Good management: take your hand off the saddle.

The Harvard Business Review Ideacast podcast recently had an interesting interview recently with Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg, Google’s former SVP of Products.  The subject was lessons from Google about how to manage talent, which are documented along with other lessons in a new book the pair have written (“How Google Works”).

The main point they were making was how to successfully recruit and then make best use of technical creative people such digital product designers and developers.  The key thing that stuck out for me was the challenge of managing this kind of talent in the most effective way and it made me reflect on my own experiences of managing people.

One of the key challenges as a manager is overcoming the temptation to exert too much control and trust your team to solve the problem.  This stems from a natural concern for quality and timeliness, which are clearly desirable concerns to have. However, the temptation is then to over-specify the outcome you want in order to delivery high quality on time.  What this then often leads to is your team either constantly having to check back in with you to find out if they are going in the right direction, or delivering something which doesn’t fit in with your specific vision. They then get disenchanted and demotivated and the project gets delayed or derailed.

A much more effective way to delegate to your team is give them the problem, rather than dictating a solution you have already come up with.  In giving them the problem, you also have to give them all the knowledge you have that is relevant to it – who are the key people to talk to, what are their motivations, what data will be useful, what are the key risks with it.  How much knowledge you give them is obviously determined by their experience, how important/risky the project is, and how much you want them to have to find out about things for themselves.  However, the simple principle of giving them the problem, rather than the solution will have many benefits with the main one being that the outcome will be the result of input from the whole team rather than just the manager.  If you have have put a lot of effort into recruiting talent, then this is clearly what you want!

My most rewarding example of this was when I was able to hand over the writing of a ministerial submission to a student who had been working for me for the last year.  By giving her as much information as I knew about the situation and the freedom to solve the problem in her own way she was able to effectively communicate the issue to our minister with very little input from me.


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