As part of our series on before and after thinking, this week we are focusing on the ways you can influence your team and particularly the 5 Ds of management, namely:

  • Doing
  • Delegating
  • Directing
  • Demanding and
  • Disrupting

If you run a business or manage a team, each task you do will fall into one of the above categories. The problem for most managers is that they don’t get the balance right between the different activities. This is often because of their own skill set or more often than not because they are unwilling to step outside their comfort zone.

This is usually less of a problem for owner-managers who need to do these things in order to ensure that there is enough money to pay the bills. But getting the balance right and choosing the right course of action for a particular employee can still be a challenge.

So let’s start with the “Doing”.

Owner-managers are good at doing. They are people that get things done.

In fact, it may well be their ability to get things done which prompted them to start their business in the first place.

But imperceptibly, the things they had to do grew until their “to do” list was at bursting point. Books and courses improved things but ultimately there are only 168 hours in the week and a few of those need to be set aside for sleeping, eating and you never know the odd family outing!

The week is full, I need help.

I need to Delegate.

We’ll come back to the “doing” bit later.

Except sometimes it’s not that easy.

One of the top-selling management books of all time The One Minute Manager takes us on a journey through the development of an employee from an inexperienced unskilled team member through to a level four member of staff that you can trust to do the job you need them to do without supervision.

The general idea (and hence the name of the book) is that your employee is so confident in their role that you only need to check in on them for one minute a day because you are confident that if there is a problem that they will contact you.

I guess this is the sort of staff member that well-meaning people envisage when they lecture you about how you “need to delegate more”.

But the key is to delegate the right things to the right people. The truth is that you may be delegating too much. Are you passing on pieces of work to colleagues who if you’re honest about it, are not going to do the job the way you need it to be done? Are you simply dodging the real task that you need to tackle which is to train that person properly?

If you are, then it will all end in tears. And you may well absolve yourself of any blame even though events may have been entirely predictable.

Or maybe you’re not delegating enough. Or perhaps not delegating in the right way.

One of my favourite clients is a company called UK Typing. I have a little dictation app on my phone which allows me to record my notes of meetings, upload it to their portal (one click) and then within a few hours, my notes are all typed up. Many of you will have received copies of some of those notes with the action points highlighted in bold and orange.

Although I do these for clients, that’s not the primary purpose. The main reason I do them is so that my colleagues who are going to deliver the work have the full picture of what they need to do, the reasons for doing it and any background information that will help.

Sometimes I get asked questions about my notes but it’s very rare. Usually the person concerned has enough to get on and do the job. In other words, it’s allowed me to delegate the work.

But what if the person doesn’t have the skills to get on and do that job on their own?

Well that’s when you have to move on to the 3rd D of Management; Directing.

Directing is what you need to do when the person doing the job doesn’t have the skills to do the whole thing themselves.

Directing involves breaking a particular project down into bite-sized chunks and feeding those chunks to them one at a time.

Directing usually works best when the person you are directing is working near you. They can ask you questions, and you can give them the next “bite” as soon as they finish the last one. And you can actually see them, so you have a good idea if they are struggling. This is really helpful if there is a risk of the person concerned getting stuck and being too afraid to say anything.

But directing is hard when the workers concerned are not in the same location as you. Anyone running a transport or travel company will have a catalogue of stories about drivers who have gone “rogue” on them and done something they shouldn’t have done.

And of course, with so many workers now based at home, directing has become harder and even office-based businesses will struggle. This is likely to become a barrier for businesses to take on school-leavers or graduates.

But if you use technology wisely and don’t forget that your junior member of staff might be struggling, this can be overcome. Make sure you check in regularly with them, use Microsoft Teams so you can talk face to face and share screens.

One big problem comes when your member of staff is somewhere between Delegating and Directing. It is critical, that just because a member of staff cracks one aspect of their job, you don’t immediately jump from directing to delegating.

Later you may find yourself scratching your head as to why a staff member who showed such promise is making lots of mistakes, but the cause might be your management style.

But even if you get it right, your member of staff might simply not want to do the job you have given them or maybe not want to do it the way you need it to be done. We have all had these members of staff!

Often, they start off doing things the right way, so you leave them to it. And then you find out (usually because a customer has complained or an error has occurred), that things have been going wrong, perhaps for a while.

This one step forward, one step backward is a huge waste of time and is highly damaging to the business.

You now need to move on to the fourth stage of management; Demanding.

Some people are more comfortable at this than others.

Managers will often find excuses for their employees. “They’ve been having a difficult time at home recently” or “they’ve been really busy”.

Neither of those excuses wash. Those are not reasons why someone would (clearly) deliberately ignore important processes. Look at it as a customer. Imagine you are sitting on the plane waiting to take off to Magaluf or wherever and you hear that the engineer responsible for the pre-flight maintenance keeps ignoring key points on the checklist because he’s got some personal problems. Erm…..

Of course, you can always do those things yourself which is what some (weak) managers do. Or you can gently remind the member of staff for the umpteenth time about the importance of the issue, effectively making their excuses for them. If they do change, you’ll be delighted, but they’ll probably slip back into their old habits when you’re no longer looking.

Or you can attack it like a bull in a china shop, ranting and raving over their behaviour.

The latter is about as effective as the former. The latter will just create an enemy.

It’s time for firm but fair. I call this “the chat”.

I’ve exhausted subtle encouragement and gentle reminders. I need to call them in for a meeting.

I may deliver this in what is known as a “shit sandwich”. That’s where you start with something encouraging (e.g. we’ve made some real progress on….) and try and end with something positive (e.g. “if we pull together on this, we can sort the problem out”). But there’s no avoiding the filling in the sandwich I’m afraid.

It’s important to note that “the chat” is not part of any official disciplinary process but of course you may only be one step away from that. The “chat” needs to include the following:

  • An explanation of the continued failures. Some evidence will help
  • An explanation of the impact of that failure on other people in the firm
  • An explanation of the damage to the business such as to reputation or profits

There must be no doubt left that it is continued actions of the employee concerned which have caused these problems.

You need to make it clear that this cannot go on and you need to set out exactly what you expect going forward.

You must do this even if the person concerned is a really nice chap or lady.

Some employees will buck their ideas up as a result of “the chat”. Others will mentally leave the business during the meetings (and immediately start looking for another job). The first is what you want but even the second is preferable to them staying and continuing to fail.

Whilst the meeting is in progress, make sure you take some notes. And after the meeting type them into an email setting out what has been agreed and what actions are required. Back to that Dictaphone again!

This will add to the importance of what you are saying and will give you something to refer back to later if necessary.

And by “if necessary”, I’m talking about the situation where someone is determined to stay and fail. If that’s the case, then you will need to step into the HR process I’m afraid. Verbal warning, written warning etc. Email for details of how we can help in this area.

And there we’re there aren’t we? A nice balance between all four techniques and your business should settle down.

“Four? I thought you said five”.

Ah yes, the fifth D of management.


Sounds like such a negative word doesn’t it?

But it is a critical management technique.

In theory, your team will go through a number of stages as explained in Josh’s article “Forming, storming, norming, performing”.

Unfortunately, some teams go through the forming, storming, norming stage but then move onto under-performing. Or they start off performing and as complacency sets in, slide back to under-performing. Or maybe the world has changed and what qualified as performing previously is not good enough anymore.

It’s easy as a manager to turn a blind eye to this situation. You’ve got so many things to do!

But the clues are always there. Some Key Performance Indicators are starting to slide, no-one has asked you a question about a particular issue for a while (suggesting that they have either become an expert or aren’t dealing with that issue) or you’ve spotted little things that are not quite right. Those little things may well be the tip of the iceberg.

But that iceberg is getting bigger. And eventually it will sink you.

Disrupting isn’t as hard as it sounds. Sometimes it just requires you to summon up your inner Louis Theroux and ask someone what sounds like a perfectly innocent and even naïve question about a particular issue. The reaction will tell you all you need to know.

If the person concerned starts explaining in detail what they’ve been doing and highlighting all the good and bad points them you can usually be fairly confident that they have it under control. A really positive discussion will follow where you might give them some advice and then leave them to it.

But there are three other responses which indicate that all is not well:

  1. If this is the response, you can either back off or keep probing. You must do the latter even if it feels like a painful tooth extraction. Evasiveness usually indicates that a problem is being covered up and you need to get to the bottom of it.
  2. This usually indicates that the person concerned is feeling guilty about the issue so has their excuses pre-prepared. “I’m too busy” will usually feature heavily. You need to work through these excuses and solve the issue
  3. Outright hostility. “The best form of defence is attack” and all that. For whatever reason, the person is not prepared to do the job the way you need it done. There is probably a whole article about the different tactics to use here but backing down must not be one of them

Disrupting is probably the hardest of the five Ds of management to master and the easiest to duck or dodge. It’s uncomfortable and your subconscious will always find excuses for you to not do it.

But being prepared to do it will avoid the biggest problems. The ones that creep up on you over months and even years. The ones that chip away at profits until they become losses. The ones that turn occasional minor complaints from clients into legal cases and insurance claims. The ones that turn otherwise good members of staff into negative influences one step away from leaving.

But I promised that we would return to the first D – Doing.

Because ultimately there is only one of you. You only have a certain amount of hours in the day. There is only one thing you can do next.

And its your decision-making process that is the root cause of the success or failure of your business.

You can have the most well-organised “to do list” in the world but if it doesn’t have the right thing at the top, then it isn’t working.

One of the best bits of advice I was ever given was that I should put a sign on my desk which said “are you the only person in the world who can do this task?”.

If you ask that question, then you are well on the way to doing the right things.

If it can be delegated, delegate. If you can allocate it to someone less experienced by directing them through it, then get on and direct.

But some things can’t be passed on to others. Sometimes you are the only person in the world (or maybe your business who can do it) and therefore it needs to be you. It may be designing a system (but letting someone else fill in the detail) or delivering a training session to pass on your knowledge and experience. Or it may be some of that “demanding” and “disrupting” I talked about earlier.

Monday is another day in Pandemic Normal. Business is not going to get easier. The number of hours in the week is not going to get any bigger. There is only one you and one thing you can do next. Choose wisely.

Have a good weekend.

Contact me today!

Malcolm Palmer


Managing Partner

01474 853856

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