Delegating in Caribbean Companies
In Caribbean companies, and especially in growing start-ups, executives often complain that they cannot find good people to work for them. In our work at Framework, we have found that executives, in particular, have an acutely difficult time filling positions that they themselves once held.
They look for professionals with the best credentials, thinking that the new hire’s education should help them to do a job that others before them had to learn on their own. They bring them on board, give them all that they need, including a substantial salary. Success seems to be a “sure thing.”
That is, until the new hire shows a lack of “basic common sense.”
That is exactly how executives put it to me when they complain that they cannot fill key positions reporting to them in the corporate hierarchy.
The star they hired appears not to be a star at all.
According to the executive, in a series of critical moments, the new appointee demonstrates an appalling lack of judgement that leaves the executive distressed, and forces them to swoop in to
save the day. When it occurs it is stressful, tiring and disheartening.
It leaves them wondering why exactly they are paying such a tremendous salary, and how it is that they, themselves, could have learned the job armed with less training, help and pay.
Unfortunately, the end-result is often disastrous. The new hire fails, and fails again, until they are fired. In some companies, the cycle continues, as a number of people are hired into the same position, only to fail within a matter of months. No-one seems able to succeed.
At one Caribbean company, the key position of VP-HR remains unfilled for over ten years. The company has been through a series of incumbents, none of whom stayed for more than a few months. Interestingly, the President actually performed the job capably at one time, and continues to hold the position in his portfolio while the search for a new executive continues.
What exactly is lacking? Is the educational background of the new hires inadequate? Or are the expectations too high? Are executives somehow being unfair when they hire replacements in our
Our work in the Caribbean has taught us a few lessons in this area: executives do not properly “systematize” their work, they don’t delegate it systematically and they do not establish
appropriate feedback loops to be successful.
The chaos of day-to-day Caribbean business life often seems to be enough to force a manager to operate in perpetual crisis mode. While moving from one problem to another, each and every day brings with it unique challenges that require significant energy and ingenuity just to stay above water.
In one company we worked with, there is a policy that managers must answer the phone when it rings, and to reinforce the policy there is no provision for voicemail. The result? Highly trained managers with no control over their personal schedule, as the culture of the company is one in which everything stops when the phone rings.
In another company that prided itself on being customer-centric, even the CEO would drop everything when a customer had a problem. It had to be solved immediately at all costs, disrupting meetings and any other activity that happened to be underway.
Unfortunately, managers who work in these environments learn not to make plans, and instead surrender themselves to whatever might be happening in the moment. Many compensate by coming to work early, leaving late or working on weekends and holidays — when everyone else in the office is hopefully away.
Michael Gerber’s book, The eMyth Revisited, offers a brilliant prescription in the form of an insight: the very best managers not only work IN their jobs, they work ON them. In other words, they
set time aside to examine the way in which they do their work. They purposefully spend time thinking about their job, how they are executing it, how they are measuring their own success, and what techniques they should use to take it to another level.
Better managers take the next step and “systematize” their job function. They have determined that it is not enough for them to be effective, but they also have decided to assure the success of
their successor by documenting HOW the job is done when it is being done well. They look deeply into the heart of what they are doing, in an effort to develop processes that help them to automate key aspects of the job using the best methods possible. For example, when they find a piece of software that makes their job easier, they document it for future use.
For example, before my first visit to DisneyWorld as an adult several years ago, I happened to buy a book with the title: “How to Enjoy DisneyWorld without Kids.” The book gave a unique
perspective on how to enjoy the different theme parks while avoiding lines, escaping the heat and skipping attractions that would have no interest for adults. I had a wonderful time, thanks
to the work that someone else had done to document insider tips, practices and information that
were unique to my needs.
Gerber advocates writing a very similar document for each job, and argues that this is exactly what the very best managers do. They document their short-cuts, process descriptions and tips in a way
that allows almost anyone with common-sense to do the job effectively.
According to him, it is the single most powerful technique that Ray Kroc, the founder of the McDonald’s chain, used to create the world’s first mega-franchise. After buying a single hamburger
restaurant from the McDonald brothers in California, he discovered and documented what made it successful, and built a chain on the contents of the unique manuals he was able to assemble.
The result? Today, identical-tasting hamburger and fries are sold from thousands of restaurants worldwide to 54 million people daily.
Systematization is a powerful method that is very rarely used in our region’s companies.
When it is not done, incoming managers are forced to learn job from scratch, based on little or no basic information, let alone the kind of detailed and nuanced insights that the executive needs to
pass on to a new hire. It may seem that the new hire is failing to demonstrate common sense, but the real failure occurs when managers are not trained to systematize their work and to produce the
turnover documents the new hire needs.
Turnover documents include all the information that new hires need to be successful. At the very least, they start with a generic kind of job description. At the very best, they are the end-result of a
long, hard process that a manager has undertaken to work ON their job. They describe the innovations and improvements that a manager has implemented, and if a new hire is lucky it can span several years and managers.
There is no set format to the documents that I have seen and written. They are informal, and meant for immediate application. They are filled with inside knowledge of how things _really_ work — as opposed to how they are supposed to work.
In Jamaica this informal knowledge that is critical to success is known as “the runnings”. Here in the Caribbean, it often means the difference between profit and loss.
For example, the turnover document written for a VP-HR position could describe how to obtain a work permit for an expatriate professional. It would detail who to contact within the Ministry
of Justice and Immigration and who to avoid, which forms are really needed, what the true cost is and how the number of trips to various government offices could be reduced.
A well-written document would save the new VP-HR many hours of time and effort. Yet, in the example cited above, it could only be written by the President of the company — the last person to
successfully perform the job.
However, when the turnover document is missing a new hire could flounder, and make the kind of mistakes that the President might call “a lack of common-sense.”
Make no bones about it — developing a turnover document takes tedious, quiet work with no immediate payoff. Most managers prefer to focus on the job at hand, and the results they have to produce in the next few days. Any improvements are incorporated into new practices on the fly, as the learning shifts to other competencies.
As new competencies are mastered, over time the original, primary learning recedes into the subconscious.
In most Caribbean companies that we have worked with, the idea of turnover documents is quite foreign. While it is possible to reverse-engineer them from a manager’s experience and memory, the
process is a difficult one.
The best method we have used with our clients involves intense interviews that are essential for getting at the aspects of the job that are done without conscious effort. Sometimes, using this
approach is the only alternative a company has, but the very best approach is to develop a culture in which turnover documents are the norm, rather than the exception.
In the cases in which a manager leaves the company altogether, turnover documents are impossible to create, requiring an injection of new costs and time in order to bring a new manager up to speed.
A Turnover Culture
There is no single approach to developing a culture in which systematization is the norm, but the best companies start by engaging their managers in building a long-term future for the
These companies clearly describe the rationale behind systematization, and the need for turnover documents. They ask managers to start writing them once they change jobs, and create
the expectation that their ability to turn the function over to another person is a requirement of the job.
Managers also learn that they will not be deemed ready for promotion until their turnover documents are in order, and fully updated.
There is a natural resistance to writing these documents that we have found in Caribbean companies, however, and it must be dealt with it at some point.
The first source of resistance comes from a bureaucratic unwillingness to make self-replacement easy. Managers often try to protect their positions by keeping key information close to their
chests, and thereby ensure some job security. Developing a turnover document can look to them like career suicide.
The second source of resistance comes from the fact that the time spent to develop a turnover document has little immediate and practical benefit to the incumbent. The benefit to having them
comes in the long term in most companies, in the form of the firm’s success. Many managers are just unwilling to wait that long.
Companies that are able to create cultures whose values surpass this resistance are able to tap into something very powerful: a technique that builds the company from the inside, with all the
employees working ON their jobs as well as IN them.
Presidents and CEO’s, systematization assures the success of the company in the future, and helps to build a true Learning Organization along the way.
Gone is the expectation of instant success, as it becomes apparent to the executive that mastering the job is largely a function of how well it was systematized when it was the incumbent’s
responsibility. When the executive turns over a position they once held to a new hire, they have a much better appreciation for what the job entails.
From the turnover documents, common sense appears to be not so common after all, and executives can clearly see how their subordinate’s success is up to them, and their ability to systematize their jobs.
In next month’s Issue: Learn why accountabilities in turnover documents must be gradually delegated to prevent failure, and also why solo entrepreneurs also need to systematize their work.
The FirstCuts Bottom Line: Begin to systematize your work now.
What are some of the things you are doing to systematize your work? Let us know at the Framework blog by following this link and leaving us a comment: http://tinyurl.com/26m3u9
Tips, Ads and Links
I referred to Michael Gerber’s book in this Issue. His website is also filled with information: http://www.e-myth.com, most of it geared towards entrepreneurs. The ideas that I have extracted for this issue are at the heart of his approach.
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