Great Leaders Delegate!

As a leader, regardless of what level, one of the most important skills necessary for success is delegating authority and responsibility to your team.  Done properly, this will improve your effectiveness and performance and that of your team, allow more time to focus on your key responsibilities and objectives, and increase employee participation and accountability.

Many years ago, after being appointed to my first leadership role, I learned, the hard way, the importance of this skill in becoming an effective leader and manager.  In reading the many books and articles about this subject, I found a very simple and straightforward tool that has worked well, both individually, and within organizations – The Decision Tree.  This tool was described in Susan Scott’s book, Fierce Conversations, and has been used in many organizations, including General Electric, to improve managerial effectiveness, performance, and employee engagement.

The Decision Tree provides clear authority and responsibility for decisions and actions in the organization.  To use this tool, first think of the organization as a growing tree that bears fruit.  In order to ensure its long-term health, there are many decisions that need to be made on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.

With this scenario in mind, there are four levels of decision making and action.  The specific level is dependent on the degree of potential harm or good to the organization that will result from the decision and action.  These four levels are as follows:

  • Leaf Level – Make the decision, and act on it.  No report is required. 
  • Branch Level – Make the decision, act on it, and report after the fact, on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, depending on the action.
  • Trunk Level – Make the decision, but do not take action until reported, and approved.
  • Root Level – Make the decision, with input from others.  These are the decisions that, if poorly made and implemented, could cause major harm and damage to the organization.

The benefits of the Decision Tree tool are as follows:

  • Clearly defines the level of authority and responsibility for decisions and actions, at all levels of the organization.  Each team members knows exactly where they have the authority to make certain decisions and take action.
  • Provides team members with a clear path of professional development.  Progress is made as decisions are moved to the next level – from Root, to Trunk, Branch, and Leaf.  As employees demonstrate good decision making at the Root level, their decision level can, and should be, moved up to the next level.
  • Develops leadership and decision making skills at lower levels in the organization, freeing up leaders and manager to take on the more challenging and important responsibilities themselves.
  • Increases personal accountability, allowing employees to identify and recommend solutions outside of the supervisor’s personal reach.
  • Develops future leaders.

In summary, the Decision Tree provides leaders and teams with very clear guidelines for decision making and action, improved effectiveness and efficiency at all levels, professional and leadership development opportunities, and increased employee engagement, accountability, and participation.

Since you can’t do everything yourself, I highly recommend using this tool to reduce your To Do list, increase focus on key responsibilities and objectives, get your team involved, and help your organization grow and be successful.

“The first rule of management is delegation. Don’t try and do everything yourself because you can’t.” – Anthea Turner

People and organizations don’t grow much without delegation and completed staff work because they are confined to the capacities of the boss and reflect both personal strengths and weaknesses.– Stephen Covey


What Business Stage Are You In? – Part 3

We’ve come to the last installment of our series on the “7 Stages of Every Growing Business”, as defined by Les McKeown, President and CEO of Predictable Success.  Parts 1 and 2 summarized the first four stages, from Early Struggle through Fun, and on to White Water and Predictable Success.  In this last segment, we’ll cover the final three stages of Treadmill, Big Rut, and finally, Death Rattle.

When we left the business last week, it had achieved Predictable Success, that stage where the business is growing, profitable and stable.  Now the question is – How long can the business remain in this stage?   

The answer is – It depends.  As long as the business continues to evolve and adjust to meet the changing market expectations, and maintains its focus on its vision, strategy, and customer base, it can stay in the Predictable Success stage for a long time.

However, there will be those businesses that will be too successful over time, believing that they have all the answers.   These businesses will stop progressing and adjusting, become complacent, bloated and bureaucratic, and lose focus on those key areas that originally made them successful.  As this happens, the business will eventually fall through one, or all, of the last three stages.

Stage 5 – Treadmill
The business has been successful, and performing well for a period of time.  But, complacency is setting in, and it is losing focus on its vision, strategy, direction, and customers.  The bureaucracy is managing the business, and needs to justify its existence by requiring more systems, processes and procedures.  This, in turn, is making the business more complex, rigid, and slower to react to changes.  With the business now more focused on internal activities and tasks, it will eventually stop evolving.

While this stage may be good for fixing specific issues and/or problems, the business must find its way back to Predictable Success to survive long-term.  This will require a critical, objective self evaluation of the entire business, and possibly drastic action, to get back on track.

The strategy here is to Simplify What’s Workingand get back to Predictable Success.

However, if the business stays in Treadmill too long, it will eventually lose its objectivity, and the ability to critically evaluate and fix the business, falling into the Big Rut.

Stage 6 – Big Rut
The business is now complacent and insular, the bureaucracy has taken over, it has lost all objectivity, and its all about maintaining the status quo.  It has lost touch with market requirements and customer expectations, and has stopped evolving.  Without a significant course change, and major restructuring (and maybe not even then), the business will not be able to make it back to Predictable Success.

In this stage, however, the business may still be a going concern, in terms of revenue and profitability, and have enough cash to just drift and decline over time.  A primary example of this is Kodak, which was able to operate very profitably for years, ignoring what was really happening to its core business, until it was too late.

If nothing changes, or if the course changes and restructuring programs are not successful, the business will enter the last and final stage, Death Rattle.

Stage 7 – Death Rattle
After being in Big Rut for some time, revenues are declining, losses are mounting, the cash is gone, and customers are defecting.  At this point, the business is not in a position to make the required changes to survive.  It has now entered Death Rattle, and the business, as it is currently known and operated, disappears through closing, filing bankruptcy and reorganizing, or being acquired.  This is the end of the line.

Now that you know about these 7 Stages, let me ask:

  • What Stage Is Your Business In Now?
  • What is your Strategy for the Future?  

Consider these questions carefully. The future of the business will depend on the answers!


“An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.” – Jack Welch

“Whenever an individual or a business decides that success has been attained, progress stops.” – Thomas J. Watson

“Any business today that embraces the status quo as an operating principle is going to be on a death march.” –  Howard Schultz

What Business Stage Are You In? – Part 2

Here’s the second part of our series on the “7 Stages of Every Growing Business”  that Les McKeown, President and CEO of Predictable Success, described in his Inc. Live presentation last October.  Part 1 summarized the first two stages, Early Struggle and Fun.  In this part, we move on to the next two important stages, White Water and Predictable Success.

As we left the business last week, it was in the latter part of the Fun stage.  It’s grown rapidly, become more and more complex, and the team is having difficulty managing it effectively, and losing control.  At this point, the business now has a critical decision to make about its future.

There are only two real choices;  1) Stay small and continue in the Fun stage for as long as it can survive, or  2) Take the actions necessary to move forward, and grow the business for the future.   The business can’t have it both ways, it must choose one of these directions.
If it decides to grow, it will need to enter, and successfully pass through the next stage, White Water, to scale for future growth.  A businesses cannot scale from Fun to Predictable Success without going through this stage.

Stage 3 – White Water

The decision and commitment have been made to scale up for growth, and the business is now in the water.  However, it is now much more complex, with more products and services, customers, people, and management.

The business activity has outstripped its capacity, capabilities and resources, and it’s out of control, losing focus on its direction, and customer requirements and expectations.  As a result, customer problems and complaints are piling up, in terms of service, quality, and delivery, etc., operational issues are increasing costs, and customers are beginning to defect to competition.

The first tendency is to try to sell more to prop up the business, but this strategy will only make matters worse, as the problems and issues continue to increase with the level of activity.

To survive and make it through this stage, formal Systems, Processes, Structure, must be developed and implemented, the Culture may need to change, and an expanded Management Team put in place to effectively manage, stabilize, and get the business back under control.   In most instances, however, the initial team and programs won’t work out, and the business will remain unstable for a period of time.  In fact, it may take several years and attempts, and different team members, to finally get through this stage.

Also, during this stage, the business may go back and forth between Fun and White Water several times, and it will be a very painful process, fraught with challenges and opportunities.  But, successfully navigating through this stage is absolutely necessary for future scale and growth.

The strategy is to develop and implement formal Processes, Systems, and Structure, Change the Culture (as needed), and to recruit the proper Management Team to effectively manage and control the business to provide long-term growth.

Once the business has successfully passed through this stage, it is now positioned for ….

Stage 4 – Predictable Success

The business has finally made it through the White Water stage, after several attempts.  The Systems, Processes, Structure, Culture, and Team, are all in place and working well, and it is stable, growing, and profitable.  Life is good for now.

Growing and maintaining the business in this stage, will require an ongoing, dynamic process of evolution and adjustment to consistently meet the changing expectations of the market, customers, and other stakeholders over time.  As long as the business continues to do this, and maintain its focus on its vision, strategy, and customer base, it can remain in this stage for a long time.

The strategy is Keep Doing It, Evolve as Needed, and Grow the Business.  

With long-term success, however, there is a danger is that, over time, the business may become too successful and stop evolving, resulting in complacency, a bloated and bureaucratic organization, and a loss of focus on vision, direction, and most importantly, its customers.  Once this happens, the business may eventually fall forward through one, or all, of the last three stages, including Treadmill, Big Rut, and finally, Death Rattle.

What will happen next?  Will the business survive?

We’ll find out in Part 3, next week!

“The great thing in this world is not so much where we are, but in what direction we are moving.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

 “Making an enduring company was both harder and more important than making a great product.” –  Steve Jobs