A tough job

Mar 25, 2019

When it comes to delegation, you have to pick the right person for the right job, and set them up to succeed.

Homework. Whether it brings to mind bleary-eyed, Red Bull-fueled all-nighters, or if you have kids, an equally horrible image of a frustrated, teary child yelling that they “just don’t know.” Regardless of what vision it conjures, homework is a scary word.

The other night, I stationed my 11-year-old step-son at the kitchen table with a laptop to do his homework. While I stayed busy in the kitchen, he kept calling over the counter, wanting to know another word for process, or another word for species. These are things a parent never wants to hear, and something one quickly realizes should not be answered when the homework is actually not about listing synonyms.

After a brief lecture on plagiarism (as a former English major, the “P word” is something I was taught to associate with extreme fear and anxiety), and a game of “20 questions” to figure out what exactly his assignment was, I extracted the information – he was supposed to be creating a PowerPoint presentation based on an article about restoring the ecosystem of Mozambique. His solution was to copy random sentences from the article, changing a few common words, and turn these into bullet points on slides, bordered with his favorite Google images of “Animals in Africa.”

Although I had a mountain of dishes, two loads of laundry, a fence to repair, and an article to write, I knew everything else had to wait. Two hours later, he finally understood the assignment and had managed to create a presentation. It took a lot of work and time from both of us, but he learned a new skill and will be better able to tackle the next assignment.

Everyone in the AEC industry is busy right now. Every day seems to go by in a flash, and the to-do list grows faster than the got ‘er done list. While delegation seems like a natural solution to the problem of being “too-busy,” it’s harder than ever to find a person to delegate to. How often have you refused to pass off a task because the person you have to pass it on to won’t do it like you will?

Leaders have to learn to both delegate and mentor. Although you have to pick the right people for the right jobs, you also have to ensure that those placed in these positions have skills and information to do their best at what is asked of them. When we get busy, taking a detour to explain a process or concept can seem like a luxury better reserved for a different time.

It can be a frustrating task to help someone else with their work, especially if it seems like they have an easy or obvious task. But if you’re in a position of leadership, it’s one of your most important jobs.

Formal mentorship and training programs are a great way to make sure that leaders have the time and capacity for this endeavor. But even the Best Firms To Work For need to do better in this area. Our 2018 Award Program found that employees rated their firms’ mentoring program an average of 6.8/10 when asked if it was something that was being used effectively to retain employees and reduce turnover. Employees also rated the quality and frequency of these programs a 6.8 and 6.7, respectively, showing a need and desire for improvement in this area.

Just like helping with homework, when we can help another person understand what it is that needs to be done and why it needs to be done that way, we are providing something both necessary and valuable to the organization. It’s these moments of mentorship and delegation that help everyone advance in their careers, and that help firms grow and thrive.

Have you experienced the benefit of a mentor in your career? Does your firm have a program or initiative that is making a difference? We’d love to hear about it!

Christina Zweig Niehues is Zweig Group’s director of business development. She can be reached at czweig@zweiggroup.com.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.