The best Google managers empower their teams and do not micromanage.

This idea came in at No. 2 on Google's top 10 list of effective manager traits. If you haven't heard the story, Google in an effort to prove that bosses weren't necessary, ended up finding the exact opposite -- managers not only matter, but they can significantly influence the performance of their teams. But they didn't stop there. After realizing that managers were important, they embarked on a quest to uncover all the behaviors that made some more effective than others. The initiative became known as Project Oxygen

Although the other nine behaviors are important, I would argue that empowering teams (without micromanaging) is the most crucial. Without a sense of ownership and connection to their work, it won't matter if employees have the right skills, access to coaching, or collaboration opportunities. They need the motivation to perform before these other aspects will come into play.  

One of the easiest ways for a manager to empower and motivate employees is to provide opportunity and autonomy by delegating work. 

There are limits, of course. As a manager, you're certainly not going to offload projects detrimental to the success of the company without oversight. But I'd venture to guess you have a number of other tasks you're holding onto that would be great candidates for delegation. It's easy to get wrapped up with work that's safe and familiar and to hoard tasks simply because we have always owned them. 

To help its managers determine the work they should delegate, Google asks leaders to:

  • Look at the goals. What is the end-game, and what does the team need to do to achieve its goals? Break down the work and identify parts that can be delegated. 
  • Look at yourself. In which areas do you have strengths and responsibilities, and what should you delegate? 
  • Recognize the right person for the work. Take a look at your team's skills and ask yourself who has clear strengths in the areas you want to delegate. Use your employees like "chess pieces" and strategically assign work that plays to their abilities. In the process, you'll not only empower but also increase the overall productivity of the team. 

Alright, you know what to delegate and who to delegate it to. Now it's time to actually hand-off the task. 

It takes a lot of upfront effort to train others. The process of mentoring a backup can be so time-consuming that many would rather overload themselves and run the risk of burn-out than teach someone else. It may not be convenient in the short term, but it's necessary for both you and your employee's development in the long run.

1. Give an overview of the work.

Discuss the scope and significance of the project. Tell your employee why you selected them and the impact the work has on the business. 

2. Describe the details of the new responsibility.

Discuss your desired outcome and clarify expectations. Tell the employee what you expect, but not how to do it. It's essential to give them the autonomy and freedom to learn and grow from the experience -- not just follow orders.  

3. Solicit questions, reactions, and suggestions.

The conversation should be a two-way street. Remember, the ultimate goal is to put your employee in the driver's seat. Make sure they have all the information they need to assume ownership and accountability, and to meet expectations.  

4. Listen to the delegatee's comments and respond empathetically.

This is new and uncharted territory for your employee. Ease their anxiety and create a psychologically safe environment where the employee feels comfortable voicing concerns, discussing hesitations, and coming to you for help. 

5. Share how this impacts the team.

So employees understand the importance of their work and prioritize accordingly, make sure you connect the dots and explain how the task supports other team initiatives. 

6. Be encouraging.

Employees won't take full responsibility until you encourage them to do so. Make sure they understand that you're trusting them to deliver results. 

7. Establish checkpoints, results, deadlines, and ways to monitor progress.

Although they have autonomy, make sure employees know the critical milestones they need to hit and what success look like to gauge progress. 

Delegating isn't the easiest thing to do. But you have to look at it as an investment in your employees. They learn, and you pick up more bandwidth to tackle other things -- everyone wins. 

Published on: Jul 22, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.