|Delegate to grow|
Kamran Rizvi, Navitus
The good news is that leadership can influence, guide and foster people’s thinking and behavior and overtime create an organizational culture characterized by delegation and empowerment.
It is an established fact that without delegation no organization can sustain its growth and perform effectively. Yet, lack of courage and knowledge of how to delegate properly remains one of the main causes of organizational failures. It is also clear that without delegation, we cannot grow as professionals.
What stops us from delegating – from letting go of the reins? It could be our attitudes about subordinates, our personal insecurities or even personal preferences. When to let go and how, remains a challenge for many leaders today. In this context, Rosabeth Moss Kanter provides two cogent examples of differences in management of two American television networks: NBC, owned by GE, and ABC, owned by Disney:
“ABC had begun to slide in ratings, and the losing streak continued after ABC’s purchase by entertainment giant Disney. Industry insiders told me that Disney reduced ABC’s initiative and constrained its creative output by micromanagement, autocracy and tight control of budgets, and all this was accompanied by a parade of exiting network heads. The worse ABC did, the more interference there was in its activities, which did not improve performance during the also-ran years. (Disney itself became a takeover target after Comcast’s hostile bid in February 2004.)”
“In contrast, NBC had a long winning streak under General Electric, an industrial conglomerate known for high standards; each GE business was expected to be a “winner” (number one or two in its industry). As long as NBC’s “wins” added up, the network was expected to control its own destiny and enjoyed continuity of leadership, with Bob Wright as chief executive of NBC since 1986, and Dick Ebersol as head of NBC Sports since 1989. GE held NBC accountable for performance results but otherwise provided autonomy, which allowed NBC people to take more initiatives and make creative decisions on their own terms.”
Examples above illustrate the impact of different management styles adopted by Disney and GE. I wonder what GE management might have done if NBC had not performed to expectations.
It is very likely that in holding NBC accountable, they would have commenced the process of micromanagement too! The assumption seems to be that letting go is easier when the going is good. But what should one do, when desired numbers are not being achieved? It’s a delicate balancing act. Hastily jumping in to the rescue, could make matters worse than they need be.
To help managers grapple with challenges of how to delegate, without abdicating, consider this home-grown case study based on a true situation. Names and business context have been changed to preserve confidentiality:
Meera Bakhtiar had recently been promoted to the position of manager operations after serving just less than two years in a local courier service company XYZ, with an office staff of 8 in Karachi and 12 in Lahore. Of the 8 in Karachi, four were in clerical positions and the rest in supervisory and managerial roles. She graduated in Psychology and obtained her Masters Degree in International Relations from Punjab University. She was single, and lived with her mother who was perpetually unwell.
Rashid, her boss and managing director of the business, was finding it very hard to manage the operations in Karachi, as he was also required to develop the business in the North. He had to choose from four people in the team to run the Karachi operation profitably. He selected Meera for this post as she showed greatest concern for the success of the business, worked hard and welcomed challenges.
This selection turned out to be a challenge, as Meera was the youngest in the team, while others had worked for around four years in the business. One of Meera's responsibilities was to see that Khalid, a business development manager, performed to a tight schedule of visits to clients and capitalized on the market opportunities available. Khalid had recently married and a year earlier had obtained an MBA from an unknown local university, despite Rashid's insistence that he should improve his competence and apply to a quality university. Khalid was historically known to be lazy and complacent and would often miss deadlines. Soon after Meera took charge, human relations problems started to surface. Rashid was aware that this would happen. But things got gradually worse.
Under the new arrangement, Khalid was reporting to Meera, who was three years, his junior. Three weeks after Meera took charge, Khalid wrote to Rashid in Lahore, strongly complaining about Meera's behavior. He said that Meera liked giving orders and lost her temper on little things. Khalid said that not only was she insulting him in front of others, she showed no respect for his feelings and those of others in the office. Team morale was low and client service was suffering. Khalid concluded his letter by saying that he refused to work with such a "hard-nosed woman" and would report directly to Rashid till the matter was resolved.
Khalid enjoyed a good relationship with Rashid. Rashid appreciated Khalid's help on many occasions on personal matters, but found him not taking his growth, performance and development seriously. Khalid had not improved his analytical abilities, and selling skills despite all the opportunities that were provided by the company. Khalid had not even learned how to write a decent business proposal despite several requests by Rashid. Khalid routinely missed deadlines and needed to be followed-up constantly.
Rashid phoned Meera at her house to find out what was happening with Khalid. She said that Khalid was not following procedures and deadlines agreed with him and was in the habit of offering excuses. Each time she pointed this out to Khalid; he would get upset and throw a fit. "I am only doing my job!" she said. "I don't understand why he doesn't do what he is supposed to. After all, he is an adult, and should realize that he is responsible for delivering results. If he can't stand my guts, so be it!" She concluded.
Meera expressed her view that it is her job is to see the business flourish, and that it is everyone’s responsibility in the team to perform tasks assigned to them by focusing on the goal. There is no room for wasting time in pettiness, complaining and blaming. The workplace was not for playing politics, but for doing what one is paid for.
Question: What should Rashid do? As you would have gathered by now, it is very tempting for Rashid to dive in to save the day. If Rashid takes control of the situation, would it help or hinder the development process? While he cannot ignore this problem, how should he address it?
This case study has provoked plenty of discussion and reflection amongst managers in our learning programs. A diverse set of values, beliefs and perspectives surface. It would be interesting to see what you and your colleagues would advise ‘Rashid’.
This true story dates back to 1999. How Rashid actually tackled the challenge has enabled the company to grow significantly in size and stature over the last five years. Valuable lessons have been drawn. I plan to share these in my future articles.
Aligning people to organizational vision and mission is vital to achieving sustained organizational success. To this end, we need to develop strategies that address needs and demands of our customers. The good news is that leadership can influence, guide and foster people’s thinking and behavior and overtime create an organizational culture characterized by delegation and empowerment.