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Secrets of Effective Delegation - W3s
by Chris Wesley
So. If you're the boss, the Big Cheese - then how come you're fed up?
Effective delegation is the most fundamental part of management - because managers must succeed through the contributions of others. And yet it is hugely neglected, leaving chaos and misery sprayed all over the working world!
Why? Well, most people get to be managers by being good individual contributors, but management is a very different role requiring very different skill sets, and if you're unable to make the attitudinal shift, you'll struggle.
Much of my executive coaching is spent helping clients out in this regard, and within the area of delegation there are two central yet neglected delegation concepts. They come up so often in my delegation workshops that I wrote these articles to present them easily, and I refer my clients to them before our sessions. Here's an example from my case files (details changed to protect the guilty!).
Tony owns a small software company producing specialist accounting packages. His young hotshot tech-guy, Simon, is very smart, and charged with writing the new generation product.
It's now 7 months overdue; Tony's customers are becoming impatient and angry, and Tony is festering on it. Every time he speaks to Simon, Simon is relaxed and confident and enjoying his lifestyle. He always willingly agrees that it needs finishing; mentions technical hitches and unforeseen complications, and promises it'll be ready soon.
Tony feel powerless, yet he's the company owner! He's the boss, and he's paying Simon's considerable salary - yet he is not in control. This ain't right!
The problem here is a lack of accountability, and the technique I'll give you here will really help.
Nail the Jelly to the Wall with "W3s"
This first one is an old chestnut and so easy to apply, yet my corporate client base shows me that it's not widely applied. The idea is simply to get specific, and to require the three ingredients of any unit of delegation. They are:
Any unit of work - from a five-year strategy to a 20-minute cooking exercise - can be defined in this way - and in the world of management - always should be. Where a problem is complex, then it should be divided up into successively smaller sub-units until a W3 can be safely estimated.
Learn to listen out for opportunities to apply a W3. If someone says "yeah, I'll get someone on that - we need it ASAP" - say "OK, but give me a W three please" - and then wait for the WHO, the WHAT and the WHEN. This is a great way to get formal in defining hand-offs. Each unit of work has an owner. That owner is accountable for it. The buck stops with them. Personally. The definition of the W3 makes things suddenly more serious.
So - delivering the channel tunnel on time and budget - that'll have a W3 (horribly slipped of course). Submitting a report - has a W3. Preparing for a meeting - there's another W3. Almost everything can be defined as a W3.
Watch your WHATs!
Now, a common failing in here is that the WHAT is not well-defined and so the whole thing becomes open to slackening and abuse. If the WHAT is "Finish the software", for example, then there is scope for finishing SOME of the software, for example, or delivering it functional but bug-ridden. So write your WHATs carefully. Think about whether you and your "enemy" could legitimately argue about the completion of a WHAT or not. If they could, then it's a bad WHAT. Try for yes/no WHATs - that either clearly ARE - or clearly ARE NOT done. Make them as short as necessary - but no shorter.
This is not the total solution, of course. If you have no authority, this won't work. If people routinely make promises then fail to deliver, this won't work. And of course, genuine events do prevent deadlines being met. But if you don't currently assign W3s, then you will find this technique is a big step on your path to salvation.
When you clearly define what is required to be done, and place a date on it, and assign an owner to it, things start moving.
Go Forth and W3 stuff!
If you want my help, I'm available.
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