“I don’t like to micro manage,” my friend lamented. “But even when I set clear expectations and deadlines, I find myself having to guide the entire process or else the ball gets dropped. Is that an employee issue or a leadership issue?”
It’s hard enough to want to delegate in the first place. Many leaders lack trust, are insecure or are control freaks. But once you get past those barriers, what happens when your followers can’t pull their weight? Let’s talk about a few ways managers can guide their projects so that everyone can contribute.
Your Team’s Performance is Your Responsibility
This should go without saying, yet it needs to be said. If you are the leader, you are responsible for the total collective performance of every person on your team. Most people understand this intuitively. A manager can’t explain to his executives, customers or clients that he couldn’t get the job done because one of his staff couldn’t pull their weight. But unfortunately it’s a major reason many great workers avoid management responsibilities. No one wants to manage a poor team and no one wants to be responsible for multiple jobs all of the time. So what can you do?
Not All Employees are the Same
We also know this is true, but our sense of fairness compels us to treat all our employees the same. That’s often the problem right there. Some employees are high performers and some aren’t. Some are highly experienced and some are new. Some work best while collaborating and some work best alone. Some will get all their work done ahead of time and some wait till the last minute. Of course it’s possible and sometimes necessary to remove under-performers through HR processes. But many times this isn’t the real need and doesn’t solve the problem. First, take the time to diagnose where your employees are on the performance scale. Work with them to create individual development plans for growth. Understand their career goals. Give as much responsibility as they can handle, with the stated goal of giving more in the future. Get to know their learning and working styles. None of these should excuse poor performance – and you’ll both be better for understanding.
Cast the Vision
When you launch a new project, don’t start by communicating the nitty-gritty details. Start with the bottom line up front (BLUF). At the end of the project, what will be accomplished? Explain the difference the project will make in the grander scheme of things. Communicate why it’s crucial for everyone to work as a team and address the benefit to them (WIIFM = what’s in it for me?).
Set Performance Expectations Upfront
Next, for each team member, explain his or her role on the project and the tasks that go with the role. Be as explicit as you can be about the responsibility and as detailed as you need to be about the tasks. For inexperienced employees, this could mean explaining the implied tasks until they reach the next stage of competence.
Make a Project Plan
A project plan is basically a document that breaks down all of the tasks and milestones of a project, their due dates and who will be responsible for each one. I like to use Microsoft® Project or Excel. It sounds complicated, but it’s really not. Think of it as creating an outline before writing an article. It doesn’t have to be perfect and it will most likely change (multiple times). But a project plan allows all parties to be on the same page at all times. Even more, it establishes an added level of responsibility and accountability. It’s up to me to follow through on all the project plan items assigned to my name. In project meetings, it’s up to me to provide updates on my items like percentage completed, red flags, additional information needed, etc. By the way, don’t just assign completion dates on your project plans. Assign first draft dates, review dates, dates to incorporate feedback, test/pilot dates and final dates – all as needed.
Set Leadership Expectations Upfront
Finally, how will you support the team? This should be addressed beforehand as well. If you manage the project plan, make sure everyone knows when their updates are due. (Management challenge: delegate the project plan responsibilities). Schedule review meetings with each individual (if possible) so all parties will have the opportunity to address questions and concerns before there’s an issue. And clarify what you want the employees to do when they need help (hint: they don’t always have to come to you first).
Project management can be exhilarating and exhausting, rewarding and trying. Most of us have been on projects we loved and ones we hated. Usually, the difference was leadership.
What else would you add on how to tactically execute a project effectively?
Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, trainer and thought leader. Receive his new ebook Trusted Leadership Advisor by subscribing to his website or follow him on Twitter.