I studied mathematics and computer science. While studying I used to work for a professor doing a variety of tasks. I handled several programming jobs, managed some databases, etc. One day he gave me a more complicated task. It included handling code written in FORTRAN (a slightly different programming language from a different age) written by someone ages ago. It involved working within a closed programming environment I wasn’t used to nor had any help in getting used to.
I had to find my way around. And I failed. And I took the blame. At some point, I quit this job without being able to complete the task. I was accused of holding up the development at several universities, etc.
Although I was told by my close surroundings that this hadn’t been my fault, I wasn’t free of doubting myself for this experience. It was only later when I became an entrepreneur that I fully understood that this truly hadn’t been my fault.
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My boss, the professor in this story, got a fundamental aspect of being a boss wrong. He had failed at delegating tasks right.
Delegating Tasks Right Is Important
When I became an entrepreneur, delegating tasks, especially social media tasks became something I had to pick up quickly. At times we worked in teams of up to 8 people (including Susanna and myself as CEO/CFO/product manager, 2 – 3 people in marketing + several developers). And it turned out that delegating is not as easy as it seems.
The problem with delegating tasks is that you need to make sure that the person you delegate a task to has everything he needs: The training, the intellectual capacity (simple truth – some people are just too dumb to complete the task), the resources and the required information to complete the job to satisfaction. And you need to get this right because if you don’t it will lead to your own frustration, frustration within you team, bad morale, the need to fire people and ultimately the destruction of your company.
This is already a big problem when delegating almost anything; it becomes a problem of immense magnitude when you are delegating social media tasks.
Why Delegating Social Media Tasks Is Even More Difficult
Social media tasks of any kind are still quite new in the entrepreneurial fields of work – and that includes both the marketing aspect and the social media management aspect. Social media in the entrepreneurial situations means that you are in direct communication with your target audience – and to get it right you need to communicate right.
This also means that the person you delegate to needs a different type of information than what you need to delegate a programming task to a developer for instance. When you delegate a task to a developer you can define quite clearly what you need the result to look like and you can work your way from there. If you do this right, you can define every single step of the way for the developer (this is also tough).
When you are delegating social media tasks to your newly hired social media manager it is hard to define all the steps because communication is always a two-way street. You can not plan every reaction by a user or a client. All you can do is give him/her an idea of what it is you want to achieve.
Your social media manager needs to grab a fair understanding of what defines your company and your company values in a fairly short time. He will need to understand your company at a point in time when you probably yourself only have a vague idea of what your company stands for.
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Your social media manager has to apply what you want to achieve and your company’s specific identity to a field of work where procedures are not (yet) clearly defined and work on things that no one has done before. Every company is different and therefore everything you do for a new company has never been done before in quite the same way.
So in addition to the training, the intellectual capacity, the resources and the basic information, your social media manager needs to work with advanced information that you probably can’t give him at the beginning.
And yes – I’m talking about the job you thought you could easily outsource to an intern. So if you managed to find an intern doing a great job at this, promote him/her NOW!
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What this lead to for myself
There is no single entrepreneur who gets this right from the start.
I didn’t, although I quickly got a feeling that what I was doing wasn’t really working. This resulted in me treating my own time resources with little care. If I had an idea of what I wanted to achieve or even just wanted to try out, then I did it myself. Which in turn lead to information not being available to my team. When I ran a test, the result was in my brain, not on the table. I remember numerous discussions from the time when someone came up with an idea which I simply destroyed with the sentence “This is never ever going to work.”
Most of the time the sentence was true – I just couldn’t communicate right why I knew that this was never going to work. I had data in my brain that without doubt lead me to this conclusion. But no one else had it. Because I tried to do everything at once, I also never had any time left to spare for discussions, so I wanted to end them quickly, and the habit spread to others.
This way to lead works well when assigning tasks with developers – because they will handle tasks that are assigned to them. Implement this feature, check. Add a button there, check.
It doesn’t work that well with social media or marketing staff. It leaves them in a black hole of doubt. It was obviously not working.
(While this may sound like working for me was hell at this point – I don’t think that this was true. But it could have been better.)
The main solution is not to delegate results.
What do I mean by that? Well, we tend to lead by demanding results – and this doesn’t always work. Sure, you can often demand that the outcome will look like this (think of the developer-feature way of thinking from above). But it doesn’t with social media tasks.
When you ask a developer to implement a feature, 90 percent of the time he will give you an answer like: “I can do that and it will take me approximately x days” or even “I can’t do that, I don’t have the expertise/it is technologically impossible”. These are definite answers, and you can either expect the result to be achieved (the time needed may vary, sometimes he will need a little research, but generally, it should work) or you can’t.
When you ask your social media manager/marketer for a result, you will probably get something like: “It may be possible, and there are these things we can try.”
The key is to work with him/her. Let him know which path you think may be best. What aligns with your vision best. Keep yourself updated on the progress. Work together, even if your participation only happens in a quick moment between two elevator stops. Be interested, delegate the process, not the result. Stay involved.
This is a different way to lead. It works wonders.
And the truth of the matter is, it improves working with everybody. While you can lead a development team by delegating results, you will be a much better leader of a team when you do it this way. Working with developers may be possible the other way around, but only if they handle tasks that are easy to handle. I said 90% of the time the tasks can be easily defined for the developer. Well, 10% of the time they will hit a dead end or get stuck.
Remember my example from the beginning? This was exactly what happened to me. I got stuck – and I lacked the interest and the guidance to get unstuck. I sure as hell didn’t expect anyone to solve everything for me, but I had been thrown in a situation I didn’t have any experience in, told to learn a programming language that didn’t follow the principles I knew, handle a complex scientific programming code and do it all on my own. I was stuck, demotivated and couldn’t see the end of the tunnel.
With social media people, 90% of the time they will either get stuck or unproductive. So stay involved.
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