Effective Delegation with Account Executives: Modern Performance Expert Roundup
Delegation can be a tool to unlock a team’s maximum potential—empowering teams by increasing productivity beyond the capacity of any single individual, engaging staff, and boosting morale. However, like any tool, when wielded improperly delegation works instead to over-tax and frustrate—leading managers to the all too common pitfall of under-delegating and taking on extra work themselves to skirt the issue entirely.
How can we, as managers, avoid this trap and turn our teams into powerhouses of high performance and productivity? Modern Performance asked top managers at top firms like Lever, Intercom, Affirm, Logz.io, Care Message, and Mode Analytics to explain how they turn delegation from burden to boon. In the pith of their secrets is an emphasis on communication: to know the true bandwidth of one’s staff, to have a timeline, and to align delegated projects with individuals’ passions and interests. Their strategies, refined by decades of expertise, reveal a steady hand for the tool of delegation: a path to a harmonious and powerful delegatory culture that empowers and enriches individuals and teams.
During one of my early management jobs, the joke went that if you raise your hand with a suggestion, that the task would be delegated to you. So now, often that’s the type of person I will delegate something to. When somebody has an idea and they’re excited about something, they’re often a very good person to take on the project and own it, as opposed to me taking it on. An executive coach once told me that I collect a lot of monkeys. She said, “Whenever someone on your team comes to you with an issue, you take that monkey and you strap it on your back. Pretty soon, you’ve got the people who work for you light as a feather.”
“Effective delegation means you don’t take other people’s monkeys off their backs. Help them solve the problem, but you don’t need to solve it for them.”
If someone comes to me with a roadblock that’s slowing their work, I ask for a list of recommendations, and tell them we’ll review them the next week in our one-on-one. It helps because that person, then, takes ownership of the issue. They feel empowered, and as busy as I usually am, I don’t become the bottleneck.
Delegating is something you can forget about doing because it’s so easy to decide, “I can do it faster,” or “I already know what I want.”
“First and foremost, make sure that you are aligning projects or tasks that you delegate with the person’s interests if you want to draw out their best efforts.”
Communicate the value of the project to them and why you’ve chosen them, so that they know what’s at stake and that you’re entrusting something to them that has real effects on the team and the company. Definitely make an effort the first time around to sit with the person who you’re delegating to, so that you set them up for success moving forward. They can run on their own from there. That way you don’t have to keep sending work back with corrections or edits.
The first step is to not be in denial about the need to delegate. My boss once told me that I have the capacity to take on a large amount of work, which sounds like a compliment. But he really meant that I needed to realign my focus.
“In a growing start-up, having the ability, the capacity and the mental fortitude to take on a heavy and wide-ranging workload is a great attribute to have. But as a company scales, you need to direct your energy into the biggest growth levers that you as an individual can impact.”
If I give people challenging tasks, it’s important that they know they have support to be successful. I assign a bite-size project and give them a small cross-functional team to work with. For example, if we’re discussing a new way to structure something and they need to discuss their plans with finance, legal and risk, then we’ll create a small team for them and set expectations and dates. They have a lot of support, so their minds aren’t spinning.
There’s a difference between delegation and management. Delegation comes into play when working on projects that become bigger than one person’s book of account. It’s identifying who on the team has the skill set needed and the interest that would drive them to be successful on that project. Then who has availability and could follow through.
“I would typically test with smaller projects, with people who I haven’t given any work before, and see if they’re able to take it on and move it forward independently.”
Sometimes it means that I have to help coach them a little bit or provide a little bit of structure. It might be a deadline or a deliverable or quizzing them about how they’ll approach a deliverable. Questions like: Who would you need to talk to to be able to get that answer? What kind of work do you think you’re going to need to do to hit this deadline? What’s your work back plan? How many iterations do you think you’ll need? Who’s going to need to look it over? When people can pick it up and run independently, I’d try giving them bigger and bigger tasks.
For delegation to be effective, I want to make sure that anything I delegate is a really important project, and that the person to whom I entrust it knows that it’s a really important project. If they know that it’s a high-priority project, important to me or to the CEO or the board, they’ll usually spend more time making sure it’s complete. This is a hard thing to do from a workload perspective.
“With my team, I try to really push people to find that breaking point as far as capacity to handle workload. Once they hit an initial breaking point, I pull back a little bit, and let them develop their tolerance for that level of workload. Then as they become able to carry more load, I’ll continue the push a little more, until I find the next breaking point, and then pull back again.”
Because as the company continues to grow and as our sales continues to grow, we all need to stretch our capacity. Having strong communication, open dialogue, is important to find those breaking points. I want them to tell me, and I want them to be honest when it feels like they’ve got too much going on, and they can’t focus on their day-to-day job. If they throw up a white flag, I can cut back a bit on the workload, let them get their breath back and then move forward again when they’re ready.
Team members should have clear expectations. They should know how they’re being measured, and on what basis their performance will be reviewed.
“If a team member has shown a consistent ability to meet or exceed goals, then they’ve said through their work that they’re ready to take on a new challenge.”
They’ve opened up the door to be able to be trusted to see tasks through. You can comfortably give them a project that might be of interest to them, and also would benefit the business or the team. Build checkpoints. Don’t ask them just to produce the end result, but to produce a version of it first. Don’t feel like is has to be perfect the first time around. Know that this will be a process, we’ll work through it together, and I’ll help you get to the end result. Make sure you are clear on a date that they need to have it done by, or that they should hit a specific milestone by. Then leave it alone, because you’ve picked the type of person who’s already shown their ability to drive themselves and achieve.
The first thing I do is I look at my calendar. My role is to empower and support my team.
“If I’m not spending 60 to 70 percent of my time with my team, then I’m not making enough of an impact on the success of my team. That will ultimately affect our goals and the company’s goals.”
The rest of my time, the 30 to 40 percent, that’s often taken up by hiring, admin, supporting my boss, working with cross-functional teams, strategizing and planning for the future. It’s also important, but if I’m not getting that 60 to 70 percent of my time with my people, then there might be others better suited to take on those other tasks.
If I’m doing a recurring task, then I ask myself, “Is this the best way that I could be spending my time, or would I have more impact shadowing a phone call or even getting on the phone with a client?” If the answer is that I could be using my time better elsewhere, then I try to delegate that task.
“Once someone is ramped, they’re doing well, and they have their core role on lockdown, then that’s a great time for them to start getting cool projects outside of just hitting quota.”
Make sure they have one or two recurring projects a quarter that they can participate in.
How do make sure I’m delegating enough instead of taking things on myself? Everything to me is built around a priority list. There’s a point where I’m going to cut it off and I’m not going to be able to do anything below that. I look at what’s dropping off of my list and the available time on one of my account manager’s plates. If I feel like we could have a bigger impact if they were able to take something off my list, then that’s an opportunity to pass it to them. If their plate’s full and they’re going to deliver the most value just offering insights to clients in their book and not taking on something that is work that I could be doing, then I either keep it and try to find a way to do it or push it off my plate completely.
“The issue around delegation is not really me holding on to too much, it’s having a really clear sense of when my account manager’s plates are full.”
Some of them are very ambitious, high achievers and so they raise their hand even though they don’t have the bandwidth to do something.
I remind myself to keep it simple. I think about what the end goals are that I’m pushing for. With those goals in mind, do these tasks really needs to be prioritized at this particular time? That requires looking at the weeks ahead and ensuring whatever plan you have makes sense.
“I remind myself that it’s okay to put tasks off that are not critically important. You’re not being lazy. You’re being more efficient.”
For items that are not as critical to get done immediately, is there someone with time to take on this project? If it’s something that definitely needs to get done, but I can’t take it on, who has the kind of skill set to take it on successfully? I try to find people who have shown that they’d be able to deliver a project on time and on target. If I’ve built up trust already, I can assign it, let them know how important it is to our efforts, and establish a timeline with checkpoints to help them get it done.
When I feel like I’ve got too much on my plate and I can’t get everything done – which is every day, by the way, I have to look at a couple things. Am I prioritizing properly? Am I effective at the things that I need to do? Are there things that I’m doing that someone else can be doing that I need to delegate? I don’t ever get everything done at the end of the day.
“I’m very careful at the beginning of the day to prioritize. If I see that my schedule is out of whack, then I have to go and apply filters and criteria.”
Are there items that just should fall off because they’re not as important? Are there tasks that I could be doing more effectively? Are there tasks that I need to delegate? So that’s a continual process on a daily and weekly basis.
Learn more from our experts, and see full profiles, here:
Justin Roberts, VP of Sales at Lever:
Chris Schwass, Head of Relationship Management at Intercom:
Alexis Zhu, Director of Revenue at Affirm:
Bridget Gleason, VP of Worldwide Sales at Logz.io:
Mike Haylon, VP of Sales at Care Message:
Annelies Husmann, Director of Sales at Mode Analytics:
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