Life as a scaling founder depends on us being able to build autonomy into the team, empower others and delegate effectively. Yet cracking this kicks up all sorts of challenges in practise, because it relies on communication and understanding flowing well between two people, as well as coaching skills and even behaviour change, to do it consistently.
Have any of these scenarios happened to you when trying to empower and delegate?
You explain exactly what you want the other person to do and how to do it, but are somewhat disappointed when they just do what you say, without applying independent thought
Micro-management = disempowered individual
You explain the vision and outcome of what is needed but later down the line, it transpires you misunderstood each other
You explain the vision of what is needed yet the other person presents a finished product totally different to what you envisaged
When we talk about these, most founders identify with at least one – so how can we improve our success rate with empowering others day-to-day?
Separate the What and the How in your mind
Harvard organizational behaviourist J. Richard Hackman uncovered a set of “enabling conditions” for empowering autonomy, and poses two critical questions you can ask for any task or project:
- Have the ends been specified? (the ‘what’ or goal)
- Have the means been specified? (the ‘how’)
This creates a useful check for whether we are empowering people or straying into micro-managing. If we micro-manage too much we disempower and demotivate, which leads to wasted resources and ultimately team turnover.
Let’s not forget that this is especially tough as a founder too – since there is a natural tendency for others to look to us for the answers to problems and to make the final decision. Plus, as founders we’re born problem-solvers and it’s probably fair to say we tend to have a clear view of what the ‘right’ solution is too (rightly or wrongly)!
But to get the best from our people and keep them motivated, we have to resist these natural tendencies. We want to define what we want as a result from our teams (the End) and not define how to do it (the Means). That means letting people solve their own challenges, make their own decisions and that takes both trust, tenacity, and willpower as a leader!
The secret is in your project management skills
The good news is that we have the tools to crack this… you might just not have realised it. As founders, most of us are pretty experienced at kickstarting and overseeing big projects – whether it is rolling out new company processes, launching innovation or just the next phase in tech development. And it’s these skills that we can effectively utilise to empower our teams day-to-day too.
What if everything you empower others to do is treated like a mini-project?
If we do that, then we automatically consider a set of key questions to kick start the “mini-project”. In turn, doing so encourages us as founders to get clear on exactly what is required for a good result, and manage expectations on all sides. We’ve co-created this little framework with many founders in the family and here is how you can get started.
The 5 simple questions:
1. What is the context?
A simple starting point to give an overview of why this task/project is needed and what has been done to date or existed in the past. Keep it concise and add additional background info later if needed.
2. What is the objective?
The critical question which forces us as the delegator or manager to get really clear on what success looks like. You have the opportunity to articulate this in more visionary terms for those motivated by the impact (eg. Wow our users with an improved user-experience) or more tangible terms for those motivated by targets (eg. Decrease user abandon rate by 15% within 3 months). It’s reasonable to have more than one objective – but if so, it’s helpful to aim for one top-tier objective followed by secondary or supporting ones.
3. What is the scope?
We all know we can move mountains if we have enough resources, so scoping is key to aligning expectations for any mini-project or task. Are there systems or processes that must not change? Are there timeframes or other projects that this must fit in with? What should the budget or resource allocation be for this? Outlining resource allocation (even within one person’s role) can be really helpful for them to understand the scope they have and their level of expected effort.
4. What are the key deliverables?
This critical section puts meat on the bones for the objectives and makes it really clear what you are expecting to see as a result of the project. Perhaps you’re expecting to see a strategy document, a project plan, and certain project outcomes; or perhaps for you, it would be more detailed metrics and targets. Either way, being crystal clear on what you’re expecting as a manager, means that you are effectively managing expectations on all sides – reducing the risk of dashed expectations and misalignment further down the line.
5. How often do you need to be consulted?
This section is often forgotten, yet can make all the difference: We all know that delegating and empowering requires trust – this section helps build and keep that trust. Let’s face it, there are some things that feel critically important as a founder, and other things you’re more laid back about. In my experience, this is often tied to the relative importance to the business (12 month strategy vs a meeting lunch!) or it can just be down to personal passions (I for one have unnecessarily strong opinions about branding!). Be clear about where this mini-project sits for you, then design the check-in schedule accordingly. If it’s high on your radar, then agree to see a first draft or have regular catch-ups on progress. If it’s less critical to you, step back and agree to review a final draft later on.
You might also like to add:
- Relevant background info or research
- Links to useful documents
- Any initial ideas you have (ideally, these would be for discussion)
Whilst asking these 5 simple questions might require a little more time upfront from you, you’re setting your team members up for success more effectively, closing the gap between the understanding and expectations of two people, and as a result ultimately, saving time overall!
Inevitably, those sneaky founder tendencies might try to come back as part of your briefing or progress meetings, where you want to problem-solve or direct. But to avoid any disempowerment at that stage, whilst also supporting others, use this mini-project framework alongside your empowering coaching questions too.
FounderCircle members can access this delegation blueprint worksheet, as well as the empowering coaching-style for startup leaders worksheet to help with empowering in the Hub.
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