Elevate and Delegate

By Georges Duverger

I was recently asked, “what do you hate doing [at work]?” It took me a few weeks of introspection but I realized that I don't like having to convince people. I know how it sounds coming from a product person but let me explain.

I love to debate. I can play devil's advocate for hours. I believe the majority of disagreements can be resolved with intellectually honest conversations. I also love to educate myself and others. That's why I joined companies in industries I didn't know much about beforehand (genomics and maritime) and why I volunteer to onboard new employees.

To convince is different. Too often in the workplace convincing means arguing until the other person gives up.

It reminds me of Amazon's “disagree and commit” management principle. It sounds good in theory but it's hard to put into practice. If I disagreed before and you haven't changed my mind, I still disagree. I might not bring it up—call it committing if you'd like—but, if it happens too many times, it will build up frustration.

What should we do then when we disagree?

I would like to propose a different management principle for the few cases when debating an issue isn't enough: “elevate and delegate.” Elevate the discussion, delegate the ownership. In other words, let's figure out a higher goal that we have in common and let's let the person who will be doing the work, own the work.

For example, Alice wants to implement a passwordless login option (magic link) for her company's website. Bob doesn't think it's worth it. After a long and unproductive meeting, they agree on a relevant metric to improve (maybe the number of failed login attempts per month). Once that metric is in place, Alice can own that initiative and implement her solution. Alice and Bob then schedule another meeting a few weeks later to review the progress toward the agreed-upon goal.

“Elevate and delegate” is not an innovative concept and there are other ways to resolve conflicts in the workplace. Regardless of what methods we use, we should pay attention to tacit disagreements swept under the rug under the pretense of committing.




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