Why You Should Get Your Direct Reports to Do the Heavy Lifting and Manage Themselves (and 3 Tips to Make that Happen)
Here are three simple yet incredibly effective secrets to flip the table on your direct reports and get them to manage themselves!
The whole point of hiring staff is that they’re supposed to be free up your time. But what happens when you end up spending the same amount of time or more managing the staff you’ve hired?
Last week, one of my business coaching clients came into town for a multi-hour in-person meeting. As we talked, it became clear that he was struggling with precisely this issue. He was doing most of the heavy lifting when it came to managing his key staff and direct reports.
I want to share with you what I shared with him: three simple tips that make managing your direct reports easier by flipping the tables on them. Follow these proven suggestions and you’ll find that your key team members will actually take the lead in all of the work associated with managing them.
1. Let Them Own The Recap
Imagine you have a direct report named Sheila. You shouldn’t have to keep track of all of her deliverables or follow up with notes after a meeting. You should flip the tables.
The next time you meet with her, ask her to keep track of all of the items that you discuss — the deliverables and to-dos that she’ll need to own. Then ask her to email you those notes as a recap after the meeting. The recap should list all of the different deliverables, when they’re due, and how Sheila plans to close the loop on them.
Closing the loop could mean sending an email when something’s done, knocking on your door to let you know it’s finished, or else just waiting for the next scheduled meeting to report that the deliverable’s complete.
Not only does this free up your time, but it also creates a system for instant feedback. While the meeting’s still fresh in your mind, you’ll get to see what Sheila took away from it. The accuracy of Sheila’s recap will tell you how smooth your handoff was — whether you communicated the needs well and whether she understood them. This is particularly valuable given that the number one reason why people don’t get stuff done is that they misunderstand what they’re supposed to do.
Still, I do always recommend that my clients keep their own meeting notes for personal reference in case of miscommunication. For instance, if you gave Sheila seven deliverables and she only mentions two in her recap, you’ll be able to email her back and say something like, “Hey, Sheila, looks like we missed the other five. Let me walk back through them with you.” (Though, of course, miscommunications that big are pretty rare.)
In order for this to work, it’s helpful to be really clear in your meeting when a new deliverable comes up. Say something like, “Hey, this is a deliverable I’m expecting from you by this date and here’s how I want you to close the loop on it.” Using that explicit language will help smooth handoffs.
2. Let Them Own The Agenda
Let’s say you’re doing monthly coaching sessions with Sheila — not just to produce direct results, but to really help her with her professional development. Try asking her to set the agenda. Let her know that you’ll have some of your own items that you want to cover, but that you’d like her to take the first pass at it.
And ask her to deliver that agenda proposal by the close of business two days before your meeting. That way you’ll get a full day to review it. (So if you’re meeting on Wednesday, ask her to deliver the draft by end of day Monday.)
This strategy yields four major benefits:
- It gives you insight into what Sheila considers important. For instance, if all of her agenda items are about specific tasks, that tells you that she could use help developing a more strategic understanding of her role.
- When you get her proposed agenda in your inbox, that doubles as a reminder that you have to prepare for this coaching session.
- This sets a precedent for Sheila that time is valuable. If you set a meeting, you’d better have an agenda.
- You can use her proposed agenda to inspire ideas about what you think needs to be discussed.
By asking your direct reports to set their own agendas, you can give them valuable experience while also transferring some of the onus off of you and onto them.
3. Let Them Answer Their Own Questions
You’re probably pretty accustomed to having direct reports come to you for help with problems and challenges. And I bet you’re often tempted to just give them the answers — “Sure, Sheila. Here’s what you should do.” But, in the long term, you’ll actually save time if you train your direct reports to answer their own questions.
So the next time Sheila comes to you and asks what she should do, flip the question on her. Ask, “What do you think we should do?”
When using this strategy, it’s helpful to remember that employees of different experience levels thrive with different levels of coaching. So if Sheila is mature and experienced, I might say, “I trust that you can handle this yourself.” I’ll ask her how she thinks she should handle it and then encourage her to try doing that.
If Sheila is closer to the beginning of her career, I might say, “Well Sheila, I’ve got some specific thoughts for you that I’ll share in a moment. But before I do, tell me what you think you should do here? If I wasn’t around, how would you handle this?”
Of course, if she has a great answer, then you can say something like, “Wonderful, go ahead and make that happen. I can’t wait to hear how you do with that.”
And if she comes up with a crazy, outlandish idea, ask her why she thinks that’s the best approach. Consider questions like, “If you weren’t able to do that, then what would you do? Why would you do that instead? Have you taken these other ideas into consideration?”
Doing this makes the encounter about more than just getting results. It gives you the opportunity to coach Sheila for development.
What does it mean to coach for development? It means you’re coaching for more than just the immediate result. If all you want is the best immediate result, you would be better off just telling her what to do. But if you do that, you’re not strengthening her — you’re not helping her grow and develop her capability to handle the same or similar situations in the future. Coaching for development means investing a little extra energy and trusting that it will pay off when this person becomes more competent, more capable, and more experienced with their work.