Why isn’t your delegating working?

Frustration was written all over Mike’s (name has been changed) face as he arrived at our session. ‘How are you?’ I asked, tentatively.

‘Annoyed with myself,’ he answered, ‘although I don’t know why I didn’t expect this to happen.’ He settled into his seat before continuing. ‘It seems like every single time I delegate a task, I end up having to take it back and it takes me even longer to complete than it would have done if I’d just done the whole thing myself.’

‘Every time?’ I queried. ‘Is this when you delegate a task to one particular person or to anyone?’

‘Pretty much every time and pretty much everyone. I guess that means that the common denominator is me – it must be something I do. Can you help me unpick what’s going on?’

We spent Mike’s session looking for common themes in why Mike’s delegation wasn’t working effectively. Here’s what we identified.

The team members to whom Mike was delegating:

  1. Didn’t realise the importance of the task
  2. Didn’t have a clear understanding of what needed to be done
  3. Underestimated the impact of the task on current workload
  4. Didn’t have the right experience or skills to complete the task
  5. Had every intention of fulfilling the task but had other people pulling them in different directions
  6. Were uncomfortable coming back to Mike when the task wasn’t going well.

Having found some pointers as to what could be going wrong, we looked at how Mike could address each of the points in order to improve his delegation in future.

From now on, Mike has committed to:

  1. Give a background story to the task so that the other party understands how it fits in to the bigger picture and why it’s important;
  2. Give a clear brief on the task: not just what needs to be done, but by when and in what manner (eg bullet point update or full report);
  3. Ensure that he reviews the other party’s current workload with them and establishes priorities before handing over a new task;
  4. Choose the right person for the task, not just the person who seems to have time to do it. If he intends the task to be an opportunity for his team member to learn some new skills or gain experience, he needs to take this into account by:
    1. Allowing time in his own schedule to be involved in the task alongside them
    2. Identifying, and gaining the agreement of, another person who can support Mike’s team member
    3. Allowing extra time for the task to be completed;
  5. Inform any other key stakeholders of the delegated task and its importance in order to ‘ring fence’ his team member from other extra work;
  6. Ensures that his team member feels that they are able to – and have a responsibility to – let him know if things aren’t going well so that they can review and re-work if necessary. Mike also plans to make it clear what the constraints of a task are: eg, if the team member sees an action that needs to be taken in order to make the task happen, can they initiate it or do they need to make a recommendation to Mike and wait for him to give approval before they proceed?

Today’s pebble for you to consider: how are your delegation skills? Would it help to adopt some of Mike’s ideas or do you have some other ideas you could implement?

What do you think?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’re ready to transform your work and life, email me and let’s have a conversation about how we can work together.





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Everyone needs a little encouragement

As I write this, the 2017 London Marathon is just a few days away. Everyone I know who has run a marathon in the past has talked about the vital support offered to them by their friends and family, not just on the day but during the many months of training.

I was intrigued to read of the Buxton Memory Lane which will be situated at Mile 12 of the London Marathon course. Buxton Water is offering 35 runners the opportunity to run a short section of the route alongside someone who’s been supporting them throughout their training. The runners will share a taste of their incredible experience with their supporter, creating a wonderful memory. It’s hoped that this brief shared experience will lift the spirits of the runners as they approach the halfway point, reminding them of the reason for all their hard work and spurring them on for the rest of the course.

One of the reasons I love this idea is that it emphasises the importance of us encouraging one another. Part of my role as a coach is to cheer on my clients, reminding them of how far they’ve come already and that I know they have it in them to make it to their goals. Seeing them make progress and achieve their objectives then encourages me in turn.

I hope that we have all been the recipients of an encouraging word when our spirits were flagging and therefore that we understand the importance of offering support to others.

Today’s pebble for you to ponder is also a bit of a challenge: I’d like you to think about who you could encourage and then go ahead and offer that encouragement.

Have fun!


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’d like me to cheer you on and hold you accountable as you transform your work and life, email me and let’s have a conversation about how we can work together.

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Ever felt the need to prove yourself?

Ella (not her real name) and I were talking about her career. She is a driven, ambitious woman with a fierce determination to succeed. However, she reported, she’d been feeling under more pressure recently.

‘I went to a university reunion’ she explained, ‘and as you’d expect, everyone was talking about what we do for a living. It seems that a lot of my friends from back then have gone on to work within our field of study – lots of analysts and statisticians, a couple of stockbrokers and bankers, even one university lecturer. I was one of the only ones who’d done anything different.’

‘How did that make you feel?’ I asked.

‘Like I had to justify my choices! I seemed to spend the whole evening telling people about my business and my great team and the award we won last year and how I still get to spend precious time with my family … I couldn’t stop myself.’

‘And what was that like?’

‘I hated it. I could hear myself babbling on. I was comparing myself to them and what they did and the decisions they made and I just kept on and on talking. I don’t think they even cared. I just felt the need to prove myself. I’ve got a big family wedding coming up soon and I know it will be the same. I don’t want to feel like that.’

‘Let’s stop for a minute and think about how you do want to feel,’ I suggested.

We sat quietly for a few minutes and then Ella started jotting down a few notes. When she put her pen down, she smiled and said,

‘I’ve got it. I want to answer honestly any questions about how things are going for me with my work, not shying away from the things that have been difficult but instead talk about what I’ve learnt or am doing differently. I want to laugh about some of the crazy stuff that’s happened and to be proud of what I’ve achieved but not big-headed. I want to ask them how they are doing, how their families are, how work is. I just want to feel like it’s a normal conversation, not like a promo for “Ella and her wonderful world”!’

‘It sounds to me like rather than proving yourself, you just want to be yourself. Is that right?’ I asked.

‘That’s it exactly – I’m going to keep telling myself that: don’t prove yourself, be yourself.’

Today’s pebble for your thoughts: what would it be like to just be yourself this week, without feeling any need to prove yourself?

What do you think?

ps I’m taking a blog break for Easter: back on Friday 21 April.

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’re ready to transform your work and life, email me and let’s have a conversation about how we can work together.

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Job crafting: finding meaning in our work

An old story goes like this:

Once a traveller came across three stonemasons, all chipping away at huge blocks of stone. He asks the first one what he is doing.

‘It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? I’m cutting stone. And to be honest, I’ll be glad when this day is done, I get paid and I can go home.’

The traveller then speaks to the second man, who replies: ‘I’m cutting this stone to make it the perfect fit with all the others that have been cut. I’m not sure what they’re going to do with them but whatever it is, it should look good when it’s built. It’s hard work in this heat though – I can’t wait until it’s finishing time and I can go for a pint.’

The traveller approaches the third man who is whistling away to himself, standing back from time to time to admire his work, smiling as he wipes the sweat from his brow. ‘What are you doing?’ the traveller asks.

‘I’m building a cathedral,’ the third stonemason replies.

Professor Amy Wrzesniewski and her colleagues conducted an study which asked some hospital cleaning staff the same question: what are you doing? Their answers fell into similar categories to the cathedral story. Some of them described themselves by their job title and about their responsibilities in exactly the same way as their job descriptions were written. Others described themselves in their own words, speaking of themselves in terms other than their job title. One called herself a ‘healer’ because she created sterile spaces in which people could get well.

Professor Wrzesniewski states how important it is to realise that this isn’t just a bit of positive thinking: it’s about actual tangible steps that people take to do their jobs differently. One cleaner would swap around the pictures on the walls of the rooms in which comatose patients were staying in case a change in their environment might somehow spark recovery.

Professor Wrzesniewski and her colleagues call this process ‘job crafting’:

‘What employees do to redesign their own jobs in ways that foster engagement at work, job satisfaction, resilience, and thriving.’

(Berg, Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2010)

You can watch Professor Wrzesniewski’s twelve minute talk at re:Work with Google here: Job Crafting – Amy Wrzesniewski on creating meaning in your own work.

As a professional development coach, I often work with clients who want to find more meaning in their work and so we practise some job crafting together.

If a client isn’t sure whether now is the right time to change jobs, we work together to find out what they do enjoy about their current jobs and how they can do more of that whilst still supporting their organisation’s goals. Clients sometimes find that their issues are internal rather than external ones and so together we find internal solutions to those challenges. In cases whether the problems are external, we discover how the client can mitigate the issues. For some clients, this process has resulted in them finding the meaning they were looking for and deciding to stay in their current role.

Other clients will choose to move on to another role. The work that we’ve done on evaluating the positives and negatives of previous roles better equips them in their search for a new role: you could say that they use job crafting to help them pin down what they are looking for in a new job.

For clients who already feel that they are building cathedrals, job crafting can keep them on track to ensure that they continue to be engaged, committed and fulfilled in their work.

In some instances, my client is in the position of being able to encourage job crafting within his or her organisation and we’ve worked together on a plan to introduce it to the business.

Today’s pebble for you to ponder is this: what are you doing? Are you chipping away at a stone or building a cathedral?

What do you think?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’re ready to craft your work and life, email me and let’s have a conversation about how we can work together.

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The clocks go forward but I’m looking back

When I was a child, I found the concept of Daylight Saving Time to be rather baffling. I understood that I lost an hour in March and that I gained one in October: that bit was fine. What confused me is where was the hour I’d lost? When I got one back in October, was it the same hour? I don’t know why this mattered to me but what can I say? I was a pensive child.

Anyway, the clocks go forward on Sunday 26 March in the UK and so the hour we’ll lose has been on my mind. I guess we see it as a loss because the time change takes place whilst most of us are asleep and for the same reason, maybe a lot of us sleep through the hour we gain back later in the year.

Out of curiosity, I contacted several clients and friends to ask them a simple question: ‘If you had an extra hour today, how would you spend it?’

I had twenty-two responses and here they are:

  1. I would go to the coffee shop on the sea front and read my new book.
  2. I’d do some Spanish revision or maybe play some Abe’s Oddysee.
  3. I’d have more quality time with my boys.
  4. I would go for a long peaceful walk, just me on my own: enjoy the sunshine and the nature around me and gather my thoughts.
  5. I’d get out my sadly-neglected sketch book and do some drawing.
  6. Read more stories to my kids.
  7. I would leave work on time, go home and go for a walk with my husband and dog.
  8. Sleep or read!
  9. I’d ask a new colleague to come out for coffee with me so I can get to know her better.
  10. Have a long, hot bath.
  11. I’d finish the dress I started making before Christmas.
  12. Those of us (on holiday) in Paris would have an extra coffee and watch the Parisians go about their business looking very chic.
  13. Bake a cake for my elderly neighbour.
  14. Read.
  15. Do some writing for work.
  16. Meditate.
  17. I’d make a meal of ten tiny courses that would take an hour in total to eat.
  18. I’d take myself off, sit in silence, close my eyes and just breathe. See what amazing thoughts come to me when I take a break from the brash, noisy, frenetic, demanding world around me.
  19. Make myself a cup of tea and call a friend I haven’t spoken to in a while.
  20. 20 minutes on Headspace app, 20 minutes drinking tea mindfully and then spend the last 20 minutes when my mind is clear, making plans.
  21. Sit down and have an uninterrupted conversation with my wife.
  22. I’d go for a long walk on my own.

I’m interested that only one response refers to doing more work. Other than that, it seems that people would spend an extra hour taking the opportunity to step away from the day to day and instead move towards creativity, relaxation, connection with family and friends, and clearing the mind – whether that’s through mindfulness or a walk.

Each of these answers is important to the person who gave it. Each of them represents something they wish they had more time to do. I hope that by having answered the question, they will be encouraged to find an extra hour somewhere over the next few days and do the thing they’d love to do.

Today’s pebble for you to contemplate: what would you do if you had an extra hour? How can you find an extra hour in which to do it?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’d like to make progress in your work and life, email me and let’s have a conversation about how we can work together.

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Decision-making traps seem to be all around us

Over the last couple of posts, I’ve been writing about making difficult decisions and some of the reasons they can be difficult: the traps along our way. None of us is immune to these traps: our brains are busy and therefore, rather than use huge amounts of energy each time we need to come to a decision, we develop short cuts or rules of thumb to help us get there more quickly. These short cuts are fantastically useful for much of the time but just occasionally, they can become traps leading to poor decisions.

Knowing that these traps exists means that you can recognise them when they crop up and take action to test your decision before following through. If you didn’t recognise the anchoring, framing or status quo traps, read on to see if these traps ring any bells.

Confirming evidence

Sometimes we look for information which will confirm what we already think we know and shy away from information that may contradict it. This is the confirming evidence trap.

Social media doesn’t help us in this respect. A client and I were recently discussing the concept of the echo chamber in digital life. Understandably, we surround ourselves with people with whom we have a lot in common. Our coterie has now widened to include public figures, celebrities, media organisations and causes we support. The stories we see in our news feeds on social media are based on our likes and interests and therefore inevitably we end up in a filter bubble or echo chamber.

Imagine a Board of Directors of a business has been wrestling for some time over a decision about following path A or path B over the next five years. On the day of the Board meeting, a national newspaper publishes a profile piece on a disgraced CEO who took a path very similar to path B which resulted in the downfall of her firm. ‘That’s it, I knew path B was a bad idea’ thinks each Director on the way to work. No-one discusses it but path A is the unanimous choice at the vote later that day.

I’m sure that no Board of Directors would make a decision in such a crazy way but that’s just to illustrate the point!

How to avoid the confirming evidence trap

  • Be honest with yourself: have you already made your decision and are simply looking for someone else to endorse it?
  • Find a devil’s advocate: ask a friend or colleague to present a completely opposite point of view to you.
  • If you do ask someone else’s advice, don’t frame your question in such a way that you steer them towards the answer you’re hoping for.

Sunk cost

This one’s very common. I’ve already written about how my client, Gemma, handled this trap in her professional life: you can read it here – Is it time to quit?

How to avoid the sunk cost trap

  • Set aside any incurred costs, whether financial or otherwise, and be prepared to take another look at previous choices if they are no longer appropriate.
  • Don’t consider a change of mind to be a failure.

Estimating and forecasting

There are three sides to this trap:

1   Over-confidence

Unless you’re a professional gambler or a weather forecaster, you probably don’t keep a lot of data on your performance as a forecaster and yet studies show that most of us think we’re pretty good at predicting outcomes. In his book, ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’, Daniel Kahneman writes about WYSIATI – what you see is all there is – and how this can lead us to be over-confident. If we lack hard data which may help us make a more accurate prediction, our brains create a story based on the evidence we do have and we make a decision which suppresses doubt and ambiguity. Sometimes we’re right. Is that because we had good information, great intuition or was it just chance? Who can tell?

2   Prudence

The flip side of over-confidence is prudence. Your company is bidding for a huge new project. You’ve had your fingers burnt in the past by under-pricing work so your team decides to add in an extra 10%, just in case. Unbeknownst to you, the other teams have done the same thing. The company submits an over-priced bid and loses out.

3   Recallability

Our forecasts are often based on past experience. However, dramatic events loom larger in our memories than more mundane experiences. Your colleague mentions that she’s just hired a new team member and is looking forward to the value he’ll add, given his recent MBA qualification. You cringe inwardly and remember that awful guy you worked with who had an MBA who spent all his time going on about various business theories and never actually did anything. You’re completely discounting the other colleagues you have with MBAs who have never done anything dramatic enough to cause you any concern!

How to avoid the estimating and forecasting trap

  • To avoid over-confidence, first go the extremes of your range of options to avoid becoming anchored to your first forecast.
  • To avoid undue prudence, avoid building in contingency before thorough analysis to test the need and scale for any such contingency.
  • To avoid recallability, look at data and statistics rather than rely on your memory.

Here’s an example. You need to drive to the airport next weekend. Your mapping software suggests it will take 2 hours 45 minutes. Your over-confident mind might think ‘oh, they always build in a bit extra, it’ll only take 2 and a half hours.’ Result: you miss your flight.

Your prudent mind thinks ‘2 hours 45 – hmm, I’m not so sure. Better add another half an hour.’ You mention that to your partner and he says ‘Let’s not risk it. Let’s allow an extra hour.’ Result: you have plenty of time to explore the airport shops.

Your ‘prone to recallability’ mind remembers that hideous journey you had once where there was a crash on the motorway, they closed the road and it was so long before it was re-opened that you didn’t even get to the airport. Yikes! You book yourself into an airport hotel for the night before your flight. Result: you don’t miss your flight but it does cost you quite a bit of money and another night away from home.

I know that this has been a long read but my experience with my coaching clients shows me how so much of our professional and personal lives is governed by the decisions that we take. I believe recognising and challenging decision-making traps can serve us all well.

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: have you ever wandered straight into one of these traps? What will you do to avoid them next time you have to make a decision?  

Any thoughts?

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’d like some help with decisions you need to take either at your work and in life, email me and let’s have a conversation about how we can work together.



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Did you get caught in a decision-making trap?

My last post, Tough calls and conquering indecision, provoked a few emails from readers describing times they felt they had made a poor decision. Those poor decisions aligned with several themes – traps that we can all fall into when deciding on a course of action.

There are different opinions on how many decision-making traps there are but in my opinion, there are definitely too many to usefully cover in one blog post! Today, I’d like to introduce you to three: see if you recognise them.


What’s the purpose of an anchor? To hold a ship in one place. The ship can swing a little on the chain but not very far.

We can sometimes be like the ship: we hold on to the information we’re given. Say you’re looking at a floor plan for a new office and you’re asked whether you think you can fit 75 desks in there. You’ve got that idea of 75 desks in your mind now – you’re anchored to it – so you ponder a while. Perhaps you’ll say ‘I think we could squeeze in 80’ or maybe you’ll say ‘I don’t think so: more like 70’ but you’re unlikely to stray far from that first suggestion.

However, if you were asked ‘how many desks do you think we can fit in on the third floor?’, there is no anchor. You’re free to consider the floor plan and come up with your own answer.

How to avoid the anchoring trap

  • Think through your own opinion before asking others for theirs.
  • If you do ask others to help make your decision, ask an open question and avoid anchors.
  • In negotiations, be aware of it: as it’s very difficult to displace an anchor once it’s been laid down, try to set down your anchor before the other party.


Just as the choice of frame has an impact on the way in which we look at a picture, framing influences how we interpret information.

Picture this. You go out for dinner with a friend and you are both handed a huge menu. There must be about forty different main courses on offer! Your friend takes a brief look, closes the menu, puts it down and asks ‘So what are you having? Pizza or pie?’

Flustered, you stop reading that list of delicious salads and answer ‘Er, I think I’ll go for the pie.’.

What just happened there? Your friend framed the question in terms of two options and somehow your mind interpreted that as meaning there only were those two options, despite evidence to the contrary.

How to avoid the framing trap

  • Step back and consider all the possible options, not just those presented to you.
  • Try re-framing the issue: eg a reduction of 10% in headcount is the same as preserving 90% of headcount. Does that change how you feel about a decision?

Status Quo

No, not these guys. It seems that we are inherently resistant to change. When we come to making decisions, it can seem safer to stick with the status quo, with what we already know. Let’s not rock the boat. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Let’s just wait and see how it all pans out.

Sometimes, sticking with the status quo is absolutely the right decision: however, we sometimes decide not to make changes because of the potential discomfort. In the UK, we’re often advised to consider switching energy providers in order to save money and yet 44% of households say they are unlikely to do so within the next 12 months. Of those consumers, half of them think it’s too much hassle or it won’t really save them any money. They’re sticking with the status quo.

How to avoid the status quo trap

  • Ask yourself whether you would still choose the status quo, if it weren’t already your current choice
  • Investigate all the options, weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of each.
  • What’s your objective in making this decision? Does the status quo still support that?

As I say, these are just three of the various decision-making traps: I will cover some of the others another time.

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: when making decisions at work or at home, have you ever fallen into the traps of framing, status quo and anchoring?

What do you think?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’d like to make progress in your work and life, email me and let’s have a conversation about how we can work together.

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