Releasing the cap isn’t difficult; it just requires intentionality
Few if any company leaders sit down at the end of the fiscal year and project ahead with a statement that goes like this:
Let’s rely on what got us here. We won’t rock the boat but instead hold things steady, maintain our status quo, and hope that we can keep things at the same level as last year.
As ludicrous as that sounds, it might as well be the mantra of countless organizations large and small, year in and year out.
It doesn’t matter if you’re managing people in a $1M business or a $1B business, if the goal is to grow revenue and profit, then you know that a lot of pieces must come together – from continuing to create desirable products and services for which the market will willingly pay a premium, to deftly managing logistics and thoughtfully containing costs. But often overlooked in the mix of day-to-day management of the business is something that, if left unchecked, prevents the sustained growth any company desires.
That something is people development and, in particular, the art of work distribution vs. delegation.
Let that reality sink in for a minute: your company can work hard to get everything right – the products, services, pricing, sourcing, finances, literally every sound strategy in place, and still not grow because your people feel like they don’t have the time to implement those strategies. And that’s often because they don’t know how to delegate the work effectively.
Put another way, plans and strategies matter. But it is your people who ultimately help the company grow – or hold it back.
Work distribution vs. delegation: what’s the difference?
Management professionals know that it’s not simply about getting the work done, but how the work gets done. This requires striking the right between work distribution and delegation.
The end goal of work distribution is about gaining results – in essence it’s about assigning the work with the premise of handing it off to others quickly in order to get it done. It can be more opportunistic than strategic.
Delegation is about developing the skills and capacity of people who are responsible for getting those desired results. It’s about doing what is in the best interest of the employee for their ongoing growth.
In the end, results are still going to matter. But how managers get them makes all the difference.
When a high-performing and well-trained team exists, work distribution can appear ideal: assignments are given, work is completed, results are achieved, and then you do it again. It’s a form of lather, rinse and repeat. That works for a while, but it doesn’t grow people beyond their current capacity, skillset or long-term success.
Now imagine a company where the goal is solely about getting results and the team is currently underdeveloped to achieve them. Challenges inevitably begin to emerge. Managers may find they have little choice but to distribute work only to those currently capable to get results. When that’s not enough – meaning if there’s too much work and not enough skilled staff to garner results – managers may find themselves on the hook to get results by any means necessary. That can lead to managers doing the work versus managing it, which puts them back in a tactical role of implementing assignments versus a strategic role of leading teams. It is a death spiral, a viscous cycle that feeds on itself and gets worse.
This presents all kinds of short- and long-term problems, including individuals and teams that underperform, experience stunted growth, and fail to achieve desired results. Further, people who have capacity to grow but aren’t being developed inevitably begin to disengage.
It’s a textbook example of how a team stagnates, doesn’t grow, and eventually begins to decline. Work distribution to get results is important, but it cannot exist at the expense of developing the next wave of employees responsible for those results.
Delegation is the difficult but necessary work for growth to occur – not only for managers and their direct reports, but also the business. Most managers are situationally good at delegating work and leading their teams to perform the work at hand. They can recognize a situation where their teaching and coaching is necessary to overcome an immediate challenge. However, most managers are not routinely good at delegating, and here’s why: it takes time and patience to delegate well. Occasionally it can take up to four or six months of conversation and development are required to bring a team member up to speed before they are performing at desired levels.
While it might be difficult for some, the sink-or-swim mentality works well here. When management professionals put their people in situations to rise to the top or ask for help, they quickly realize who is capable of more than they imagined, and who needs more development. Nobody sinks when the management pro, with support of the company, takes time to help the employee that can’t swim yet. You cannot build knowledge upon a skillset that doesn’t exist. And for those that do have a foundation of knowledge, it becomes incumbent on the manager to look for proactive ways to accelerate their growth as well. Effective delegation will see employees working at higher capacity and gaining more experience in less time, garnering faster results.
Let’s make it even more personal. If you have a teenager – or at least remember being one – you know that leaving home for college or work is essential to a young person’s growth and development. Leaving the nest is to leave the protectionism of a parent that can stunt growth. Most parents would probably cringe at the trial and error approach to life their kids experienced. But it’s essential for growth. And it’s just as essential for managers to get comfortable in watching and coaching through the hard but necessary growing pains of their employees. To not do that stunts their growth and ultimately the growth of company.
Welcome to the Gap Trap
This conundrum – where people development feels incongruent with company performance – is a real pain point. The endless pursuit of attempting to make up for the shortcomings of your team simply to meet the metrics is known as the Gap Trap. If the cycle isn’t corrected, it will chew up good managers and stagnate companies.
Over the next several weeks, I’m going to address root causes of the Gap Trap and how to escape it and avoid it altogether.
That artificial cap that holds any company back from sustained growth is the short-sightedness of placing utmost importance in current performance over long-term potential. Only by unlocking the full potential that should exist within the company’s talent – and intentionally developing them – will a company tap its full growth potential.
Gratification will not be instantaneous. But for those who are willing to be patient and intentional, it can be realized.