Ben is a mid-level manager with a team of four, all relatively new in their positions.
'They need less help than last year, but I still get quite a lot of interruptions asking for things that I think they could have done a bit more work on. It seems they rely on me quite a lot to fill in the gaps for them.'
Ben was falling into a common trap. He didn't realise that delegation is a four-stage process, not a simple 'once they're told they should remember' exercise. He didn't want to micro-manage but was feeling as though his team were almost pushing him in that direction.
At this point I introduced him to Kenneth Blanchard's diagram (expanded in Blanchard's excellent little book 'Leadership and the One Minute Manager') which outlines the four stages of delegation. See the diagram.
The Four Stages of Delegation:
1. Direction - High Direction, Low Support
Initially a new person needs instruction, not the opportunity to use their initiative. You'll give them heaps of directions and only a low amount of support in making decisions. They don't yet know enough to need much support.
2. Coaching - High Direction, High Support
They are starting to understand the process. You encourage them to come with questions; you give plenty of explanations, continue to instruct, and also support them in learning and applying new skills and knowledge. You set regular review times, and check constantly that they understand. This is the stage that takes more of your time, but if you don't invest time here you'll never get beyond the 'it's faster to do it myself' stage.
3. Support - Low Direction, High Support
These folk are getting a good grip on the process. You're weaning both you and them off lots of 'telling'. You now support them in making the decisions. Your role is to help where needed, review their actions and oversee results as they ramp up their level of responsibility.
If you've got someone who keeps asking for help when they really should be able to make the decisions, ask them to come with two solutions when they come with a query. If they're forced to do the thinking for themselves, pretty soon you'll find they don't come for that extra reassurance and you're not interrupted unnecessarily.
4. Delegation - Low Direction, Low Support
Only now does true delegation happen. Your delegatee not only has an excellent understanding of the task, but they have the confidence to get on with the job.
They can still come for help if they need it, but that's a rare occurrence. And the big benefit? You're free to get on with other higher-level activities that will make a long-term difference in your business.
It was great to watch Ben as he quickly absorbed the implications of the diagram.
'I can see that Mike, who's new, is at the Direction phase for a lot of his work. On the other hand Sally, who's also quite new, has quickly passed to the Support phase for many tasks because she's had prior experience of our kind of work at another firm.'
He then quickly realised that the diagram could also be a simple tool to plan the next training steps for each person.
I pointed out one more distinction. 'The Direction and Coaching phases are usually manager-initiated, because the new staff member doesn't know enough to take much initiative. The last two phases, however, are pretty much led by the individual, who only comes asking for help when he or she really needs it.
Your goal is to get people as quickly as possible to the left hand side of the diagram, but you can't hurry it. Everyone goes at their own pace. Impatience only gets poor results and frustration all round.'
And here's one other application you might like.
I heard about it last year, while working with CEOs in the UK. One company uses it, with great success, in their hiring phase. They explain to new staff that this is the process they will experience as they learn their craft. The company works on the premise that most people like to have a clear pathway for their learning and the assurance that they'll be helped and guided at the right pace for their progress. The other benefit is that managers involved with the hiring are also regularly reminded of the method.