with greg layton

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Today we dive into High Performance Teams, Part 10. This is the final episode in the people pillar and so far we have discussed the right people, the right role, the right strategic development plans for them and the right coaching and one-to-ones.

So now you've got the right people on the bus, got them all sitting in the right seats, you're developing them all in the right way over their entire career, looking to develop them and make them into the best people they can be.

You're also actively coaching and giving them one-to-ones. Today wet finish the people pillar with a focus on the execution part of the job through situational delegation. As new initiatives and tasks come up on a day-to-day basis, this is different to our coaching and one-to-ones.

This is when something pops up that is above and beyond business as usual like a special report, a new project and the quality of your delegation will directly impact the quality of performance of your people.

Back in about 2006 I was a Project Manager leading a major programme at work across the state government, and I had a fantastic, very high performing Business Analyst that worked for me. And on a Friday afternoon I got a call from the project board chair saying that on the Monday during my project board meeting, I was going to have to present an update on a particular part of this project and my Business Analyst was leading that. So I called him and said “Hey mate, can you put together a quick report for me on how that particular part of the project is going?” It was all about the requirements we're developing and the solution he was gonna propose.

And you know what happened, I had the weekend off. I had a wonderful time, came in Monday morning, and there was about a 15 page report in my inbox waiting for me and I thought “Oh my God, this is … I just wanted one page.” I went over to him and said “Hey mate, what's this? This is too big. I needed one page.” And he goes “Oh man, you said you wanted a report.”

And you know what? It dawned on me, my delegation or the way that I described this task to him was just terrible. It was just off the cuff, I didn't put any thought into it. I thought he would just understand. But you know what? He spent most of his weekend putting this together, he was so worried about it. And it was just such poor delegation on my part, it's really, really stuck with me.

Something important for all of us to remember is that if you're getting work coming back to you that isn't what you expect, the very first person you should look at is you. Just get a sense and try and recall the quality of your delegation. Because if you just put an extra 10% effort into your delegation, I guarantee, you're likely to get about a 50% return on that.

Delegation is where a lot of leaders fall victim to their natural preferences. You might remember very early on in the Inner Chief we spoke about micromanagers and even the opposite, when your boss is in the clouds or a macromanager for wont of a better term. The thing is, delegation is very situational, and the biggest pitfall here is that if you have one approach to delegating in all situations, that becomes your MO or when your task comes through, you've got a way of just flicking it on to someone or just handing it over to someone without any framework or any thought into how you're going to communicate that.

From time to time you will succeed, but a lot of the time, you'll get sub-par results. As an example, let's just say you had a high performer in your team, and you have a very low risk task, and you're naturally someone that is a bit of a micromanager. You're a bit stressed about the quality of work people put in, and you really want to have your finger closely on the pulse. Now if you do that with a low risk task, and you've got a high performer, you're just going to annoy the hell out of them, you really are. You're going to dip down, guide them too much, you'll have your hands on the reins the whole time and they will just be over it, and you'll wear them out. It'll be soul destroying for them. They won't feel like they've got any level of empowerment.

Or let's turn that around for a minute. Imagine you've got a low performer on a high risk task… Sometimes a low performer is just a new recruit. They're not quite up to speed yet. It doesn't mean they're not good people. Sometimes they are really struggling in their role. But if you've got a mission critical task or mission critical project and someone who is new or a low performer, and then you take your hands completely off the reins and let them go to their work, then you are very likely to have failure and… you deserve it.

So what we have here is an opportunity to understand and refine a solid way to delegate accurately, because when you think about this people pillar, this is the final step. If you've got the people in the right, if you have already got great developed plans, and you're coaching with good one-to-ones, this is the bit where the work gets done. And if you don't get the work done properly, then you're never gonna get that track record. You know that team is never gonna go to a new level of performance.


I've develop a Situational Delegation framework called COGS. You can always remember COGS, because cog is what actually makes wheels go around, and so does delegation. The more you delegate effectively , the more the wheels turn, so that's a way of remembering COGS.

COGS stands for Context, Outcome, Guidance and Support.

So Context is all about starting with why. You know that's what Simon Sinek made famous, and it's about helping people understand why a particular task or project is so important, the broader context to understand the parameters, what's going on around in the other projects and things that are leading up to it and things that will suit it afterwards.

And once they understand the why of what they're doing, tell them what it is you need them to do. This is the O, the Outcome. This is the outcome you want when the task is completed. Don't tell them exactly what the task is. I always start with what the outcome is. Here we want to really WOW people. We want people to think, feel and do something at the end of that particular task. So maybe if it was something related to implementing a new IT system, we would say, instead of saying “Implement an IT system,” we would say “At this point, we want to make the customer experience so incredible for our new users that they'll rave about us and tell all of the other people.” That's the outcome, right?

If they don't know what the outcome is you want, how can they possibly deliver exactly what it is you're after. So we go straight to, the very first thing is the size of the outcome, right? How amazing will things be when you've completed. This is truly beginning with the ending line.

Then we go to G, and this is Guidance, and where we get very situational. Because this is where we say “What exactly do you need someone to complete?” E.g. I need you to implement an IT system or something like that, and I need to know the quality components. I need to know if there's any key metrics or anything like that that I need to have done, and this is where we get really clear on a little system that I use to determine how much micromanagement or how much full empowerment I can give.

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So I want you to imagine a quick matrix, right, on the Y axis is risk, and on the X axis is skill. So up in the top left, what you're gonna have is something that is high risk and low skill. That's what we call Quadrant 1 and a high risk task with a low skilled team member and the response to someone who's in this situation is a form of micromanagement. And you might be thinking “Hold on a minute, micromanagement is out.”

But think carefully about this for a minute. You've got someone who's in a role, and they're really struggling and they know it. And you've just thrown them in the deep end with a really, really difficult task. What you now need to do is get on board with them and help them. Show them every step of the way. Be there to support them. Micromanagement is such a negative term, but there are moments when you can really help someone nail a big task by being right there for them all the time. Sometimes you can tell them exactly what to do next. Help them write their emails or help them write reports. You can be there for them. Don't be too over bearing on them, just remember at this point, if you take the reins off too much and get too far in the Clouds, they're going to really struggle, and they'll be looking for help, and you'll be nowhere to be seen. So top left quadrant means micromanagement but do it nicely.

Top right where it's a high risk task, but they have high skill, this is where I call what we do is we partner with them. We get close to them and say “Hey this is what we're gonna do, how we're gonna do it, how can I help you, what role can I play.” You don't take your hands completely off the reins, because this is a mission critical project, and you need to know what's happening along the way. And you know what? They'llg want partnerin, even when they're high performing, to have someone right beside them along the way. Not micromanaging, but just being there as a partner, as a good person who can keep them accountable along the way.

In the bottom left quadrant is where we have a very low risk task and low skill. So it's a simple task but it's someone who's not really doing that well. In this case, it's just coaching them. Just giving them some guidance along the way. It doesn't matter too much if they fail anyway, it's an opportunity to learn and to grow.

In the bottom right, which is quadrant four, this is something where it's a very low risk task and they have very high skill. In that case, it's complete empowerment. Now you're saying to them, “Look, you're amazing at this. All I need you to do is this particular task. Get this outcome, go for it, I don't even need to know how you're going to go about it.”

This framework allows you to know, at what point and what situation should you give more or less guidance.

And then the last step then is now that you know, you've given the context, you've told them why, you've told them the outcome you need, you've given them the guidance on the quality and the quantity of things you want, the key targets, you've decided exactly how much guidance you'll give them, now you tell them how much support they're going to get. What, if any, budget, any resources, how often you're going to meet so you can keep track of what's going on. This is about bringing the company's and your own resources to bear t help that person do the job. It is also the point you confirm there is clear understanding of what you've said. You might even get them to paraphrase back to you, what it is you've said and so you can get really clear, particularly with someone who's maybe a little bit low of a performer and it's a higher risk task.

Let me just give you a very quick example of how this would play out with the Business Analyst I was leading way back in 2006. So let's just talk through context, outcome, my guidance and any support. And remember, what I really wanted him to do was to develop a one page report for my project board which was due to meet on the Monday. So this is what I should have said to him.

Context: “Now, mate, next Monday, I'm meeting with our project board. We meet every single month to discuss the progress of this project. They're a very supportive board. We've got a lot of trust from them. We have been delivering pretty well, so they're not real hard arses. They're going to be nice to us. They do have a bit of a query about some of the analysis we're doing that's in your particular area. They've got no question over your ability or anything, but they just want to know a lot more detail about it if that's all right.” So that's the end of Context.

Now we go to Outcome. “What I'd like to do is put their minds at ease. I want them to understand that you've absolutely got this, right? Because I know you do. They're just not 100% across that.” So that's the Outcome. Really short and sharp.

Now Guidance, remember this is a high performer, and this was not a low risk task, but it was medium risk. So all I needed to do was paint a pretty clear picture of the thing that I needed him to produce at this point, So this is what I should have said to him. “What I need you to produce is a one to two page report that outlines the key risks, issues, what you're currently working on, what is in the pipeline and what's going on with timeline and budget. Make it short, sharp, to the point and just make sure we demonstrate that you've absolutely got this covered.” Right? That's the guidance. That's what I should have said to him, which takes us to the Support I'm able to give him.

So this is what I should have said in the end. “I'm here for you whenever you need to talk. We have the rest of today which is Friday and Monday morning to produce this document. I'd like you to spend no more than two hours on it, and as soon as you've spent around 90 minutes or you feel like it's in a good first draught, let's sit down and quickly go through it. Please don't work over the weekend. If you don't get back to me this afternoon, we'll meet over a coffee at 8:00 Monday morning.”

So that's what I should have said to him, and if I had said that to him, he would have absolutely now that, not spent too much time, and we would have had a better outcome for me, for him and the project board.

So Chief, that's a simple situational delegation model for you: Context, Outcome, Guidance and Support.

Stay epic

Next article in the High Performance Teams series:

Pillar 3/Culture: Part 11 – Automate Pursuit of Excellence