Either Put Me in Charge or Let Me Be a Lackey. I’m Fine with Either, But I Can’t Do Both.

stickman in charge or lackeyA friend recently updated their status with the title to this article. Ironically, I saw it just as I got off a call with a client who  was explaining that somehow she was expected to serve as both the strategic visionary and tactical processor for her company’s multinational LTIP programs. The simple request in my friends status update seemed reasonable, well thought-out and familiar. As we traverse the crags of an uneven recovery, companies have found it difficult to create compensation plans that perform as expected. As budgets continue to be bound by uncertainty, companies have been unwilling, or unable, to hire tactical help. This leaves compensation departments in a quandary. When should we strategize and when should we make things happen?

For those of you who are feeling like your personality and activities are being split down the middle, I’d like to suggest a small exercise. Take 4 hours and block it off your calendar. (I know you don’t have 4 free hours, but trust me this may really help.) Let’s just pretend you blocked off 10:00am-2:00pm tomorrow.

  • 10:00-10:30: Spend the first 30 minutes making a list of every strategic idea you would address if you were in charge of everything, but not responsible for doing any of the tasks. Rank based on compliance, urgency, cost and benefit.  Call this your “Strategy List”.
  • 10:30-11:00: Focus the next 30 minutes making a list of every process you would improve if you didn’t have to worry about planning, administration or reporting tasks. Rank based on compliance, urgency, cost and benefit. Call this your “Tactics List”.
  • 11:00-11:30: The next 30 minutes make list of all the tasks you would do if you were never interrupted by other things. Think about the minutiae and get granular. Rank based on compliance, urgency, cost and benefit. Call this your “Tasks List”.
  • 11:30-12:00: Go through the Strategy, Tactics and Tasks lists and mark each item that ONLY someone with your skill set or better (not you) can get done. Then mark those that can be done by someone with a lesser skill set.
  • 12:00-12:30:  Look at the remaining items. These are the things that you believe ONLY YOU can accomplish. Is this list realistic? Can anything be moved to one of the other lists? When this list is down to two or three items, you are set for a promotion.
  • 12:30-2:00: Go have a nice lunch with a friend.  Celebrate that you just figured out how to put yourself in charge or be a lackey.

A very smart manager once told me “irreplaceable is unpromotable.” She made it clear that as long as I was the only one who could do certain things, I would remain the only one doing those things. Turns out, it’s basic logic. If you want to stop doing things on your list, you must first figure out a way for others to do them (or to make the items go away altogether.)

Look at your lists again. Which things do you really want to be doing? Of everything that’s left, can you train, hire, outsource, bring in consulting or temporary staff to get them done? If yes, put together a business case for exactly that. If no, keep working on your lists until the answer is yes. I have seen people change things in a week or two and I have seen cases where the changes were so large or numerous that it would take 6-12 months to get them done. I have never seen company where the changes were impossible.

The key is this: If you want to be in charge, the first step is figuring out how to be in charge. Regardless of whether you want to be a lackey or in charge, the first step is to define what those terms mean. The next step is to clearly communicate to those who can help make the change. This may be your boss, colleagues, or the staff working for you. The key is to show what’s in it for them (WIIFM). If they see the personal benefit, they may be inclined to help.  If you communicate things as a plea for help, you may get short-term traction, but nothing will really change.

So, put yourself in charge or make yourself the lackey, but only you can ensure that you’re not both.