Action Planning and Delegation


By John Barrington

This week’s blog is hardly strategic and while operational in focus, it goes to what is often the heart of implementation. It is about action planning and delegation.

After we complete strategies with clients, we then “chunk” the strategies down to actions that must be completed within a 12-month timeframe. We call these Strategic Initiatives and they are linked to the budget and the allocation of peoples’ time to complete the necessary tasks. The allocation of dollars and time is necessary to make the trade-off decisions and to evaluate whether “the juice is worth the squeeze”, i.e. is the investment required to implement the action worth the spend? We further break these 12-month Initiatives down to 90-day results plans that see achievements being delivered and monitored on a quarterly basis. Often called “90-day plans”, these are a most effective way for a CEO to monitor progress and hold direct reports to account for strategy implementation.

The other part of effective implantation is in respect of delegation. The first and most important lesson of delegation is:

Delegation only works downwards, it does not work upwards.

That is, a CEO can and must delegate work packets to his/her subordinates. It is not permissible and highly undesirable for subordinates to delegate up to their manager. Not only is it highly undesirable, but it sets an organisation up for tactical failure and if failure occurs at this level, then it is only a short shift to strategic ineffectiveness.

The reason upwards delegation does not work is that any CEO, no matter how effective, will quickly become swamped if all of their subordinates collectively push work up the line. The workflow quickly multiplies out of control, swamping the CEO, compromising performance and, ultimately, creating a culture of non-delivery and low accountability. The latter occurs because the CEO, who cannot possibly manage all the tasks that are being delegated upwards, inadvertently becomes a role model for non-delivery.

Working with one company recently, we saw an action list of an executive team with 17 items to be completed. Fourteen of these were allocated to the CEO. This is not only upwards delegation, but it is an abdication of responsibility on behalf of the CEO to effectively delegate and manage their team to deliver the desired outcomes that would see the organisation prosper.

The role of the CEO is to support, clear the way and monitor progress of subordinates. It is not to do their work for them. This is not to say, of course, that the CEO does nothing. We have all seen the problems that can arise from the ‘chronic delegator’, who effectively does nothing. The CEO must be clear on their own role and reserve for themselves tasks that only a Chief Executive can complete.

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