Delegation creates career progression

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Managing managers

This article is part of a series on managing managers.

There are two universal truths that you simply cannot fight:

  • As a manager of managers, there will always be more to do than you have the time to do yourself.
  • Your direct reports, if they are talented, will always be looking for career progression.

If you only consider these truths individually, then it can cause difficult problems to emerge:

  • Just how are you meant to get all of this stuff done, all of the time?
  • And how are you meant to find the time in order to create continual career progression for all of your direct reports?

Tricky, huh? Indeed. 

Well, it turns out that if you consider the truths as interlinked, then you can use them together in order for one to solve the other, and vice versa. You solve that problem through delegation of more of your own role to your direct reports.

Often managers of managers don’t do this because they feel that their work is somehow above the remit of the managers that report to them; they think of each manager having their own concisely defined functional unit, so, of course, that division wide or department wide issue is something that only they can deal with themselves, with no help from others. 

However, that logic causes some bad side effects:

  • The manager of managers is continually overworked by all manner of things that they think are outside of the remit of their direct reports.
  • The direct reports feel that their own team (and world) is small, especially as they get more effective at their job.
  • The manager of managers never lifts the lid on the kinds of tasks and issues that they are working on. This makes their direct reports feel like there is an element of secrecy to their work, or even worse, that they don’t trust their managers with the details. Oh, and even worse… 
  • Their managers think that their boss doesn’t do anything useful with their time outside of their meetings. Ouch.

So, none of those things are good, but they’re easily solvable through delegation.

Create transparency

Firstly, as a manager of managers, for as many things that you work on as possible, work on them in the open. There’s a number of ways in which you can do this:

  • Talk about them in your one-to-ones with your direct reports. Put an item on your agenda every week to talk through all of the things that you’re working on and gather their input. They’ll always have good ideas.
  • If you have a Slack channel for your and your managers, blog your progress. Work in the open and you’ll see lots of interesting and helpful conversations spin out.
  • Send a weekly update. You could start or end the week (or both!) with a digest of everything that’s going on in your world so that your managers understand where they and their team fits into the wider whole.

So that’s pretty simple: just a bit of writing and talking.

Delegate, delegate, delegate

The next step is delegation. Continually think about how you can carve apart your total area of responsibility and how you can begin to delegate that out to your direct reports. 

For example, if you’re responsible for doing the budget, why not set up a delegated process that both gives your managers more responsibility for the spend in their teams, which is both empowering and a new skill to learn, but most importantly, allows you get your own job done more easily whilst being less of a bottleneck?

Quite often those at the Director level will hold their own tasks at a distance. This is because they feel that their Engineering Managers are going to resist contributing because it’s distracting from the usual day-to-day of running their team. 

However, delegating, even just a bit so that you work on the delegated tasks together, is an act of trust, an opportunity for a direct report to learn new skills, and for you to be proactively planning your succession every single day.

So, are you sitting on that administrative task that you just haven’t gotten round to doing? Invite others into your world through delegation. Trust me: it’s the best situation for everyone. Your direct reports, even though they’re all managing their own teams, are your team. 

Make them feel like they are part of one.

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