How to become a threaded, tempoed and tractable manager.
Demystify the process of delegation: A guide to creating a concrete start for new managers coming from technical backgrounds.
Engineers “get freaked out” when new responsibilities grow beyond their reach or attention. They’re used to verifying every detail. But projects become bigger, and some of the thinking and doing is handled by other people. As responsibilities grow, all of the thinking and doing gets done by others, and it’s impossible to control everything. It’s easy to frazzle, trying harder and harder to stay ahead and on top. They eventually realize that outpacing and outracing the entire huge project is unsustainable. Seasoned colleagues tell them to delegate.
How does a new manager accept the challenge to delegate, knowing that previous success has come from personal attention to detail and thoroughness across everything? They understand that future success depends on the results of teams more than their own accomplishments. But it’s a hard transition.
I love teamwork. No person, group or even company has all the resources of intellect, materials, know-how and time to tackle big, tough challenges alone. But delegation is easier said than done. It’s not simply trusting one’s team to do the right thing. It’s more than clarifying expectations through superior communication. And it’s not simply setting up systems to reward people for desired behaviors, and punishing misdeeds. How does one learn to delegate? Don’t say, “It’s all about follow-up.” Phew!
It’s often necessary to exchange a degree of personal perfection for progress. It’s no longer about you. Forget about solving the impossible problems. Instead, develop the mindset, energy, and structured process of an effective delegator by using these 3Ts: threads, tempo and tractability.
As delegator, adopt the mindset of tackling multiple threads, by recognizing that management work is multi-threaded. Consider the metaphoric comparison between a suspension bridge and a sweater:
At the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge there’s a display of the mighty cable that holds the roadway. This 3 foot diameter cable is made of 30,000 individual steel wires, each wire designed to carry a specific load, with enough margin in the arrangement to be sure that the bridge will stay up.
Many engineers would consider such cable an article of beauty.
On the other hand, sweaters are made from a chaotic aggregation of short kinky filaments. These filaments are spun together into yarn and then knitted together. The yarn from which sweaters are made works more like management than the cable of suspension bridges.
I love sweaters and bridges. Sweaters can be soft and pretty, flexible and warm. The essence of threading for managers is the recognition that the chaotically spun fibers making yarn are just what sweaters need. For this purpose, threads are the perfect element.
Tasks for managers are the filaments that make the threads that make the yarn of work.
Your colleagues expect promised tasks (filament) to be delivered (spun together) into threads. So delegators become determined multitaskers who earn their stripes by promising and delivering multiple threads. Properly kinked and skillfully spun filaments become the threads that hold successful projects together. Yes, this gets scary because no single filament spins perfectly. But the sound and consistent thread-making process leads to yarn that does the job.
Your energy expressed as tempo is the second of the 3Ts.
By accelerating the rate of thread generation, managers earn their stripes by delivering threads with pace. Tasks are associated with deadlines; assignments succeed when deadlines are met.
The tempo of the team determines the tempo of your outputs. Timing becomes your transacted currency with the team, which is easier to measure and manage than quality and quantity of work. And it takes advantage of agile methods, where tasks have to be both fast and finished.
Achieving goals through threads and tempo requires a structured process to handle the rate and volume.
In this instant communication era of clouds, intranets and email, staying on top of many fast-moving threads may be overwhelming, and you will need an organization method to keep up with it. Resist the temptation to slow down and get back into the deep details. Try not to slow down and prescreen priorities. By intentionally staying shallow in the sorting of threads, you will develop speedier methods and deeper intuition at assessing, resolving, delegating and closing them out.
Without a system to organize the threads, the process of managing them becomes unmanageable! A pocketful of paper slips with scribbled notes won’t work. However, a simple spreadsheet organizing tasks, deadlines, and resources updated daily at least will provide the information support for multitasking in a tractable way, meaning malleable or easy to deal with. Homesick for a little coding, the once-upon-a-time engineer may opt to write a little Python script to automate the recording and processing of tasks. Or perhaps one of the Getting Things Done (GTD) apps is the answer. A habit of consistent organization will focus energy on confident progress toward accomplishment of priorities large and small.
Through consistency, the approach becomes more automatic. Every day the picture changes; so in the evenings update the list of threads, and first thing every morning review them as you plan your day. This is how the management of tempoed threads become tractable, and an effective process of delegation.