Crucial Leadership Practice:
People mistakenly assume that delegation is all or nothing: “I do it” or “you do it.” This view is over simplistic—and sometimes negligent.
“To a hammer, every problem looks like a nail” (Abraham Maslow). Don’t be a hammer. Expand your range and flexibility as a leader.
In my last blog, I described three levels of engaging others in projects: inform, consult, and collaborate (see here). In this blog, I will share an engagement practice that adds even more nuance and flexibility, and is perfectly suited for every-day supervision, delegation, and empowerment.
First I will show you how it works, and then I’ll map out the various applications and benefits so you can get as much out of it as possible.
Here are five levels of involvement in decision making—five choices about how to involve others in the decisions you are making. When you are making an important decision, choose from one of these five ways to involve or engage:
- At the first level, I make the decision but keep my team in the loop.
- At the second level, I ask for their input before I make my decision.
- At the third level, I make the decision with my team, i.e., we make it together; we share the decision making responsibility.
- At the fourth level, my team (or an individual employee) makes the decision with my input, i.e., I have a few things to say before they make the call.
- At the fifth level, they make the decision; I delegate the decision to them.
This practice can be used to involve anyone: my team, another team, my boss, customers, suppliers, etc.
The exact same logic applies to action. You always have five choices about how to involve others in your action items (your tasks, projects, etc.). Here are the five levels of involvement in action:
- At the first level, I do the work but keep my team in the loop.
- At the second level, I find some way to involve my team in doing the work with me—I still take the lead, but I get them to help me.
Imagine that my boss hands me a project that is non-negotiable. (Ever happen to you?) Even though the decision is already made, I can choose to involve my team in several different ways, e.g.,
“Hey team: my boss has given us this project. It’s non-negotiable. We need to deliver on this…”
- “Here’s how we are going to do it, and here are the roles you are going to play.” Or:
- “Here’s how we are going to do this. What role do you want to play?” Or:
- “How are we going to do this? Help me build a plan.”
Or: I will do it but keep you in the loop; help me do it; do it with me; do it with my input; take care of this please.
Here is another example. George Patton advises: “Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.” Here he counsels low participation on the decision but high participation on planning & execution. This is only one way to do leadership, of course, but it reminds us that we have choices about levels of involvement, and that participation levels can change throughout the project.
The level of involvement that I choose influences how I manage the situation and supervise my team. Each of these choices (each level of involvement) produces different outcomes. I have to choose the option that gives me what I want. This next section (below) outlines the various applications and benefits.
Six huge applications & benefits:
Each of the following applications comes with its own set of benefits. You will often achieve multiple benefits, but focus your efforts on what you want most.
With respect to each decision or action in which you will involve others, you typically start by asking: Who do I want at the table—and why? Then proactively adjust your plan & behavior to get what you want out of that collaboration. Here are six big applications, i.e., six reasons to involve others; six different kinds of results you can get out of involvement:
Help from others: Involving others in your decisions and actions enables you to benefit from their expertise, ideas, unique perspectives, etc. The more complex the task, the more valuable collaboration will be to project outcomes. And the more people your project affects, the more people there are that might come to your aid and contribute their expertise. Use this involvement practice to benefit from needed & diverse talent and expertise.
Relationship building: Giving someone a heads-up, keeping them in the loop, or including them in a decision that will affect them, is a big sign of trust & respect. You earn trust & respect by giving it. Use this involvement practice to build mutual trust & respect.
Discussion management: The level of engagement you choose has a big impact on the kind of discussion you need to have. It tells you how to facilitate the conversation. There is an enormous difference between these two types of conversation: “Hey team, I need to make this decision but I want to hear from everyone before I make the call” and “Hey team, this is a decision we need to make together.” These two discussions need to be facilitated in a completely different way.
Identifying how the decision will be made in advance (i.e., the level of involvement) clarifies the role everyone will play in the discussion so that everyone knows how to participate, and helps you facilitate the discussion appropriately.
Accountability: Clarity on accountability is crucial for getting the job done. It helps everyone know what they should be working on, and what they need to take ownership of. Each level of involvement determines and clarifies who is accountable. For example:
- At the first two levels (“I decide” & “I decide with your input”): I am accountable
- At the next level (“we decide”): we are jointly accountable
- And at the next two levels (“you decide with my input” & “you decide”): you are accountable
Bottom line: Everyone needs to know what they are accountable for. It is also valuable for team members to know what their colleagues are accountable for.
Engagement: The higher the level of involvement, the more engaged someone is going to be in that decision or action. People take more ownership for decisions they help make. Think about it: If I am your boss, and making really cool decisions, you might be pretty engaged in what I am doing. But if you are suddenly on the hook to make the decision with me (“we decide”), or make the decision on your own, then you are going to be far more engaged, interested, and committed.
Use these levels of involvement to manage and enhance engagement on your team. Up the level of involvement in decisions and actions—whenever you can—in order to enhance employee effort, motivation, sense of ownership, and value added. Make your employees part of the solution by engaging them in the challenges and opportunities of the business.
Learning & development: We learn primarily from doing. Any time you can raise the level of involvement, you are giving your employees opportunities to learn, grow, and develop. E.g., if I am your boss, and making really complex decisions, and telling you how I am making these great decisions, you could learn a lot about decision making from me. But you won’t become an expert at making decisions until you start making decisions for yourself—until you get hands-on experience making decisions and being held accountable for them.
Use the levels of involvement as a development strategy: up the level of involvement in decisions and actions whenever you can in order to enhance employee development. Look at how these pieces all hang together from a developmental perspective:
DECISIONS: With respect to a tough decision you make: (i) explain your decisions; (ii) then ask for input on your decision; (iii) then make the decision with them; (iv) then let them make the decision with your input; (v) and finally, delegate the decision to them. The lower levels help prepare employees for higher levels.
ACTION: The same logic applies to action. And with our projects, we can be even more incremental. We can delegate part of a project, small projects, and then larger projects. Let’s say you are teaching someone how to do key account management: you can get them to help you manage a few accounts; then manage some small accounts on their own; and then manage a large account—first with your help and then on their own.
Skipping levels is acceptable if the employee is ready, willing, and able to take that leap—and when there is no other choice. Just be aware of the risks, and offer the coaching support they need to succeed. There is a great American proverb: “You can’t jump a 20-foot chasm in two 10-foot leaps.” Applied to supervision this means making sure the employee is clear about how big that next leap is, and helping the employee prepare appropriately for that leap.
Confucius brilliantly expresses the logic of this kind of progression in learning: “Tell me and I will forget; show me and I will remember; involve me and I will understand.” I use this as part of a coaching module that I teach to leaders—more on this in a future blog.
One of the biggest advantages of this approach to engagement and development is that it can be woven into the regular cycle of work. We are talking about decisions and actions you already have on your plate. This helps you turn regular work into opportunities for engaging and developing your employees. One of my favorite themes: learn to work and work to learn.
To sum up the applications of this engagement practice in a different way:
- Project management: gathering needed talent and expertise
- Engaging & developing your team (your employees)
- Engaging other stakeholders (colleagues, customers, suppliers, etc.)
- Change management: involvement to win them over, garner support, spread the change
- Relationship management: building healthy, collaborative, loyal working relationships
- Teamwork: how to contribute, collaborate, work together, align efforts…
Making it work as a supervisory tool:
You can use these five levels of involvement for delegating, empowering, and everyday supervision. It makes you more flexible as a leader. It expands the range of results (benefits) you get from leading your team. It adds clarity around expectations, accountability, and ownership—the roles you want people to play. And it helps you figure out the kind of support employees need from you.
To make this work as an everyday supervisory tool—flexible, engaging, and developmental:
- First, give each person the direction & support they need relative to their experience and the task at hand
- Second, adjust your level of supervision based on what the situation calls for
- And finally, up the level of involvement whenever you can to enhance engagement and/or speed up the cycle of learning and development
See this introduction to situational leadership for more guidance on how to direct and support your employees.
Real life example on decision clarity & ownership:
I was facilitating a complex strategic planning process for a community organization which had dozens of stakeholder groups. When discussing some of the community feedback we collected, one of the Board members asked if I was going to make a decision on the data for them. It was true that I knew the data better than anyone on the Board, and that I had lots of opinions and ideas on the matter—but that did not automatically give me the right to make a decision for them. I was the facilitator, not a Board member.
I immediately put the question back to the Board. I wrote the five levels of involvement on a flip chart (“I decide, I decide with your input…”) and asked the Board what my role should be in this decision. It was very clear that I should not be making the decision—it was not my mandate or responsibility. They all agreed immediately that they wanted to make the decision with my input (“They decide with my input”). That gave us instant clarity on how to facilitate that discussion and manage the decision making process.
The Board could have chosen to make that decision my business, but they would have to do this intentionally and not by unconscious neglect.
Help everyone on your team feel accountable for good team discussions, i.e., for making your team discussions efficient, effective, and productive.
Use this practice to engage any and all stakeholders as appropriate: your team, an individual employee, a colleague, another team…and even customers or suppliers. Engage the right people, at the right level, based on what you need and want (applications & benefits), and how your work is going to impact them.
Employee participation is powerful for leveraging needed expertise, engagement & accountability, skill development, and relationship building. Clarifying the level of participation also tells you how to facilitate the discussion, who is accountable for what, and the roles people are expected to play. Use all five levels of levels participation for a more flexible and effective collaborative practice—in everyday supervision, collaborative projects, and change management.
Insecure and ego-driven leaders tend to hoard the strategic questions and duties for themselves—they see these high level duties as special perks and privileges of leadership and power. Engaging employees in challenges and opportunities of the business, however, is a far more effective and powerful leadership strategy. Make your employees part of the solution by engaging them in the challenges and opportunities of the business.
(Note on sources: I’m not sure who originally came up with this wording: “I decide, I decide with your input…”. I invented a version of this on my own, prior to discovering this model, but I prefer this version as it is less wordy and easier to remember. My value added here is how I apply this tool for supervision, delegation, empowerment, accountability, engagement, development, etc.)
This blog is part of a series on collaborative practice:
- Basic practice: “Inform, consult, collaborate”
- Five levels: “I decide, I decide with your input…”
- Where to involve people in the project life cycle
- Two compasses for collaboration: project and employee
- The power of involvement
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Joel Shapiro, Ph.D. Advanture Consulting Building talent to achieve your vision! Tel: (866) 860-4880 Email: Contact@AdvantureConsulting.com Web: www.AdvantureConsulting.com Blog: http://AdvantureConsulting.com/blog/