Great Leaders Delegate Outcomes, Not Activities
To achieve rapid growth in this era, many businesses need to fundamentally rethink a centerpiece of their operations. They need to reconsider what it means to manage employees.
More than ever, businesses must give their workers autonomy -- and ownership over what they spend their time doing. This means delegating outcomes rather than tasks.
To many people, this seems counterintuitive. As a leader, when you’ve got big goals ahead of you, you want to make sure that your staff is engaged in all the “right” activities aimed at achieving those goals. But research and my own experiences as CMO of Whereby (a video meetings platform) show that giving employees more freedom is a more successful strategy.
Recently, I told one of my teams that I wanted them to grow our awareness and “generate buzz” in the market about us online. I did not give them specific tasks, like a number of social media posts that they should hit. In fact, I did not tell them anything about how they should achieve this. I took a fully hands off approach. Also, I gave them no budget for it.
What my team came back with beat my expectations. They had created beautiful mockups of a billboard, 3D scaffolding billboard, and other signage announcing a very positive review we received in the New York Times. Across all the social feeds we monitor, we saw fantastic responses. The imagery made people curious, interested, and excited for us as a startup.
Our internal dashboards allow me to monitor all sorts of metrics, helping me track growth in brand awareness. It shot upward.
This wasn’t surprising. After all, research shows that “allowing employees to be self-driven improves performance,” phys.org reports. “Managers who encourage staff to take more control over their workflow by putting them in the driver's seat find themselves with more competent and connected teams with motivated, engaged, high-performing and loyal employees.”
Here’s how to make that happen in any organization:
This kind of autonomy only works successfully if you’ve got the right team. In hiring, I always look for people who are curious, who challenge norms, and who are driven to bring their own creativity and energy to the job.
I want people who introduce their own ideas regularly, but are also ready to accept when theirs isn’t the best -- or simply isn’t the one chosen. It’s important that they demonstrate the ability to fully support any strategy the team chooses, and try to make it the best it can be. If you’re not sure whether the folks you have hired are working together as effectively as they could be, the “five dysfunctions of a team” self-assessment can help.
For many business leaders, the next step is the hardest: Don’t breathe down your employees’ necks. Good workers don’t need constant reminders of time pressures. They don’t need me checking up on their progress every day. This means reframing what it is to “delegate.” As a column from the Society for Human Resource Management noted, “real delegation is assigning responsibility for outcomes along with the authority to do what is needed to produce the desired results.”
Allow for mistakes
Inevitably, this autonomy will sometimes lead to mistakes, or to results that aren’t as successful as you had hoped. But that’s OK. Managers need to let people learn from these experiences. When I was working my way up in marketing, there were times that my bosses gave me outcomes to achieve, and I didn’t do quite as well as they or I had hoped. But by allowing me the freedom to experiment, my managers helped me learn where things went wrong and do better going forward.
When considering making this kind of change, some managers tend to think that they should loosen the reins only on certain tasks while remaining more prescriptive on others. But as a rule, this doesn’t work. When your employees know that you’re the kind of boss who has strong beliefs about the exact activities they should be involved in each day, it affects how they handle all their work.
This need for autonomy applies equally to remote work. My employees and I work remotely. As FastCompany reports, “Leaders who offer more freedom, even in the remote workplace, are having less trouble with the transition and noticing a remarkable upside.” Trust, engagement, and innovation are flourishing as a result. So I highly recommend making autonomy the default in your leadership style. Tell employees the outcomes you want to see, not how to get there. Be available when they have questions and concerns, but also let them find their own answers.
After all, one of the most motivating things to tell employees is, “I can’t wait to see what you come up with.”
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.