We’re going off-road this week, inspired by some things I read in The Zweig Letter. The title of the article is Decentralization to be more Agile and Adaptable. The term distributed employee resources (DERs) comes to mind. This is especially timely as a follow up to my post two weeks ago in which I mentioned we reorganized the company at the start of 2020, and we etched our vision in bold detail.
The author first explains he needs to get something off his chest – that too many leaders feel their people cannot understand certain concepts or ideas, so don’t tell them anything about the company’s performance. He writes that it boils down to either of two things: 1) “My people are too stupid to understand” or 2) “They are not ready.”
Maybe the leaders he describes may not be wrong because first, you must have the right people. They must be aligned with the company’s vision and values, which is why it is so important to nail these down. When recruiting, you want to find out: What’s your purpose? What are your values? What are you hard-wired to do automatically without even trying? If company values, purpose, and vision don’t align with the same for the employee, they’re not going to get it, maybe because they don’t want to get it. If there is any fault here, it rolls up the chain because what happened is often hiring the wrong purpose and values. Is this the candidate’s fault? No, unless they are good imposters.
Suggestion: it is better to ask candidates for examples in their experience rather than responding to hypothetical situations. If you, the interviewer, still aren’t sure, drill-down and sideways, like fracking, for details of the candidate’s story. The details may not even matter, but fabricated stories have boundaries and discrete, orderly timelines. Real experiences do not.
Sharing information requires a lot of trust, which should be part of the alignment described above. We share information, including our bank account balance and year-ahead workload forecasts, so everyone understands what we’re doing. For example, it may look like we’re rich, but that’s because payments landed in a certain period, and we have massive checks to write to the IRS in the coming months. Or, it may look like we’re poor, but that’s because we have massive accounts receivable from clients that take forever to pay, but they always do, eventually.
“Why” is Everything
Numbers and answers in reports or corporate financials almost always need a narrative to achieve full value. After a while, folks will interpret things correctly on their own, but there are still one-off oddities and flukes that can even catch us gray hairs off guard because we haven’t seen that happen before. It requires intelligence guided by experience with a healthy imagination of “what-if.”
Another article in the same Zweig Letter talks about delegating tasks and responsibilities. This subject pairs nicely with the above discussion because, again, to delegate effectively, there needs to be alignment and having the right people in the right positions.
Most managers under-delegate. Why? Are they control freaks? Do they not want to move on? Do they have the right people? Do they not coach well?
My seat-of-the-pants analysis: 70% of managers or leaders don’t delegate for reasons like those noted; 20% delegate effectively; and 10% over-delegate. Over-delegating may occur because the manager or leader doesn’t know how to do what they are delegating, they are lazy, or maybe it’s a lack of check-in and coaching. The result of under-delegating is bottlenecking. The result of over-delegating is poor quality.
The author of the delegation article again describes the importance of explaining “why” to the delegatee. For example, “I need to offload some things so I can focus on business development, my day job. We may be a little overwhelmed now, but we need to keep bringing work in so we can keep folks gainfully employed and grow their opportunities and careers – which, by the way, is what this delegation means for you.”
A rookie manager will learn that not everyone thinks or approaches things as they do. In fact, they will find that no one thinks as they do. For example, I have always asked questions like crazy without fear of looking ignorant or dumb. “I don’t know what that means” is a frequent comment in conversation and in writing as I review draft documents. I learned that asking questions or asking for things is not the norm, unfortunately. So rookie managers, get in the weeds with your team members right away to ensure alignment.
Questions are good. When I get many good questions, I quickly gain trust that the person is not going to fake their way through anything. I’ve found that many of the best performers ask many questions and are a little unsure of themselves. That shows humility, confidence, and trustworthiness to overperform.
Finally, be vulnerable. If you’re not failing, you cannot succeed. Tactfully say what’s on your mind and ask if you don’t know. Never think any achievement or background is unimportant. For instance, I ask candidates to tell me about themselves. They usually start the story at the time of college. I’m more interested in their journey from first grade through choosing the field in which they graduated from college or other institution. That’s the period that made us who we are today. That’s being vulnerable.