Opportunistic Outsourcing

Business coach Peter Drucker was known for dispensing some sage advice that still rings true decades later:

Do what you do best and outsource the rest.

What comes to mind when you hear that mantra? An immediate list likely appears of all the tasks you know are not the greatest use of your efforts and energy. In the 15 seconds, you’ve spent thinking about what pops to mind; you may already have vowed to no longer waste time on select mundane projects or responsibilities that fill your plate, leaving room for much else. “I really need to hire someone to manage my schedule” or “someone else should be responsible for compiling our weekly reports” are certainly reasonable, but the outsourcing we are going to cover in this SRA Update is far more strategic.

Instead of viewing outsourcing as a chance to create more time for you, shift instead to think through how outsourcing could actually create an opportunity for others within your team.

The Shift

Stop thinking of outsourcing as the things you no longer want to do and look instead at the opportunities you could create for others. A great leader is always one step ahead of career path advancement for key contributors. Take a moment (or a few hours) to evaluate each direct report you have; who do you know each are capable of becoming over the next few years and beyond? Now, what do you need to teach each of them to advance their responsibilities and skillsets?

You have now defined your first round of opportunistic outsourcing.

Think less about performance management and think more about professional development. Do you spend the same amount of time talking about where you see a key contributor’s career going as you do talking about how they are doing with deadlines or quotas? Is your coaching equally dedicated to skills that will help them achieve in their current role just as much as prepare them for the next step you believe they could grow into? Do you purposefully put key contributors in situations in which they may fail, but that failure propels growth?

At times, you may need to believe in others a little more than they believe in themselves. The best leaders help their team members discover their genius.

Survivorship Bias

When you focus too heavily on the “survivors” of a given group, you tend to ignore essential qualities about the rest of the population. Take entrepreneurship; we tend to gravitate toward the most successful entrepreneurs in the world when we study examples. Richard Branson, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg all dropped out of school; learning about them, many people conclude that you don’t necessarily need a college education to succeed.

But for every Branson, Gates, and Zuckerberg, there are thousands, if not millions, of other entrepreneurs who dropped out of school and failed in business. We just don’t hear about them, and so we don’t take them into account. The misconception? You should focus on the successful if you wish to become successful.

How does this relate to our topic at hand? Until now, we have been focusing on key contributors – those whom you feel strongly will continue to play an integral role in the success of your organization. What about those who hover just below that line?

One option is certainly to “top grade” and perpetually focus on proactive hiring that improves the strength of your bench, not just hiring that fills empty seats. Spend less time addressing reoccurring performance issues and instead craft a hiring plan that proactively attracts the “A” or “B+” contributors to the team.

An additional option is to opportunistically outsource. Give others the chance to take on tasks and responsibilities they succeed with and are passionate about. Be sensitive to the skills and interests of individuals; match the dreamer with more creative tasks and the perfectionist with the detail-oriented projects. Just think how much more would get done if people only did jobs for which they had a talent and a passion. Don’t focus only on the already successful individuals within your team, but outsource thoughtfully to those to whom you are still trying to uncover their fullest potential.

Just Ask

Not sure what to outsource, and to whom? Challenge yourself to get to know those on your team. Ask questions to assess the present and design the future:

  • When you come to work each day, what things do you look forward to?

  • What are you learning here? What have you not yet been given the chance to take on, that you’d like to?

  • Is this what you want to do?

  • What can I do to make your experience here better?

  • What would you be excited to take on? (projects, responsibilities, clients)

  • When was the last time you feel like you massively over-delivered on something? What was it, and why did you work so hard?

  • What would make you listen to a call you’d get from a recruiter? Be honest; no judgment!

  • What’s on your personal and professional bucket list?

  • Fast-forward a year (two years, five years) from now; what would you be most proud of having accomplished?

Even when individuals are assigned difficult challenges, when they are involved in the decision, there is a huge increase in performance. Those who volunteer look at projects as developmental, while those who are assigned regard the task as hard labor. Take the initiative now to truly engage the hearts and minds of your team, so they one day will have the ability to opportunistic outsource to the next generation of future leaders within your firm.

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