Genuine Curiosity

Author Dwayne Melancon is always on the lookout for new things to learn. An ecclectic collection of postings on personal productivity, travel, good books, gadgets, leadership & management, and many other things.


Whose is this?

In the new team I'm leading, I'm really beginning to appreciate the value of clarity.


Historically, I've been very comfortable with ambiguity - in fact, I've really enjoyed taking advantage of ambiguity as a means to have more freedom. After all, when nobody is sure what is supposed to be done, how can they challenge what you're doing?

In my new role, however, I am becoming very disciplined about documenting commitments, and ensuring that there is one, clear owner for each item. This is a rusty skill for me, and I've learned a lot over the past few weeks.

One throat to choke

They say, "When multiple people own a problem, nobody owns the problem." I think that's true, based on some fire drills caused when multiple people thought someone else was handling an issue. Quite often, everybody things someone else has the ball, so nothing happens.

I'm being very deliberate about driving to one name as the owner of each issue. This has two effects - both good. One, I always know exactly who to ask when I want to know what's going on. Two, I can "let go" of the task because I have it cleanly docked with someone else - this has greatly shortened my task list.

On a side note - I am tracking all the commitments and owners in a spreadsheet, and mark each one red, yellow, or green to indicate whether they are on track or not. Any task without an owner is automatically "red" until an owner is identified.

Let's be clear

For this to work well, clarity is essential.

  1. Be very clear about ownership - I like it when the owner clearly says "I own this." Seems like a small thing, perhaps, but there is power in saying the words.
  2. Be very clear about expected outcomes - for most of the things I assign, I have no clue what the solution is. However, I usually know what criteria will be met when the task is "done," or I can articulate what questions I need to be able to answer when things are complete, and when it needs to be done. This avoids the "bring me a rock" frustrations that we've all been part of at one point or another.
  3. Be clear about guidelines and protocols - This is the part where you provide guidelines on when the owner needs to check in with you. Some examples:
    • "Your budget is $1000 for this project. Check in with me before you exceed the budget."
    • "I want to know if you hit any roadblocks you can't overcome, or anything that would cause the date to slip."
    • "If you have to do anything that pisses off one of the Sales guys, I want to know as soon as possible."

Respect the boundaries

Another thing I've learned is that people do awesome work if you get out of their way. This is why it's so important to be clear about the expectations and boundaries, but not tell people how to solve the problem. After all, if you stay involved, you get no benefit from delegation. It is also very liberating. Of the 43 open items currently on my tracking spreadsheet, I am the owner of exactly one of them - which means I can spend my time helping people clear roadblocks, working with customers, and monitoring the health of the business. And the people in my team actually like not having me in the details. Other people in my company would benefit from this kind of approach. Which brings me to my last topic...

Don't undermine the trust

The surest way to "unempower" people is to start questioning how they are doing things you delegated. Bad mojo. Especially if you "skip levels" and start digging into the tasks that are owned by the people who work for people you manage (i.e. you've just gone around your direct reports). This erodes trust at all levels in your team. You only get the power of this approach if you honor the boundaries, let people own their commitments, and get out of their way.

If thigns aren't working, I suspect you have an issue with one of the elements of clarity I talked about in the "Let's be clear" section.

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OK - how does this match your experience? Am I smoking hope? Any other elements you've learned from your own experience?

Bring it on - let's learn from each other.