Long-distance delegation. (delegation of authority) (Column)
by Daniel Janal
For the mobile manager, keeping in touch with subordinates can be perplexing. For Terry Kalil, public relations manager for Great Plains Software, who spends about 40 percent of her time on the road, it's a fact of life.
How does a manager go about managing workers she rarely even sees?
"In the past year I've gone from [being the] sole person to heading a staff of three. It has presented incredible challenges," says Kalil. Her full-time staffers are a publicity specialist and two publicity coordinators. She also shares an administrative assistant.
Because of her frequent absences, her staff has matured quickly. "In many ways I think my team is a stronger team because I am not here. They are learning to make day-to-day decisions," she says. "There is a great joy in finding [that] projects get done."
Yet there are special challenges for the mobile manager who manages from different time zones.
"Anytime you are developing a team, the challenge is to be a teacher via long distance," she says. "It is critical that when I'm in town I spend a lot of time laying out assignments, managing their current work, and providing feedback. One of the things we're implementing is a detailed planning-within-plan process." This means that every task is broken down into a set of steps and procedures, as on a flow chart.
However, she warns other managers that disaster can occur if a manager doesn't set boundaries for authority and decision making by workers. "You need to set policies that empower employees to make decisions within a range that's appropriate [for] their experience," she says. "When you are gone a lot, they need that authority."
She advises managers to make sure that everyone understands the steps to complete the project. "I'm very big on having systems. They are critical to getting things done. They are important to remove redundancy." She's in the process of creating a training and procedures manual for her staff that will include such topics as how to update the database and how to write a press release.
Kalil shares these rules for mobile managers:
* Decide who will make decisions on which subjects.
* Create clear ground rules.
* Set clear limits of authority.
* Encourage communication with your team. Ask them to leave voice mail. Let them come to you. Call them back as soon as possible. Leave a detailed itenerary so they can get in touch.
* Give your people space and independence.
It's important for managers to communicate clearly the purpose of their field trips. "Always tell people . . . what you got out of [a trip]. If all you talk about is this great party or that great dinner, it creates the wrong impression in people's minds," she says. "If you tell people about the great concert or Broadway play, be sure to tell them about getting stood up for an appointment or delays at the airport. You must be sensitive to what war stories you tell."
Not only does she have to stay in touch with her staff, but she must also report to her managers. She says this is not a problem because the corporate culture accepts the telephone, with its special strengths and weaknesses, as a fact of life.
"A lot depends on corporate culture. The company must be flexible and informal. People are top priority, instead of how many documents [are] processed," she says. Because of this philosophy, her own performance review was conducted via voice mail with her manager. "It was not uncomfortable because our communication skills have adapted. It feels like we are talking face to face."
One important dimension of using technology is discipline. "Discipline means you check your E-mail and voice mail on a daily--or hourly--basis to stay connected to your employees in a timely manner," she says. "In a nutshell, it means not letting the technology replace the human elements of communication that are the keys to successfully using technology as a management tool."
Kalil's system for combining people, technology, and travel seems to have worked. The amount of media coverage received by the company has doubled in the past year, as has the number of leads generated by publicity.