I have been accused of having a series of ‘isms’ which I use to manage and live my life by.  I thought it would be useful to write them down and do a bit of research as to their origin.  Post a comment if you (dis)agree with any of them and send me any of your own (which I will gleefully plagiarise if they are any good).




On Delegation

  1. Never Do What Can Be Delegated, but…
  2. Never Delegate What Can’t Be Done

This is a central mantra for me in management and is one of the most difficult things to do.  I recall working with a Scouting program and it was hard enough teaching this to 12-year olds let alone their 30-something leaders.

This Phrankism has two counter-balancing parts.  The first part is well explored and if you do a good search on it you will get numerous hits (try it, as of 2013-Apr-03, there were about 82,000 distinct quoted hits).  Interestingly enough the second part has very few Google hits yet it is as important as the first.

Delegation must be done within the confines of success.  The fact that an objective, activity or responsibility has been delegated means that the delegator expects the delegate to succeed.  Delegation without an expectation of success is simply organizational (or individual) laziness or a method to getting out of the distasteful.

There are rare instances where there may be an exception to the rule, for example in delegating the safety of a retreating army to its rear-guard.  As well, one can make the argument that a ‘stretch goal’ has merit and a place in the organization.  But without a realistic opportunity for at least partial success; Delegating what Can’t Be Done is simply Management through Magical Process‘ (see below for this Phrankism).

So how do you know if a delegation activity is a stretch goal or magical process?  Have the delegator and delegate apply the Four Project Management Questions.  If the questions can be reasonably answered, there is a much higher chance of delegation-success.

Links and further reading:

Four Project Management Questions

These questions are certainly not mine. They were taken and reconstituted from a MBA course I took with the excellent instructor Francis Hartman. All that I have done is apply my own language. Nevertheless I have used these questions in projects both big and small including when assigning work. The great thing about the questions is that they help to ensure that delegated work has a reasonable chance for success and is not Management Through Magical Process. The questions are:

  1. Why are we doing this (Project, Task, Activity)?
  2. How will we know when we are finished?
  3. How will we know if we were successful?
  4. Who answers the first three questions?

Question One, Why: is often the most difficult. Be very careful with non-responses to this question such as ‘isn’t it obvious’? Do you remember the concept of Groupthink? The inability or hostility to those questioning a course of action should raise a flag. Of course diplomacy, professionalism and organizational etiquette are important in focusing on the subject of the WHY and not the person asking or defending it.

Sometimes the result of a WHY question is the answer, we don’t know. If this is the case then it is okay to engage in smaller projects to do nothing more than to ensure there is a good answer to this first question. The output from this question should be a vision of the future embellished with details from the next two questions.

Question Two, Finished: I use question two to focus on output. When do we stop the work, what is in scope and what is out of scope. This gives myself, the person being delegating to or a project team a clear set of deliverables.

Question Three, Success: Question three focuses on the quality of the deliverable. A widget delivered but that does not work may satisfy the first two questions but is still not successful.

Question Four, Who: Question four focuses on the decision maker. Ideally this is an individual rather than a group. If a group is a decision maker, then ensure that there is good documentation of meeting minutes and accountability for the individual on the committee. The Who-identified should ideally be able to answer the first three questions but at a minimum must be able to answer the first one.

Praise in Public, Correct in Private

Definitely not an original thought of mine and virtually timeless as a piece of advice (the original source seems to be “Admonish your friends privately, but praise them openly” Publilius Syrus, 35 B.C).  For such a common sense piece of advice, why on earth would anyone not follow it?  There are a few reasons that I can think of, the first being ‘Drive By Management’

Management through Magical Process

I explored this Phrankism in a January 2014 blog; the definition of it is as follows:

An organization (collectively or an individual) engages in an activity without sufficient consideration of its readiness or resources to achieve the objective. Success comes at either the expense of pre-existing objectives or Management through Heroics. Failure to deliver magic leads to the punishment of the innocent, organizational numbing, martyrdom and quickly moving to the next magical task.

Volunteer Board Roles: Knowers, Doers and Funders

Defined in a June 11, 2013 Blog Posting, this was an observation I had made about the composition of volunteer/non-profit boards. The principle is a non-profit organization must balance between the three roles that board members play.  The following table explains them a bit more detail.  These are my definitions and of course no one person is exclusively one or another – only darker and lighter shades of grey.  There are other roles on boards, such as the tourist, which you want to avoid.



Knower Has specific knowledge about the organization’s purpose, role or other matters critical to the board.  For example, a lawyer or an accountant would play the respective knower roles of Legal and Finance issues.
Doer These are the critical worker bees.  These are the folks who keep the lights on and the organization humming along.  For many smaller volunteer organizations, the board member and the ‘Joe-volunteer’ is typically blurred.  That is a board member is often both a chief cook and the bottle washer.
Funder These are the people who either have the money, know people who have money or know how to get the money (e.g. via grant applications, fund raising, etc.).  For smaller organizations with low over head and many doers, the balance of funders may be smaller as compared to an organization whose primary role is to raise money.
Tourist These are board members who have joined to pad their resume.  Generally these folks should be pruned from your board if it seems that they can not be moved into one of the above roles.  Be careful not to prune too soon – some people simply need to feel comfortable.  However missed meetings, “smart-phone-crotch fixation” or silence are usually signs you have a tourist.
Coasting Silverback These are board members have perhaps played one of the above roles but are now coasting.  Like tourists, they should be pruned – but with a great deal more delicacy. While it is good to have wise counsel to balance the enthusiastic newbies, comments of ‘We tried that, did not work’ usually means you have a coaster.  The ideal role for these people is to move them into alumni or into helping with the farm team.
Alumni The alumni is the collection of board members (or volunteers, clients, funders, etc.) who have an interest in the organization – but not enough passion to be actively involved.  Keep the organization’s orbit through an alumni function.  LinkedIn, FaceBook and cheap websites makes this very cheap to maintain.  As well, take a read of this article I wrote on Health-Alumni.
Farm Team This is where you get your next board member.  Establish a mechanism to bring volunteers in, assign the meaningful work and then groom them for a governance role.  In an ideal world, you should have a 2:1 ratio of farm team to board positions.  Nevertheless – don’t forget to pay your volunteers very well (a subject of another blog post).

If you are a member of a volunteer board – firstly thank you.  Quite often organizations forget to say that so let me do this.  In some way, method or fashion you are making the world a better place.  As well, hopefully the organization is paying you well.

Guerrilla Management

Air Cover and Extraction

Defined in the December 14, 2014 blog: Air Cover and Exraction, the definition is:

The support of one’s superiors, organization and/or colleagues while undertaking an assigned task which involves some risk or need for unanticipated resources.  Generally any guarantees are provided in an informal and often verbal manner rather than via a formal organizational structure.

4 thoughts on “Phrankisms

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