As managers, this ongoing struggle between what can be done and what must be left undone is part of our daily life. By definition, we aspire to do more than can be done with the resources we have – especially time! So our challenge then is to be able to focus on that which is important, and not allow ourselves to be distracted by that which is merely urgent.
Here are five questions for you to think about as you prepare for the fresh New Year.
Do I have a plan in place?
Planning is an essential part of managerial work. And plans come in many sizes. What is your long term plan for yourself as an individual? What do you want to personally achieve in the next 5 years, three years, one year? Use that as the backdrop to your professional plan: What do you need to accomplish in your unit in the long term, mid term and short term? What are the key linkages between your plan and your bosses plan? How do these relate back to the strategy of your organization? If you have a solid understanding of these points, then it will be much easier for you to identify and focus on the important work. By this time next year you will be able to point to the accomplishments of you and your team, and point out exactly how you helped your organization advance its strategy.
What work must I personally do?
As managers we have choices to make. The most fundamental is identifying the work that we must do, and identifying and delineating the work that can be delegated to team members. Each manager has unique work to do that only they, with their capability, in their role, can successfully accomplish. As managers we are not simply funnels. Identify that work where you can add the most value for accomplishing your unit’s goals, and document the “what by when”. This becomes the road map for your personal goals. And don’t forget managerial leadership – this is value-added work that only you can do. You need to set enough time aside to manager your team as a whole, and each team member individually.
Do you set enough context for your team members?
Managing well requires a tricky balance. Command-and-control approaches simply do not work. But team members do need to know enough to be able to make decisions and take initiatives that are consistent with your vision for the unit. So you need to set enough context for them to understand their role, their accountability and authority, and then empower them to get on with the work. Certainly they should keep you informed, and come to you if they run into issues. But for the most part they should be able to get on with the work. Context includes things like up-to-date position descriptions, applicable policies, your plan, your bosses plan, working with your team members on their plans, and so on. Yes this takes time and effort, but in the long run your team will be much more effective.
What work should I delegate?
Only now do you get to the point where you can successfully delegate. Delegation needs to be perfectly clear. The most common mistake I see in organizations is that managers assume that their team members are senior, experienced, people, and know what they need to do. Much if not most of your teams’ work is delegated through context, e.g. the position description. But you must also have clear and specific delegation on the targets that are specific to the attainment of your vision for the unit (and which are a subset of your boss’ vision, right on back to the organizational strategy). You also need to be explicit about other activity that is important, not the least of which is managerial leadership. This work that is delegated needs to be bounded in terms of quality, quantity, timeframe, and specific in terms of the resources available to do the work. Don’t forget that one of the most critical and scarce resources is the time of your subordinates. Part of a manager’s job is to help team members with priorities. Just as you can’t do everything you would like to, neither can they. So you need to specific enough in your context setting and in your delegation so that they can choose the right focus.
Do I have the right feedback loops in place?
Feedback loops – true bi-directional communication channels are critical to success. You need four. One with your team as a whole – yes management team meetings are important. A second with each of your team members. They need time with you to explore and clarify the context you have set, and to get your value-added input when it is required. The third is with your peer managers across the organization so you understand what they need of you for success, and what you need of them for success. Finally, you may need some feedback loops into the community depending on your position.