How much assistance to your staff is too much? Surely good staff management and delegation is to be available when people have questions?
Actually, being 'there for my staff' 100% of the time is neither good management nor good delegation. Instead, it causes bottlenecks, frustration, low morale, and blocks your people from learning and developing their own skills.
Stuart is a director in a large engineering firm. He was struggling to manage his workload and his team of 6 direct reports so I was called in to coach him.
'Tell me about your workflow,' I asked.
'I believe in being here for my staff,' said Stuart. 'We've got an open-plan environment and people are able to come with their questions whenever they need help.'
As soon as he said that, I knew I had at least part of the answer. Problem is, a boss who's always available opens him or herself up for constant interruptions. Before they know it, almost everyone who runs such a system ends up too involved with the work of their team.
He had to make himself less available, yet still support and coach his people. A simple daily structure was a major part of the solution.
Now, Stuart meets first thing with his PA, who has been given more responsibility. She handles more phone calls, makes most of his appointments, deals with the lower-level questions and shields him from many interruptions. This may seem obvious, but the process constantly needs to be revisited. Many senior executives don't use their assistants effectively, making themselves a very expensive resource for their companies. When we do a task that could be passed to another who's paid a lesser rate, we effectively pay ourselves at that lower rate.
The other short early-morning meetings he now runs are stand-up meetings with his direct reports. There's a quick update, questions either way are dealt with, and now the team have agreed not to interrupt each other for at least a couple of hours unless it's a crisis. No more wandering past with 'just a quick question'. Everyone is encouraged, where possible, to save further questions and discussions until later in the day.
He also now avoids other morning meetings with clients or suppliers if he can. For Stuart (as it is for most of us) the morning is our most productive time — but he was finding it too often frittered away on meetings, replying to emails, and other 'busy' work. Now he schedules in at least an hour in the mornings to work on the higher-value activities, blocking out distractions and being unavailable.
His team are now more focused, work output for all of them has increased, they are taking more responsibility and interruptions have dramatically reduced. Profits are up, Stuart's 'to do' list has reduced, he's feeling more effective, and he's getting home earlier.
Push your staff into taking responsibility
Here's a related but different strategy. If competent people keep interrupting you with questions they should be able to handle, ask them to come with two solutions every time they come with a question. Pretty soon you'll find the interruptions have reduced. If they've had to work out the answers before they come, they'll soon realise they don't need to interrupt you for what amounts to a 'rubber-stamp job'.
If you're too quick to supply the answer you encourage laziness and dependency. After all, it's human nature to take the easy road.