Delegating

delegatingOne of the key skills of any manager is delegating tasks.  I’ve yet to meet an academic manager who doesn’t realise the value of delegating tasks, but have also met very few who actually do it as much as they should.

Why delegate?

There are a number of reasons why delegating some tasks is a good idea. Here are a few:

  1. Higher efficiency – which is to say that you are not doing tasks that could be done by someone else
  2. Increased motivation – giving people new and challenging tasks, giving them responsibility all aids in motivation.
  3. Skill development – doing new tasks develops new skills. It’s a form of professional development to take on new activities that you previously hadn’t been involved in.
  4. Better work distribution – if you (or anyone else) is overworked and has too much to do, perhaps work is not distributed evenly

However, even though the benefits of delegating are clear, many of us don’t do it.  I’ve asked a lot of managers over the years why now and the responses are always fairly similar:

  • “It’s easier to do it myself” 
  • “By the time I’ve explained what I want to be done, I could have done it myself”
  • “I still have to keep track of what people are doing, and that takes up time too”
  • “It’s not fair to ask my staff to do some of these tasks”
  • “I can do it better”

All of these may be true.  Well, at least the first 3 often are. It sometimes does take longer to explain something than to actually do it.  But that doesn’t stop you setting up short useful practice exercises in the language classroom – exercises that you know to be useful and valuable learning experiences.  And again it certainly would be easier to do that gapfill yourself in the classroom, but what would be the point?  (OK those analogies don’t entirely work, because the job still has to get done, and it is not simply a learning experience), but there is an element that does fit.  Often (not always) when I dig down and keep asking questions, it becomes clear that actually deep down, the reason for not delegating more is the reluctance to give up control.  And there is definitely a sense of lack of trust in others to do the job well.  So for many of us delegating is actually an exercise in letting go. Very zen.

How to delegate

I can’t force you to delegate tasks, but hopefully you do get why you should and how useful it is.  And perhaps by providing a model for how you can delegate more effectively I might persuade you to do it more often. Challenge yourself in the next week to delegate at least one task.

Make a list of all the tasks you regularly do (not the emergency ones that come up without notice, because probably you’ll have to do those anyway). Next to each one write K (keep), S (share) or D (delegate)  [Ricardo Semler recommends that you keep no more than 5, but this may be going a bit far – but at the very least, go through it again and see what you have put in K that really could go in S or D]. All you need to do then is to decide who to delegate the tasks to.

When you’re doing that there are a lot of factors to consider.  Who actually needs to develop the skills that doing this task will develop? Who already has those skills and can therefore be trusted to carry this out successfully and efficiently? Who might be interested in doing this?  And of course, last, but by no means least, who actually has the time?

Now sometimes, you may have a good idea of who has the right skill set or of who might be interested in such a task, but other times you may not.  Let’s take timetabling for example. Now timetabling is one of those tasks that DoSs either enjoy or loathe with a passion.  I’ve met academic managers who have to lock themselves in their office for three  misery-filled days at a time in order to devote themselves to this task.  I know of one very well known ELT organisation in which their very well known academic manager who is a brilliant teacher trainer, seems to spend nearly all his time devising timetables. In short, timetabling could be a D task (or perhaps – see below, an S task).  But you probably don’t know which of your teachers would enjoy timetabling, because they’ve never been asked or they’ve never done it before.  But timetabling is like a logic puzzle – matching classes to teachers to rooms within certain detailed parameters.  The kind of logic puzzle that some people love trying to solve. Who do you see doing sudokus or crosswords in their spare time?  Those might be the people who would actually enjoy timetabling.

[I ought to point our here that while timetabling is in some ways the ideal task-to-be-delegated, it can involve a level of stress and responsibility that perhaps needs to be the manager’s job – which is to say that timetabling confers an element of power. Certain teachers want certain timetables, and giving the responsibility of doling out such things may be something you want to avoid – not that your timetabling teacher will play favourites, but that he or she will likely gain favour with some and become persona non grata with others. So tread a bit carefully and possibly be part of that process, to make it clear that the buck stops with you.]

The big danger when you start delegating tasks is that you give all the tasks to the people that you really trust and that you know will devote a lot of energy and responsibility to the task. But, if you do that, you risk burning those teachers out or at the very least irritating them a significant amount. Plus the teachers who you think need to learn the most never get the opportunity (and if there ones you perceive to be lazy, you reward them for that by allowing them to be)

Once you’ve chosen who to delegate it to, make sure you clearly explain the task. What are the deadlines? What are you expecting to be done? What is the objective of this task (why is it there at all)?  Make sure that the person you’ve given the task to understands, and also, if they need any special access to anything (databases, records, whatever) to do the task, that they are given that access.

Once they get started monitor and offer support, but don’t get too close. They probably will not do the task in exactly the same way you would have done, but that’s OK (it might even be better).  They will almost certainly take longer over it than you would have, but that’s because you’ve done this before and they are learning it.

Finally get feedback from them about how it was – whether they got everything they needed, what else you could have done to support them, whether the task was totally clear, what the person thinks about the systems that they had to interact with to get it done, and so on.  One of the hidden benefits of delegating is that other people might notice areas in which the organisation as a whole could work better.

For another good article on this, try this one from the very useful MindTools site

 

 

 

Growing Pains (2)

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“Growing” by Motiqua https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the problems of transitioning from a small LTO to a more medium sized ones with all of the changes that this implies. This is something which I’ve encountered fairly often in my work, but I was reminded of it specifically, when I read an article recently in HBR about tech start-ups facing the same dilemma.

You can read the article here – HBR allows you to read 5 articles for free every month if you register with the site, which is, I believe a great deal, as it is a fantastic resource

“Start-Ups That Last: How to scale your business” by Ranjay Gulati and Alicia Desantola

Tech start-ups tend to go through these organisational life cycle stages at a much greater speed than most other industries (going back to McNamara’s life cycles from my previous post, it feels like Facebook went from birth to maturity in a few months!) , but that doesn’t mean that the lessons are not applicable to our world.

The article outlines 4 key areas to be aware of and to work on in order to facilitate the transition into a more mature organisation.  I’ve ordered them slightly differently from the way the authors did which reflects the importance I would attach to the 4 points as I have seen them arise in the ELT industry.

Sustaining the Culture

One of the hardest areas to deal with in such a transition is what feels – to staff – like a loss of culture.  As the organisation becomes larger and somewhat more formalised something can be lost.  But this shift does not have to mean that the culture is entirely changed. I would recommend sitting down with the entire team to try and work out what it is about the current culture, the “small young organisation culture” that actually does feed people and make them feel part of something, make them feel part of a family or an organisation in which their own identity is not lost. Get staff to think about why it is they do like working for the LTO, and then once you’ve got that input, work together to see how you can grow and do what needs to be done without losing what makes the place special.

I once came in as a consultant to an LTO going through this kind of change.  The director felt it was time to change but also thought that the staff were against it.  I talked to everyone individually and then we had an all staff meeting.  From this it became entirely clear that no-one was actually opposed to the idea of growth (and in fact they felt the LTO needed to grow and expand quite dramatically as they felt they were missing out on opportunities), and everyone recognised the need for clearer procedures, but they were worried that the place they enjoyed working at would become less personal.  We worked together to find out what it was that made it a good place to work and worked on what could retain that feeling and even make it better . The point here being that the director had completely misread the staff’s resistance, and in fact they were as enthusiastic and as ready as she was to start the change process.

Adding Management Structure

Perhaps one of the things that most worries everyone in a small organisation is adding more managers.  Staff worry because more managers is seen a meaning more rules, and also increasing the hierarchy and putting more distance between them and those at the “top”. Managers worry because it might mean less control.  And everyone sees it as taking away from the culture (see above). But if this doesn’t happen then everything will become increasingly slow moving and difficult to handle.  The manager’s role is not to make rules and enforce them, the manager’s role is to support people and make sure they have what they need to do the best job they can.  And one manager cannot effectively support 40 people. (yes, the manager’s job is also to make decisions, but the wider the span of control, the harder it is for that manager to find the time to make those decisions). Too much management can, it is true, mean too much bureaucracy and too much control taken away from the staff.  But it needn’t, and a well handled expansion of management can be very helpful.

I worked recently with another growing LTO (it was no longer small, but was still dealing with some “small structures”) in which the teaching team had grown to about 90 people – all of whom were being managed by a single academic coordinator.  Clearly that was unsustainable and a decision was taken to create teams of 15 teachers each with a supervisor who would act as team leader and report to the academic coordinator.  Of course there are always difficulties in adding managers – staff might feel resentful at being now “under” someone who previously was a colleague, and the new managers can struggle to cope with that and with the change in relationships. But handled well it is essential to make the organisation function well.

Planning and Forecasting with Discipline

Small organisations tend to act on hunches, improvising as they go. What makes a small organisation successful is the ability to be flexible and quick in responding to ideas or possible opportunities.  And at the same time, choosing to launch a course that doesn’t take off is not likely to be the end of the world. We feel we know the market, we have ideas about what people want and we can build courses and services that meet those needs. But as we grow our market grows too – perhaps we consider new branches or satellite schools (the example above under sustaining the culture, was one such), and perhaps we stop being experts in our possible customers.  Also, many small LTOs don’t keep good records. Files have built up in haphazard ways and we simply don’t really have the data we need to make informed decisions.

One need of the sustainable LTO, then, is to start being a little more organised with the information you collect.  Student feedback. Where applications are coming from. Where applications are not coming from.  And to create better and more effective processes for making plans for the future.  People need time for that, time to gather information, time to share it properly and time to use it as the basis for future directions. It may feel less flexible, less nimble, but once the organisation reaches a certain size making up new courses on the fly is no longer helpful . You need more clear goals and a more sustainable way of reaching them.

Defining specialised roles- generalists vs domain experts

At the beginning, as mentioned in the previous piece, everyone does everything. Teachers also answer the phones, enrol students, clean classrooms and teach every class that comes up.  We are jacks (and jills) of all trades.  And in small organisations this works very well. But it does mean people having to quickly and efficiently acquire new skills – often with a very steep learning curve. So as the organisation gets larger we tend to specialise a lot more.  One person is responsible for answering the phones, and teachers just get on with teaching (for the most part). And then people start to be hired from outside to take care of specific functions.  The LTO starts to attract a lot of young learners, and so you hire a YL expert. And away from the classroom, you might hire a marketing expert. There are many benefits with this – the YL teacher can spend her time teaching the YL classes and perhaps even training up others.  She brings her specialised knowledge to the area and this can only be beneficial.  It also allows those not specialised in this area to be freed up to do other things.  But as you can see, often these specialised posts are filled from outside, which can leave long serving staff (the generalists) feeling rather marginalised. A sense that is only exacerbated when the organisation starts becoming more departmentalised, and the YL expert becomes the head of the YL department.

It’s important to bear in mind that the generalists also offer a lot to the organisation – they are the history, they know how things function and they cross different areas.  If you do not recognise and accommodate this hugely important aspect of the organisation, you risk losing them, and ultimately you will end up with a very silo-ised organisation in which everybody just functions in their own little narrow piece of the puzzle.  So, build relationships, use the cross-departmental knowledge and skills of the generalists to ensure continuity and an organisation in which there are not only experts in specific fields but experts in the organisation as a whole, experts in working across departments. Find ways of supporting and recognising the generalists, and work to stop the LTO becoming a series of silos.

In some respects any organisation that is growing and indeed shrinking) is experiencing some of the issues associated with scaling as referred to here and in the previous post, so even if your LTO seems larger and more established than one experiencing growing pains (or if your LTO is still young and small), it’s still worth bearing these things in mind.  After all, if you look at the massive tech companies that have grown up in the large few years you will see that they are doing everything they can to try and follow these principles above – from trying to break down silos to preserving the culture that made them innovative.

The haves and the have-nots

silvana slideMany years ago, I encountered a participant on the IDLTM who had, shall we say, interesting views. She was the owner-director of a fairly successful language school in Germany, and had lots of fairly strong opinions about how management should work. I could tell a number of fairly shocking stories about her “unusual” views, but for this blog post I will just share the one which was possibly the most shocking – the one which left the rest of the group most open mouthed. This was when, during a discussion on recruitment, she revealed that she didn’t hire black teachers. I think she was taken aback by the collective gasp on this announcement, and she defended herself saying that her customers wouldn’t be happy with a black teacher. After picking my jaw off the floor, I jumped in and asked her how she knew that, and she announced that she was sure it was true, that German business people would not want a black teacher (this was an LTO which primarily worked with business English).  Now, obviously I was not in a position to claim a greater knowledge of that market and those customers (even though I found this claim hard to believe). So, instead I told her that even if what she said about attitudes were the case, that we have a duty to take a stand and make it clear that such attitudes have no basis in reality, and if there were customers that had such racist views, then it was up to us, language school managers, to educate them and not pander to that kind of thinking.

I have no idea if my words (and the support and agreement with my arguments from all of her classmates) had any effect.  Honestly I suspect not. And with hindsight I wonder if I could handled it better – by perhaps reporting her in some way (I’m quite sure such hiring discrimination is entirely illegal in Germany). But it is an incident that I suspect I will never forget.

So, why am I telling this story now? Well, I was reminded of this event very vividly last week during Silvana Richardson’s fantastic plenary about the continuing existence of prejudice against English teachers who have a language other than English as their first language (as Silvana pointed out, “Non-native English speaking teacher” is not a terribly positive description). The plenary was passionate, inspiring, and still also backed up with solid and strong research and great use of the literature to support the arguments made. It could have just been about passion and anger, but it never was, and instead was a thorough debunking of all the various reasons that are given and held such that native speakers get advantages in ELT.

I won’t review and comment on all of it, because I could not possibly do it justice, and anyway, I really think everyone should watch it for themselves, but one of the main sections of her talk is on overcoming the myth that “This is what students want”, and as I listened I was taken back to that experience mentioned above, when a similar argument was given to me for engaging in another discriminatory hiring practice.  From an academic managers perspective, then, I think it is our responsibility to get past this belief that students want native speakers.  Partly because it’s unlikely to be true (watch Silvana’s talk for the research data) but partly because even if it is true, we have the duty to change people’s perceptions – and we do that by changing our hiring practices. Fromteflequity this point forward, if anybody who has responsibility for recruitment says in one of my sessions “We have to hire native speakers, because the students expect/want it”, I will respond as I did back then, that even if that is 100% true it’s not a good enough answer.  I am also going to see how I, in my various strands of work, can support TEFL Equity Advocates. If you haven’t seen Silvana’s plenary, and you have any form of bias towards hiring native speaker teachers (as opposed to simply the best teachers), for whatever reason, conscious or unconscious, I urge you to watch the video. It takes an hour, but it’ll be one of the more important professional hours you spend this year. I guarantee that.

Growing Pains (1)

Evolution of a young plant(This is the first part of a two part post)

One of the issues that I often come across when speaking with managers of language schools is the problem of managing the transition from a small organic organisation to one that is larger and more mechanistic.

To explain a little more: Many language schools grow from small beginnings, perhaps with one or two teachers. In these schools, everyone does everything – the owner teaches, answers the phone, manages the business and cleans the classroom.  Aside from the business management side of things, the teachers probably do much the same. The business is small and everyone knows what is going on. It can feel like being part of a family. Slowly the business grows, and more people are hired, more teachers, more office staff, and so on.  But still the same ethos exists, and the staff feel that they are part of something. They feel recognised, appreciated, and free to be creative in their work

At a certain point though, a tension starts to appear. A tension between this close-knit family of employees and the needs of the business to have a bit more formality. The parent of a student comes in and ask to speak to someone about a certain matter – and no-one is quite sure who they should talk to.  Some students are offered payment plans which are unusual and they tell their classmates (or they stop paying and nobody notices). Teachers complain that students who passed the previous level don’t know what they expect them to know. A part time teacher who said she only wanted ten hours teaching a week, is annoyed when a newer member of staff is given a full time contract. And so on. The list of possible signs of this tension coming into play is probably endless.

It becomes increasingly clear – to everyone – that there needs to be formalisation, some more rules and procedures. That people’s job descriptions and responsibilities have to made more explicit. And while everyone can see this need, there is of course resistance to such a change. “Will we lose the feeling of togetherness that brought us here?” “The reason I love working for this school is the freedom and creativity I have here” “We don’t need rules, we just need to make sure we keep communicating”

The transition that at some point needs to be negotiated from a small young informal organisation to one that it is larger and more formal is a very tricky one to handle. Sometimes the tension materialises slowly and is worked out slowly. It might take a few years between recognising the need to change and actually changing. Sometimes the change is more or less instant – usually in the case when a small LTO is bought by a large chain. It can be a process which is painful, sometimes with staff leaving, or it can be a relatively smooth shift.

Carter McNamara’s organisational life cycles model (which is quoted in From Teacher to Manager, and which can also be found here) shows how organisations typically develop

Birth Youth Midlife Maturity
Size small medium large very large
Bureaucratic nonbureaucratic prebureaucratic bureaucratic very bureaucratic
Division of labor overlapping tasks some departments many departments extensive, with small jobs and many descriptions
Centralization one-person rule two leaders rule two department heads top-management heavy
Formalization no written rules few rules policy and procedures manuals extensive
Administrative intensity secretary, no professional staff increasing clerical and maintenance increasing professional and staff support large– multiple departments
Internal systems nonexistent crude budget and information system control systems in place; budget, performance, reports, etc.. extensive — planning, financial, and personnel added
Lateral teams, tasks forces for coordination none top leaders only some use of integrators and task forces frequent at lower levels to break down bureaucracy

In the second part of this post, I’ll take a model of trying to best facilitate this transition  and try to apply it to the language school context

May You Live in Interesting Teams

Working_Together_Teamwork_Puzzle_Concept (1)This year’s LAMSIG Pre-Conference workshop is entitled Effective Teams and Teamwork: building, participating, leading. I am looking forward to it very much – while I am one of the team presenting (the teamwork team?)  I expect to learn a lot from both my co-presenters and also those who attend and offer their experiences and thoughts to the event.

To preview the event slightly, I thought I’d write a little on teamwork and what it involves – why teams are a good thing, what types of tasks in an LTO which are particularly well-suited to teamwork, and a theory about what can help teams to most effectively succeed.

Why work in teams?

Teamwork serves a number of purposes in your organisation. These include:

  1. Teams are greater than the sum of their parts – we’ve all had experiences where we’ve had half an idea and put it forward in a team and someone else has taken it and said “Oh, yes, and if you did this…” and a third person refines it still further. Alone that idea would never have got off the ground. (Senge calls this Team Learning)
  2. Creating teams allows you to build connections across the organisation. Think of a marketing team for example, which included not just marketing staff, but teachers and student support staff. Not only would it provide fresh perspective, but it would also make the relationships between the members stronger
  3. More people become involved with issues that matter to them. People have the chance to contribute, not merely have decisions and changes imposed on them
  4. Change is much more effective when those affected by the change have been involved in creating it (as they would be if there was a team organised to drive the change)
  5. It’s a way of delegating tasks – giving staff opportunities to develop and giving you – the manager – more time to focus on other things

What sort of things lend themselves to teamwork?

Though teamwork is a good idea for the reasons mentioned above, that doesn’t mean that forming teams with no real purpose is wise.  Teams need to have something to work towards, not merely exist for the sake of existing.  Otherwise people will rapidly get fed up of being put into teams.  Just as in the ELT classroom some activities lend themselves to group work, others don’t.

Some decisions and changes that would suit teams in the typical LTO would be:

  • Choosing a new coursebook
  • Writing a new mid-term test for Level x
  • Devising a marketing campaign (I have no idea why so few schools do this, when in teachers, student support staff and receptionists they have so much expertise in what would attract students – and indeed in what the product being marketed actually is)
  • Developing a new course
  • Planning a peer observation scheme
  • Crafting a new performance management system

And, of course, many others

How can teams work together most effectively?

There is a lot written about teams – about the roles people take on in teams (see this Wikipedia article on Belbin for a starting point), about how teams develop and their lifecycle (eg Tuckman’s famous Forming-storming-norming-performing model ), and much more, but for this post I’m going to look at a model designed to help teams work as effectively as possible, developed by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer in “The Progress Principle” (2011).

The main idea behind this theory is that people are more productive, more engaged and more creative if they feel they are achieving something (obviously that’s not an earth shattering revelation, but bear with me here).  What this leads to is that teams (and indeed individuals) need to be able to celebrate consistent small victories. They need to feel like they are getting somewhere.  This is based on some fairly extensive research with a large number of people working project teams in different companies who were asked to keep a journal of their team experiences.

Amabile and Kramer then go on to suggest 6 mechanisms that managers can use in order to help their teams achieve these consistent small wins

  1. Set clear goals and objectives

Make sure that what the goal of the team’s work is very clear. Set SMART objectives. If people can see where they are going, it’s easier to see that they’re making progress.

  1. Allow autonomy

While the goals have to be clear, teams (and their members) need to have the freedom to reach those goals in the way they think is best. The more control people have over their work, the more creative and empowered they will feel, and the more they’ll recognise their own achievements. Don’t micromanage!

  1. Provide resources

Make sure the team has what it needs to do the work they have been given. If they don’t have the resources they will likely feel that the task itself is not important. Resources include not only physical things like supplies and technology, but training and support too

  1. Allow ample time

Give the team enough time to do the work (which will also allow them to be creative).  Deadlines which are too tight will result in lower quality work (and less harmonious teams).  However deadlines which are too far off may also be less motivating. So coming up with deadlines which motivate but which do not impede creativity and good quality work is important

  1. Provide support and expertise

Make sure your team has access to support and expertise from outside the team to help them progress with their work when they need it.  As the manager, this will likely include you, but it may also include others. Let those people know that they are expected to be available to help the team if called upon.

  1. Help people learn from “failure”

Sometimes teams don’t succeed in reaching their goal. This may be because they didn’t work very well together or it may be for reasons out of their control. It’s important to work with the team in working out why things didn’t go as planned and discuss what could have been done differently. If teams are punished for honest “failure”, the creativity and motivation in future work will be lost.

These 6 ideas will help the team make meaningful progress. From this it’s then important to routinely celebrate and reward success and achievement.  Encourage teams to keep a record of their achievements so they are not overlooked in the drive to get to the next milestone. Offer recognition for the achievements of the team in staff meetings. If it’s possible to offer small tangible rewards like taking the team out for dinner, or giving them a half day off, for big milestones reached, then do that, but recognition does not have to involve a financial cost.  Often a sincere “Thank You” and clear recognition for the work is enough.

This is one (among many) models of team effectiveness. Why not attend the LAMSIG PCE in Birmingham to learn about others and share ideas with colleagues and peers?

Bibliography

Amabile, T.M. and Kramer, S. (2011) The progress principle: Using small wins to ignite joy, engagement, and creativity at work. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.
Belbin, M.R. and Belbin, R.M.M. (2010) Team roles at work, Second edition. 2nd edn. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.
Senge, P.M. (2006) The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. New York, NY: Crown Publishing Group.
Tuckman, B.W. and Jensen, M.A.C. (1977) ‘Stages of small-group development revisited’, Group & Organization Management, 2(4), pp. 419–427. doi: 10.1177/105960117700200404.

One more…

Just to keep this moving along a little, another post on the EnglishAgenda site that I recently wrote – this one on the book that Fiona Thomas and I wrote on Managing Education in the Digital Age

(Oh, and an actual real life new post will follow later this week)

 

A Return to Blogging

It has been a very long time since I blogged here, for which many apologies.  I am, though, determined to re-start this blog and to do so on a regular basis.  My plan is to publish something every two weeks on the subject of leadership & management in ELT. And this is a commitment, not a vague spring version of a new year’s resolution.

In order to start on that process, I will post a couple of things that i have had published in various places since I last wrote here, in the hope of enticing all those of you who have so generously followed this page to start checking back.

So, without further ado, here is something I wrote on LAMSIG (the Leadership and Management special interest group) that i am now coordinator of, and how it can be and should be a community of practice for DoSs, Academic Managers, ADoSs Senior Teachers, LTO directors, Principals, School owners and more

You can find this piece, entitled “Where can Academic Managers find support and advice?” here at the British Council’s EnglishAgenda site

Thanks for your patience, and you will now see me much more frequently

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