D or D?

Let’s look at two scenarios. A busy and stressed-out entrepreneur is on the run. He stops by the desk of a colleague and says the following, “I need some PowerPoint slides for a presentation about our XYZ product. This is a top priority – I need it ASAP.” Now, let’s contrast that with the same encounter but different characters.

A busy and stressed-out entrepreneur is on the run. She goes to the office of a colleague and sits down to explain what she needs. “We have an opportunity to make a presentation to the ABC Company for potentially one of the largest orders of our XYZ product ever received. We’ve been building a relationship with ABC for the past year and they called last night and said we could have 30 minutes on Tuesday. Could you please help me put together this presentation? I’m going to work on exactly what I’m going to say – would you be able to put together eight PowerPoint slides that show how the XYZ product is different than the top competing products? I’m wide open to any ideas you have to be creative here. I realize that this will require some juggling on your part – what is a reasonable time line to get this completed? What can I do to help?”     

The difference in approaches isn’t hard to spot. In the first case, the entrepreneur performed the Dump and Run maneuver flawlessly. If Olympic judges were grading him, he would have nailed a perfect 10. In the second case, the entrepreneur used the Delegation technique. She too would have received high marks. So, if you were on the receiving end of this encounter, which of these entrepreneurs would you prefer to work with?

Dump or Delegate. Both start with the same letter but that’s where the similarity ends. Which is more efficient and effective? Some might say that from the entrepreneur’s perspective, handing off an assignment and quickly moving on to the next task is indeed efficient. And there’s no doubt that there are many things that simply can be “dumped” with a minimum of explanation. The problem is that some of us tend to make this the default practice rather than the exception. When I discussed this with another business person at some point in the past, he told me that “if my people aren’t smart enough to figure it out for themselves, then I have the wrong people.” I think I disagree . . . strongly.

Delegating work in a true sense requires collaboration. I’ve found the collaborative approach to be much more efficient and effective. Why? Because by spending the time necessary to bring others up-to-speed the chances for an error-free outcome increase substantially. Further, the odds also improve for a higher quality result. This happens because people are actually able to engage their brains in a much more comprehensive manner when they have a full understanding of the situation at hand. It stands to reason that if I just give someone a “snapshot” of what is needed without the broader context then I’m likely to get a narrowly-focused work product.

Here are the steps I’ve found most productive when delegating to others.

  • First, I try to provide the whole story – not just snippets. In doing so, I’m showing respect to my colleague by making sure they have the same information as do I.
  • Second, I try to be as specific as I can about what I need. But I also encourage my colleague to be innovative to the extent the situation warrants. This sends a message of flexibility as opposed to rigidity. It also enables the colleague to “personalize” the finished product.
  • Third, I make sure my colleague understands the overall timeline. It’s important that the colleague understand when I learned of the assignment. How many times have we seen someone sit on a project then do the last-minute mad dash to finish in time? The last thing I want is for my co-worker to think I’m doing this to him or her. I also want my colleague to set the deadline for completing what I’ve asked to be produced. If his/her timing doesn’t work for the assignment, I can always negotiate a tighter date.

Our team grows stronger when we Delegate every chance we get. While it may take a little longer at the front end, the final result is usually much better than what comes from the Dump scenario.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 7 – Brick Walls.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

dumptruck

Urgent Care

Allow me to set the scene. We are about to embark upon a major project that could make or break our company. There are a wide range of complexities involving this project and it will require a supreme effort from our entire team to successfully bring it all together. But there’s just one problem. Invariably someone on the team is not as responsive as necessary or doesn’t seem to possess the same sense of urgency as does everyone else. As a result the ball gets dropped and we fail. Alternatively, others on the team step in to pick up the slack which creates resentment and hard feelings. How do we effectively deal with this rogue team member that is at the center of all this?

There are a number of steps that can be taken to stack the deck in our favor when it comes to ensuring responsiveness and urgency. Step one is to develop clear written roles and accountabilities for each member of the team. Considerable thought should be given to this process so that a high level of precision in role definition can be attained. Being as comprehensive as possible in describing a role will produce clarity. Vague and generic verbiage muddles the picture and may lead to confusion later on. As team members we have overall roles and accountabilities. For major projects it’s a good idea to dive even deeper into a separate set of intentions for each of us relative to the specific matter at hand.

Step two involves gaining a commitment from each team member. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to hold a team meeting to reaffirm the vision for the project. For example, suppose we are developing a proposal to win a major piece of business. We assemble the team that will be creating and implementing the proposal and paint the picture of what it looks like when we win (vision). In the meeting we review team member roles and accountabilities and ask each person to make a verbal (and maybe even written) commitment to do their part in this endeavor. It’s critical that this commitment be made among those on the team and not just to the enterprise.

The third step is for the team leader(s) to make an assessment of the capabilities of each team member. The roles and accountabilities have already been established for each position that will participate in the project. Will the individuals who fill those positions be able to perform the tasks assigned to them? And do they have the tools and resources that are needed to prosecute their roles effectively? If it’s determined that a team member isn’t equipped for his or her role – i.e. skills, training or experience – then that person becomes the weak link in the chain. A decision must be made at the outset whether or not to replace that team member with someone else, or be prepared to provide greater than normal support for that individual.

Finally, team members should be encouraged to set their own deadlines so long as they are compatible with the overall project timeline. When a deadline is imposed by others, there’s always the opportunity for someone to claim it to be unrealistic. Accountability is first to one’s self and then to the team. Self-imposed deadlines are congruent with this approach to accountability. As team leaders it’s equally important for us to be aware of all deadlines and check with team members well in advance of them. Then if there’s a chance that a deadline will be missed we can muster additional resources or take other steps to make sure that the train still runs on time.

Instilling responsiveness and a sense of urgency within a team is a process. When we clearly define roles and accountabilities, obtain commitment, assess capabilities and resources, and work with team-member established deadlines, the process should put us in a position to win the prize we are seeking.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

An early motorized version of a LICH ambulance.

An early motorized version of a LICH ambulance.

Which Wire Do I Cut?

Question: I often find myself pressed for time due to a deadline of some kind. The more pressure I’m under the more mistakes I make. What can I do to feel less stress and perform at a higher level?

Answer: You may be expecting me to tell you to just relax, right? And while that’s good advice, that’s not going to be my answer here. Instead, consider turning the tables. This may sound counterintuitive but it works. What were the thoughts that ran through your mind when you faced a seemingly impossible deadline? “I’ll never get this done in time!” Or, “this is ridiculous, why did I agree to this crazy due date?”

What do you suppose would happen if you said this instead? “Wow, this is a fantastic opportunity! I have a chance to push myself to succeed where in the past I might have failed.” Naturally the words mean nothing if the mindset isn’t there. Think about all of the benefits of working under pressure. First, we get to grow. How does staying comfortable stimulate personal growth? Only when we stretch do we really learn how to be better. Second, we become even more effective at planning. The odds are better for successfully meeting a tight deadline if we create a precision plan to identify and execute all of the necessary steps. Finally, we get more done. In the overall context of eternity, our lives are but a blink of an eye. Working continuously in short deadline mode means that we get to experience a lot more of life.

Here’s a game that I devised years ago to help me handle the pressure of meeting deadlines. Imagine that you are a James Bondesque individual and you just learned that you are in a building containing a nuclear bomb that is set to explode in five minutes vaporizing you and tens of millions of people. There’s no time to call anyone – it’s totally up to you to defuse this device. You have to find the bomb; figure out how to remove its housing; determine if there’s a booby trap to disarm, and then decide which of the colored wires should be snipped (if you ever find yourself in this situation, never cut the red wire). Meanwhile the clock is ticking and you could very soon become a bug on the great cosmic windshield if you screw up. This exaggerated imagery has made me laugh, prompted me to plan, encouraged me to keep score (of how many times I’ve saved the world) and taught me never to procrastinate.

Whether we’re entrepreneurs or not, our lives are filled with deadlines. Perhaps seeing ourselves as Mission Impossible heroes will spur us into action and allow us to actually enjoy the process of reaching the finish line. Alive!

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

bomb defusing