Four Keys to Managing Outside of Your Area of Technical Competence

When we ask newly promoted, first-time supervisors why they got their supervisory job, they almost always say it was because they were really good at getting technical results in their last job.  In other words, they became supervisors because they were very technically competent.

But what happens when people progress in management and find themselves managing people who are much more technically competent than they are?  What if they are totally out of their area of technical competence?  How do they manage under these conditions?  Do they admit their lack of technical competence or “fake it until they make it”?

Has this happened to you?  Is it possible that it might happen at some point in your career?  To help you answer these questions, we offer you four keys to success when managing outside of your area of technical competence.

  1. Honestly evaluate your competencies.  We can’t all know everything so an honest evaluation of your competencies will help you identify where you either need help from others or where you need to seek education for yourself.  I can honestly say that I am not competent when it comes to development of websites or just about anything IT.   I also know that my time is much better spent not taking a lot of time attempting to become proficient in this area.  I have made the decision to delegate this area to someone else; someone with a lot more competence than I have, which leads to Key #2.
  2. Seek the support of those who are competent.  You can’t “fake it” for long and when you are discovered your credibility and influence will most likely be reduced.   There is no shame in admitting that you don’t know how to do something or how to do it well.  Look for those on your team who have the competency or competencies needed and delegate to them, while at the same time attempting to gain an appropriate level of competence for yourself.  I know there are some computer programs that I need the ability to navigate and use in my daily activities.  For these I have taken the time to gain proficiency.  Everything else IT is delegated with delight!
  3. Show thanks for the support of others.  People need to feel appreciated and showing thanks for the competencies of others on your team is important to the development of respect and relationship.  Make sure you thank those who help you gain competencies or who take away the need for you to do so by handling it themselves.  This is exactly what I have done with many of my IT needs and I always try to remember to show gratitude to those who take on this role.
  4. Use ‘Best Boss’ skills to manage.  Use the same skills that thousands of our students have consistently identified over the last 20 years when asked to describe the best boss they ever had.  Your employees will likely give you the benefit of the doubt while you seek to grow in technical competence, if they have already experienced the benefits of your non-technical competence.  To help you with this, we will continue throughout 2012 to use The RAD Group Newsletter to explore the Top 20 Characteristics of a ‘Best Boss‘.  To refresh your memory, revisit the ‘Best Boss’ Newsletter Archive and keep an eye on your email inbox for future editions.

No boss can know everything.  ‘Best Bosses’ know that their primary responsibility is not to be competent in all of the technical aspects under their control, but rather to surround themselves with competent people and treat them with respect.

Overcoming the Tendency to “Micro-manage”

Micro-management is the failure to delegate when delegation is appropriate.  It is giving an assignment to an employee who has the capability of executing on their own and then overseeing the details of the execution of the assignment.  In many cases, it is driven by a lack of trust in the other person, but even if it is not, it is almost always viewed as such.  The perception of lack of trust increases frustration and reduces both motivation and the desire to show initiative.  In other words, micro-management creates an environment that negatively impacts results.  So how do you overcome the tendency to micro-manage?  The key is trust, and trust grows with successful accomplishment.  There are three steps to developing trust.

  • Fairly evaluate the competencies of the individual.  The tasks that you assign require certain competencies for success.  Start by identifying those competencies and then evaluate your employee’s skill set relative to those competencies.  If a skill is lacking you can provide support through training.  If all the skills are present then you can predict a high probability of success.
  • Make assignments on the basis of competencies.  The more success that you observe and the individual achieves, the more trust you will have in the person and the more confidence the person will have in their ability.  Making assignments on the basis of competencies increases the chances of success.
  • Communicate your expectations and trust to the individual.  When making assignments, make sure that you clearly communicate your expectations by providing information needed for success.  We call these the six-points of a clear message and they include What-When-Where-Who-How-Why.  Don’t over focus on the “How” component with a competent employee because this can communicate lack of confidence in their ability.  Make sure that you give them information that may be specific to the current task that they might not have, such as “When” you need the task accomplished.  When appropriate, communicate that you have every confidence in their ability to complete the task at hand.

Empowering employees to accomplish tasks on their own not only creates a more confident and competent workforce, it also gives you more control over your time and peace of mind.

4 Keys to Effective Delegation

As a supervisor, one of the ways that you get your job done, and manage your time more effectively is to delegate to your employees.  Delegating requires trust in their ability to get the results that you expect.  Here are four keys to making sure you delegate effectively.

  1. Identify the competencies required to accomplish the task.  This sounds simple, but how many times do we actually do a task analysis before making an assignment.  We know the result that we want, but many times we don’t take the time to really determine how we want that result achieved.  Understanding what competencies are needed for success is critical before you can do what comes next.
  2. Assess your employees relative to the task competencies.  An honest comparison of employee skills/competencies against task requirements will help you determine whether you can delegate or whether you need to provide additional support to the employee, including training.
  3. Communicate your expectations clearly.  When giving an assignment, there are 6-points that need to be understood by the employee:  What, Who, When, Where, Why and How.  If you are delegating to an employee who has the requisite competencies, then probably all you will need to communicate is “What result you need”.  If this is a special situation then you will need to communicate those aspects of the task that make this special, e.g., when you need it done.  Going over every detail of “How” is certainly not needed if the person is truly competent in this task and doing so would be seen as “micro-managing” due to lack of trust.
  4. Give appropriate feedback once the task is done.  Feedback is obviously dependent on result, but don’t forget to give positive feedback for success (maybe a simple “thank you”).  If failure occurs, then take the time to determine why so that you can make sure that failure doesn’t occur again.