Monthly Archives: February 2014


One of the people I’m coaching at work has been resisting delegation even though she feels overwhelmed. Her main concern is that delegation takes too much time, because most people don’t do the task right and she has to go back and re-do it anyway. We’ve talked through figuring out which tasks are best for delegation: tasks easily taught, tasks that will be repeated multiple times in the future (so investing time in initial training is worthwhile), tasks where imperfection can be tolerated, etc. This has worked well for relatively simple, rote tasks that need to be delegated, but is not enough guidance for larger projects.

In preparing for our next coaching session, I found an article from Bridgespan entitled Effective Delegation in Three Simple Steps. It describes delegation as “a balance between trusting others to get the work done and taking steps to ensure that those you’ve delegated to have the support needed to meet expectations.” 

I’ll be sharing the full article with her, but thought I would also summarize here. Step one is to hand over the responsibility and agree on expectations (cover what the project is, why the project is important and why you chose this person to handle it, who else is involved and should be included, where the person can get help and resources, when it needs to be done, and a little bit of how it should be done). Step two is “don’t delegate and disappear,” which seems simple. However, it can be difficult to strike the right balance between hovering over someone as they work and waiting too long to find out they’ve put too much time and energy into going in the wrong direction – the article has a good discussion of one example and how it was handled. Step three is “create learning opportunities” which reminds us to debrief on how the project went, even (especially) if it went well – often we learn from our mistakes, but forget to take the time to learn from our successes as well.

I also printed out a worksheet from The Management Center, linked in the article, that provides a framework to help think through assigning roles when delegating. This framework, called The MOCHA Model, articulates the roles of Manager, Owner, Consulted, Helper, and Approver. We just had a meeting last week where we found that a project had stalled because roles and responsibilites were not clear, so I think this will be really helpful as well.

The Power of Habit – The Habit Loop

Chapter 1 in Duhigg’s book is The Habit Loop: How Habits Work. It starts with the case of EP, who in 1993 lost a portion of his brain to viral encephalitis. EP was not able to recall anything recent, but his long-term memory seemed to be unaffected. His wife was told she would need to keep a close eye on him, as he would not remember that he had amnesia and his home would seem unfamiliar. However, researchers found that he would regularly take walks and find his way home without any problems, despite not being able to verbalize how to do so: “…the visitor asked Eugene where he lived. ‘I don’t know, exactly,’ he said. Then he walked up his sidewalk, opened his front door…”

Researchers hypothesized that this ability to form habits had somethign to do with the basal ganglia, and studies on rats seemed to show that the basal ganglia was central to recalling patterns and acting on them. The brain essentially looks for cues at the beginning of a routine task, then when it recognizes a cue it goes on a sort of auto-pilot as the routine takes over, and finally there is a reward once the task is completed successfully. This cue-routine-reward process is what Duhigg calls The Habit Loop.

The reason the habit loop is important is precisely because the brain shuts down during the routine. So once a habit is formed, unless you deliberately fight it, the pattern will unfold automatically.

Research shows that these routines and habits never really go away – even if we replace them with something else for a long period of time. This can be positive, like the way you never forget how to ride a bicycle. But it also highlights the difficulty of breaking bad habits when repeatedly exposed to the same old cues. The key, then, is to be very conscious of the cues and rewards if we want to change routines.

Performance Measurement vs Impact Evaluation

Bridgespan’s e-newsletter pointed me to an article in the Nonprofit Times on performance measurement. It starts by saying that we often treat performance measurement like a math test, looking to see if we got the right or wrong answer, when we should be treating it like an essay, with multiple drafts each working toward improvement. As the authors say,

the primary question is not “‘are we doing it right?”, but rather “is this useful?”

The article goes on to discuss the difference between performance measurement (a managerial tool for continuous improvement) and impact evaluation (an effectiveness tool most often used by external funders):

Evaluation grows out of social science, an academic discipline with peer-reviewed methodologies. Specifically, impact evaluation often seeks to attribute causation (e.g., ‘did this specific program cause that outcome?’), and often is intended for an audience beyond the nonprofit program being evaluated (policy-makers, funders, academics, practitioners more broadly).  Impact evaluations tend to make more sense for well-established program models, not experiments and start-ups.


Performance Measurement, in contrast, is a management discipline, closely related to continuous improvement and organizational learning. It seeks rapid, incremental improvements in programs and their execution, and thereby outcomes for participants.

The article goes on to list some examples of the types of performance measurement, and some concrete steps for moving forward (including logic models development and a pilot evaluation process). The tools themselves were familiar to me, but the framing was not and I found it powerful. I particularly liked the closing sentence, “performance measurement implies a burden of action—not a burden of proof—to learn and improve.”

The article mentioned a couple of additional resources that look at performance measurement and impact evaluation:  “Measurement as Learning,” by Jeri Eckhart-Queenan and Matt Forti and Working Hard & Working Well by David Hunter. The latter is listed as a companion to Mario Morino’s Leap of Reason, which has been sitting on my office bookshelf unread for too long.

The Power of Habit – prologue

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg starts with a prologue that focuses on a woman named Lisa. She had turned around many negative aspects of her life (losing weight, quitting smoking, advancing professionally) and scientists were studying how she had made these major changes successfully, in a relatively short time. They honed in on her decision to quit smoking as a “keystone habit” that taught her how to reprogram other routines in her life as well.

With this dramatic example, Duhigg lays out the structure of the book and turns to a similarly compelling example that shows how habits can play a major role in organizational and social change as well. His example is from a military officer in Iraq who managed to reduce violence by examining habits and removing the presence of food vendors.

Certainly a compelling introduction – I’m cautiously optimistic about reading the rest of this. 

Habitual Writing

Obviously this site has languished for some time, for pretty typical reasons: tumblr, twitter, lack of firm commmitment, etc. I’ve thought of reviving this blog as a place for longer-form, more thought out pieces of writing many times, and even have some draft posts to attest to that intention.

But intentions are not action, and I think the length of non-posting has contributed to additional non-posting. And the longer I hop from service to service for things like link-sharing, discovery and saving, the more I see a need for a central place that I control to save info. Because a lot of these services have already come and gone (or gone from freemium to premium) since I last posted in early 2009.

So I’m going to try posting something here daily in March and April. I’m in a new book club that is reading Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit for March, so I expect that a number of posts will have that as a topic. I typically dislike business and/or self-help books, but a good friend recommended this one, and habit and automaticity are things that I’ve been exploring quite a bit the past several years.

I’ll clost this post with a quote from Fred Wilson that I keep on my bulletin board at work: “I am not an organized person. But I am a disciplined person. My routine is the key to me getting things done.”