely perfect. So after you complete the scorecards for the roles that report to you, leave them alone for at least a day before returning to edit and refine. Repeat and iterate further as required - concise and clear is crucial.

Next, review the people you have as direct reports against the scorecards for the roles:

  • First, does the person have the ability to achieve the individual outcomes on the scorecard? Go through each outcome: if you believe there is a 90% or better chance they can achieve an outcome based on the data you have and experience of their performance, rate them an A for that outcome. (Lower grades B or C otherwise). Repeat for each outcome.

  • Second, does the person have the right competencies and motivation to perform the role? Go through each competency: if you believe there is a 90% or better chance they display the competency based on your data and experience of their performance, rate them an A for that competency. (Lower grades B or C otherwise). Repeat for each competency.

An A Player is someone who will match your scorecard. Anything less is a B or C player.

Now ask yourself two questions to double-check your thinking:

  • Would you hire the person again?

  • If the person resigned, would you feel disappointed or secretly relieved?

If your answers are the person isn't an A Player, and you have answered NO twice to the questions above, then now is the time to hire new talent.


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