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Slow down and make team your top priority

Coach's Corner--July 20, 2009

The Client
Name: Michael
Age: 44
Title: Director, Corporate Communications
Industry: Insurance
Issue: Giving clear direction to team
Q. My team is well-intentioned and hard-working, yet often gets off on the wrong track on their projects. I’m often in a hurry and think I might not be giving clear direction. How can I improve?

A. Slow down long enough to get clear on your expectations, and learn some simple steps for assigning work effectively.

The inner game
A frenzied pace may be your main foe. Observe yourself, noticing how much time you set aside for reflection and planning. I often hear people say they don’t have time to plan, but consider how much time gets spent on “re-work” if you don’t think things through. Assess the impact of the broader corporate culture, which may reinforce the hasty approach.

Also, weigh whether you spend enough time giving direction and mentoring your team. In many companies, managers get caught up in rounds of meetings that eat up their time and keep them from leading. What happens if you make your team your first priority? What else will have to change?

Ask yourself what you’re getting from the current mode of operation. You may be hooked on the adrenaline rush that comes with a too-busy schedule, or it may give you a sense of importance or meaning. If this is the case, look at other ways to get your work satisfaction needs met so that you can let go of these dysfunctional ways.

Finally, evaluate your work direction skills, looking at the content and consistency of your approach. Get feedback from your team members; they’ll know better than anyone if you provide the information they need to be successful. Remember, missing the mark is likely demoralizing to them, too, so they’ll be invested in your improvement.

The outer game
Once you accept that taking control of your time will help you be more effective, review your calendar to see how you spend your time. Decide which meetings you need to attend. Let people know that you’re going to be more selective, and find more time-effective ways to interact. People will get used to your new approach if you’re persistent.

Protect the time that you free up. Block office hours for planning and for your team. Encourage them to stop by for quick check-ins and problem-solving, rather than overloading with formal status meetings. Keep quick check-ins quick, though, so you maintain your planning time.

The big payoff will come from giving clear direction. When you assign a task, be sure to clarify exactly what you’re looking for. Susan Bethanis’ book, “Leadership Chronicles of a Corporate Sage,” offers a model that is simple and effective. Ask yourself three questions: who gets the request, what needs to be accomplished, and when is it due. Share this strategy with your team so they’ll know what to expect, and ask them to help keep you honest. One tip: Also try this when your boss gives you new assignments to help you complete them successfully.

The last word
Take more time and build more structure in order to help your team reach their goals effectively and efficiently.

Liz Reyer, President RCC - Posted July 19, 2009
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