Delegate, Delegate, Delegate
As a leader, you are only as good as people you have the privilege of giving instructions to.
This is a quote, my own I might add, that has been following me for some time now. I am a borderline workaholic. Better put, I am very knowledge hungry and I am not happy until I am doing my job better than anyone else could expect. However, one must first know what his job is before he can make assumptions such as these.
My main task is organizing and structuring the processes of a group of junior- to senior-level programmers, in tasks that range from template development, error-analysis, bug-fixing and even consulting for a web-based project management software system. I happen to know the ideal way of executing most of the aforementioned tasks, which is a good asset when managing my co-workers as a resource. However, there is always a tendency to complain when someone doesn’t execute a task as expected or, better put, when an employee is “unreliable”. As a leader, you just happen to not have that right.
But then, where does the problem lie?
Dale Carnegie used to say that it is better, not even that, it is essential for a compliment to be given in order for a person to react to you. Unlike with a complaint, critique or verbal ass-kicking, a compliment stays and further motivates the person, while the aforementioned threat (do it again and you’re fired) works until you turn your back. However, at least in this chapter, Mr. Carnegie might have forgotten that, in some professional areas, co-operation and compliance are just a second step, much farther down the road, than the first: Instruction!
One of the, if not the biggest problem in modern service teams, which usually involve either software or hardware, is what I like to call “knowledge-islanding” (I could have come up with something better, but I actually just now came up with it). What happens is that, with very complex tasks, one programmer happens to know step one because he programmed it himself, while programmer two actually fixed a similar bug the week before, knowing how to do the second step, while programmer three is running around the room in order for people to think that he is actually doing something, because he doesn’t have a clue.
As a leader, the logical solution for such a problem would be: find out who is the keeper of knowledge regarding the problem and, should no candidates arise, select a programmer for the task at hand. Programmers are flexible people, and programming is programming, so he will eventually find the bug and fix it. Should someone raise their hand, say, the aforementioned programmer who actually programmed the thing, you’re already on the right track. Let’s say, it actually is your lucky day, and programmer two reveals that he might have solved something similar the week before. Ball… out of the park! You sit back, wait for the bug to be fixed, and ask programmer three to get you a soda, in order for you to give him some purpose in life as well. Everybody’s happy.
But wait: to solve one problem you needed two-and-a-half programmers, about twenty minutes of yelling around trying to find someone who knows something about it and letting people brainstorm about it for another twenty minutes before work can actually begin? On a regular working day, this actually means about 10% of your day. That’s 10% of your valuable time, 10% where you could actually be solving other stuff… Really, forty whole minutes you could be going home earlier!
So how do we cut the problem on its root?
Instruction, instruction, instruction. First: get yourself a WiKi. Second, make sure your employees live it. Finally, reserve three times more time for new employees than what you think is relevant. This is important! The victor, in the end, is you.
Instructed and knowledge hungry employees are the one you can delegate to, without worrying about the task being done to specs or not. You define the specs, so that they can be executed accordingly or, better put, according to your instructions, which have to be clear.
Then go Carnegie on their ass. Compliment new employees on their achievements and let them loose in the WiKi. Give them the freedom to contribute, since your pride of their quickly acquired knowledge has to be consistent and continuous. As soon as they are veterans, even delegate the task of instructing the fresh meat. I haven’t met a single person who doesn’t like doing it and another load gets taken off your back.