How to get and keep great staff (2)

How to get and keep great staff (2)

Delegating and the brain.

In a previous article I wrote about how to get the right staff to fit into your team or organisation, see the archive on this site
In this article I want to talk about the basic principles of powerful delegating. How to make sure that you can get your work done because your staff are doing theirs.

I believe there are ten steps to effective delegating:
  1. Decide what the task and the outcome is that needs to be completed.
  2. Decide on the person or people most able or appropriate to carry out the task
  3. Delegate the complete task
  4. Explain what the need is, and what the task is
  5. Negotiate the best outcome of this task, not the process
  6. Ask the person if they are prepared to take the responsibility for the outcome of the task
  7. Ask what the person needs to achieve the outcome, and give them that. Agree on time frame for check up/ catch up/ progress report
  8. Give them the task and LET GO!
  9. Accept only finished work.
  10. Give credit, publicly and privately

Of course, most of these steps seem fairly obvious, yet it is surprising how many managers miss out on one or more of these steps entirely. Even the basic step of deciding who to delegate something to will sometimes be made on the basis of who happens to be standing near the water cooler at any given moment.All of the steps are important for effective delegating, but I want to focus on three in particular in this space.

Step 5

The first one is num 5, to delegate a task with the outcome in mind, not the process. The way you have always carried out a certain task is not necessarily the only way. It suits you and your brain to do it that way, but it may not suit others. Forcing people to follow your process rather than your own is not normally very efficient. Agree on the outcome of the task, e.g.: Analyse the data; write a report for the board on the data, maximum length 1.5 pages, by Friday lunchtime. Then allow the staff member to develop her own process for completing the task.

All of our brains are entirely different and carry out processes in entirely different ways. Even the simplest actions or processes will look entirely different in two different brains. So forcing people to follow a process that works for you can make the task that much harder for them to complete. Worse than that their brain will actively work against the outcome, in other words they will have a tendency to procrastinate and struggle with motivation.

Brain Research

The latest brain research, using MRI scanning techniques etc, is clearly showing that when a person makes new connections in their brain, when they learn something, gain an insight, that at that precise moment lots of “pleasure hormones” are released. The moment you actually work something out causes physical pleasure. If you allow people to create those pleasure moments themselves, they will want more and more of it and their motivation will skyrocket. Then you will be able to get your own stuff done, have your own learnings, and find your own brain pleasures.

Step 9

The second step I will say something about is step 9: Only accept finished work.

If you want to undo all the good work that I wrote about in the preceding paragraphs, try this approach: When your team member comes back with the report, and it is clear to you that the outcomes haven’t been met, for example it is 2.5 pages long, instead of 1.5 as agreed, take it from her, and say….”Ok that will do, leave it with me, I will rewrite it so it fits on a page and a half”

Despite what I said above, the brain is also a lazy organ, that is to say it is designed to minimise the use of energy. You may not think of the brain as a great consumer of energy in the body, but you might be surprised to know that it uses vast amounts of energy all day every day. The brain burns calories like you wouldn’t believe, (that is why, for example, the best way to stay warm on a cold day is to put a woollen hat on) and different parts of the brain use more or less energy. As it happens your “working” memory and processing part of your brain is one of the most energy expensive parts of your brain. The natural tendency for the brain will be to not use these areas of the brain when it can avoid using them; it is much “cheaper” to use the automatic parts, the hardwired parts, the parts where old habits reside, in other words. So when you tell your staff member: “that will do, let me do the rest”, they will happily pass it off to you, and conserve energy in their brain.

What it means though is that they don’t get the full experience of the pleasure hormones, they won’t take pride in their work, and you will not be able to get your own stuff done and get your own brain pleasures.If you simply will not accept anything less but finished work, work that meets the agreed outcomes, and give the support and assistance where necessary, everyone wins. Your staff become addicted to the release of the pleasure hormones and will go looking for more and more of it. You get staff that take responsibility for their work and you get your own stuff done.

Taking responsibility, 6 and 7

Finally, I am going to say a few words about step 6 and step 7.

There is world of difference between giving somebody the responsibility for a task or a person taking responsibility. Once you have gone through the first five steps of the delegating process and it has been agreed what the desired outcomes of the task are and why it is important, it is really powerful to stop and ask the staff member if they are prepared to take responsibility for the task and the agreed outcomes. If they are, ask them what they need from you in the form of support, or resources or assistance to be able to achieve the outcomes, and make sure you give that to them if at all possible.

What matters is that the staff member takes ownership of the task. If you simply tell them that you want them to do this thing, there is a real risk that they will take it on with a certain amount of resistance or resentment. In that frame of mind it is unlikely that they will perform at optimum.

So after you have dealt with step 5, stop, and ask: “All right Sarah, you understand the need for this report, and you know what is required and by when? Are you happy for me to leave this with you from here? Great, and what do you need from me to make it possible for you to get it done?”

Once you start implementing this approach in all your delegating at work, you will be amazed what a difference it makes. A workplace where everyone is motivated by their addiction to their brain pleasures is a wonderful place to be. You might even get that game of Golf in on Friday morning before the board meeting!!!

Acknowledgement

This article is based on my own experiences and insights as well as on the following books amongst others:

  • “Quiet Leadership – Teach people how to think, don’t tell them what to do” by David Rock
  • “The one minute Manager” series by Ken
  • “Learned Optimism” Prof Martin Seligman

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