Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Blue Badge of Courage

There are two recent articles published on the internal company web site that I found interesting. Both are positive, well written, and give good information. My reactions to the two articles could not be more different. The first was a Q&A with the VP running the company wide efficiency effort (our CFO). It was only a few questions, and they were soft but direct. I thought the answers were good. I think he gave a fair overview of what the efficiency team is trying to get done, explained the reasoning for several actions, and talked about the long time line and the anxiety it's causing. Overall it was well done, and acknowledging that it's stressful for employees shows empathy, which reduces employee stress. I appreciate the information he provided, and better about the effort efficiency overall. I was happy with the message and appreciate the CFO answering those questions.

The other was an article about decision making. It was a good description of what's happening to improve decision making across the company. But it was missing any mention of a large, possibly the largest, issue I see with decision making: delegation. How delegation is handled obviously varies from manager to manager. But it seems that over the past few years managers have been less willing to delegate true decision making. Too often I've seen managers delegate and then overrule the decisions that get made. Thinking about delegation got me thinking about trust, and courage.

Here's a tip for those managers who delegate decision making authority and then change their employee's decisions: that's not delegation. True delegation requires trust, and some faith in your employees, and risk taking on your part. You have to be willing to let your people make decisions you don't like, and let them figure out how to deal with that. And maybe help them deal with it. I'm obviously not talking about irresponsible delegation, or decisions that put the company at risk. When overruling decisions I've heard some managers explain "you made the wrong decision." No, they didn't. If you delegate a decision, then the decision that gets made is the right one, by definition. If you already know the answer you want, you shouldn't delegate, you should dictate. Saying "Go do this" is perfectly acceptable, and far more efficient than saying "go make a decision, but only the right decision."

A few years ago the eBusiness group (now part of IT) determined that decision making was a big problem. Many people in the organization were complaining about it, and it bubbled up to the VP and her staff. One problem was that decisions made by the staff were too often being reversed later by the VP, and there was a rebound effect on the organization. An even bigger problem was delegation. People were told they were empowered to make decisions, but they were often overruled by the staff or VP, so it often seemed like there was little real empowerment below that level.

After hearing enough complaining about this, the VP assigned someone to look into the decision making problem and come back with a recommendation. After a couple of months a whole new decision making system was rolled out that included formal tools and training. We all took the training and were advised to use the tools. This led to me having conversations with my manager like this:

Me: We lost of one our QA people. I'm going to move an engineering guy over to cover. I think the schedule will be ok.
Manager: How did you decide to do that?
Me: It makes the most sense. This guy understands QA, he's ok with the move, and it will keep us on schedule.
Manager: Do you use the decision making matrix?
Me: What? No. This is the right thing to do. QA is the critical path.
Manager: You need to use the decision making matrix. Please go through the process and get back to me.

This is an extreme example, but my boss was determined to have us use a new, cumbersome process to do what we were already doing well. I don't know what he really thought about the process - I suspect he was doing it because he was told to.

Allowing true delegation requires courage, and faith in your people. The courage to let people make decisions that could make you look bad. The faith to trust that they want to make you look good. The same kind of courage is needed to question using a new process that seems stupid and inefficient. It takes the same courage to let people speak their minds about their work environment, or their management, knowing that they may say things you dislike. And the faith to trust that they'll write the truth, perhaps help others feel better, and maybe allow people to laugh a little in the middle of a tough day. These things take courage.


Anonymous said...

you got referenced in the mini-microsoft blog....

Anonymous said...

I had a totally different perspective on the Q&A posting from the guy running the Structure and Efficiency taskforce. Do you REALLY agree that the process has been transparent? I don't think it has, at all. Other than a few things that have been revealed, almost no one seems to know anything about what will actually happen until a few days before it does.

Intel IT Guy said...

Good point. And no, I don't think that the process has been transparent at all. But that's one of the reasons I liked the Q&A - he was sharing some information and showing some empathy for the employees.

Anonymous said...

I swear that one of the requirements of a management position is "complete failure to see the obvious and strong desire to make things more complicated then they need to be." I work at an Institution of Higher Learning and not decision can be made without at least 3 meetings.

Anonymous said...

hey josh: is that the same EB group environment that published a "decision making manifesto"? I loved that piece of document..

In particular, in a region with the cultural background driving a strong hierarchy bias... that "80% of the decisions must be made without involving the manager" was a great nugget.