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Growing People Big Jobs for Big Results

Chances are that part of the reason you have moved into management is that you are a good problem solver. In fact, you probably get satisfaction out of solving problems, especially the difficult ones others bring to you.

Now a manager, your focus is on results for your unit, requiring you, paradoxically, to let others do the work including solving many tactical and operational problems you are good at solving. As one manager confessed after learning how to delegate, "I am a recovering answer giver." So how can you assign problem-solving to others when you have spent your career doing it yourself?

The Nature of BIG Jobs
The first hurdle of becoming an effective delegator is believing that others can and will take responsibility for solving significant problems or challenges. In order for people to truly accept responsibility, managers must provide them the opportunity to take it. That means managers must let go of the authority, believing that their employees can take on more than small jobs or tasks. Managers must both believe in and be able to create BIG jobs.

Big jobs give managers leverage for achieving the two things required of them: developing people and achieving greater results. The inveterate problem solver, where all problems come to him or her, is handicapped from achieving either.

Big jobs call for accomplishment of important outcomes. Significant problems or challenges are inherent in big jobs. While task-driven work tends to be in constrained problem spaces, big, outcome-based work deals in open-ended situations that call for problem identification, problem solving and decision.

For example, a manager of a sales unit was frustrated that he had little time to think about the larger issues of the business, mostly because he spent so much time reviewing and approving contracts drafted by subordinates. All customer contracts came through him because he retained the authority for signing off on accuracy; he had set himself up for taking back the work others could be doing.

Instead of assigning a big job, the manager had assigned a task: "Develop a first draft of the contract." Problems or challenges that might arise would inevitably revert back to the number one problem solver. The real problem was that he had not assigned a big job. Small jobs keep people small.

Assigning Big Jobs
Assigning accountability effectively is about communicating a clear expectation for what is to be accomplished. That is, the manager must figure out (through planning) what outcomes are necessary for success. While managers cannot make anyone take responsibility, they can assign accountabilities clear, concrete expectations of measurable results.

In the case of the sales manager "approving" his subordinates' contracts, he could have assigned BIGGER jobs. He might have transformed the small tasks into a more substantial outcome such as, "Complete all contracts, ensuring that the format, pricing and specifications for each sales agreement are accurate and meet all approval guidelines before submission." The manager has now assigned an accountability for an outcome, setting an expectation that allows the employee to take responsibility for the results.

The manager must also delegate authority and allocate necessary resources. In the sales manager example, he must clarify what the subordinate is expected to decide when doing the work. If this authority is not delegated, the employee will likely bring the work back to the manager for approval. The manager MUST accept the fact that the people doing the work will become the problem solvers. "Delegating," observed restaurateur Timothy Firnstahl, "means letting others become the experts and hence the best."1

Making Sure They Get Results
Big, open-ended jobs should not dictate how things are to be done, but should be very clear and specific about what is to be accomplished. This clarity provides focus to those doing the work, and it indicates what should be measured to monitor results. Thus assigning big jobs is part of, not isolated from, the managerial planning process.

And that is the point: your time is best used to do the hard work of planning, determining clear outcomes and identifying potential barriers or opportunities. Making BIG jobs the kind that grow people means allowing them to solve key problems along the way. Letting them become "the best" allows you to focus on contingency planning, industry trends, and seeking future opportunities.

1Firnstahl, T. (1986, Sept-Oct). Letting Go. Harvard Business Review.

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