You can't compete with babies

When I spoke to Jeevan at 8.30am he was already on the bus. "My girlfriend's had the baby!" he announced. I'd been prepared for most excuses but even though I knew his partner was expecting, I hadn't anticipated it quite so soon.

In fact, I was hoping he was coming in to Wood Green for training because Saba Salman - a freelance journalist who writes for the Guardian - was coming in to talk about writing feature articles. This was a great opportunity for Jeevan and Angela to hear from someone who'd made a success of writing - on their own terms - and I was keen for them both to be there.

"Well, you don't get a much better excuse than that," said an accommodating Saba when I told her. She's absolutely right.

As numerous politicans have found, you might sidle up to a baby to share their limelight, but in terms of attention, interest and - let's face it - cuteness, you'll never be able to compete with them.

Seriously though, it puts things into perspective. Jeevan might not manage to finish his training with me but he'll be learning a hell of a lot about fatherhood, responsibility and priorities over the next few years. I just hope he writes about his experiences.

The gentle art of delegation

In my seven or so years as a manager, delegation was a skill I developed fairly organically. Like most things I do, I tried to put myself in the shoes of the other person, tried to understand what their questions and concerns might be and tried to make sure I gave them the right mix of freedom to do the job as they saw fit, backed up with instruction and support where needed.

I think my tendency, as a more junior manager, was to learn exactly what needed to be done through doing it myself, then walk the other person through it in detail. This is fine if the person is inexperienced and unsure of their abilities but it doesn't do much to foster self-sufficiency or even to improve what might have been a flawed process.

Over time I've taught myself to step away more and allow the people I'm delegating to the freedom to do things their way - a focus on outcomes over process. There's a very simple graph that illustrates this but the concept of leading an individual or team through the various levels of delegation is actually quite a powerful one.

Done well, delegation can really pay off for both sides. The employee benefits from having the freedom to do a job in a style that suits them and from the chance to develop their skills in a supportive environment. The employer is able to release time for other things and benefits from motivated staff who are continually building their skills and taking on new challenges.

Of course, this could all sound like wishful thinking except for the fact that it actually works. Over the last few weeks Angela has taken on lead responsibility for a major web project, has conducted interviews with case study subjects and is now seeking out two laptops for the new trainees who will start in a couple of weeks. This week she suggested that she'd like to keep volunteering with Poached beyond her 12 week traineeship, which is fantastic news for me.

So, what are my tips for successful delegation?
  • Ask what people want to do and how they want to develop - then find relevant tasks to delegate.
  • Explain why you need something done. Eg, we really need these laptops in two weeks' time and it would be incredibly helpful for me if you could sort it out.
  • Ask for the person's ideas of how to tackle a problem and talk through any differences in approach.
  • Be clear how much responsibility you are delegating. Eg, I'm happy for you to do this however you see fit, or, can you write up a plan and run it past me?
  • Give ample opportunity for questions and clarification.
  • Check that they are comfortable with the task and ask if there's any support they need.
  • Work out together how success will be measured.
  • Check progress.
  • Be sure to give clear feedback using real examples.

People, bureaucracy and making things happen

The first few weeks of this pilot project have been all about making things happen. It sounds simple, but I'm fast discovering a few key rules of running your own business, social enterprise or charity:

1. Things rarely go to plan. Take for example (one of many) my 'next day delivery' PC which was supposed to arrive in the office last Wednesday. A week later I'm still trying to get it delivered in time for Thursday's training.

2. People need chasing. This is true no matter how willing they are to help or how much they want your services. Even your most dedicated supporters and useful contacts need you to chase them because your priorities, by and large, are not the same as their priorities.

3. Bureaucracy takes time. The larger the organisation, the more time you have to allow to get things done. Oh, and the more chasing too - see point 2 above. This doesn't mean you should give up on working with larger organisations. Just that you need to plan ahead and plan for things not going to plan - see point 1 above.

4. It's hard to make things happen. Really hard. Imagine trying to push something really heavy - like a car. Even though it's on wheels you still need a tremendous amount of effort to get it to budge in the first place. Once it's moving things get easier but you still have to maintain momentum or it will stop. This is what it's like.

The upside of all this is that once you get into the habit of making things happen, quite often you'll find that things start happening around you all the time.

One of my inspirations for going into social enterprise was Andrew Mawson, who established the Bromley-by-Bow Centre and wrote a fabulous book about it called 'The Social Entrepreneur'. This first-hand, lively account of crashing through bureaucracy to create something that turned around the lives of the people in his community proves that the social entrepreneurial method of 'learning by doing' is an effective way of making things happen.

I try to apply a little bit of his wisdom in all my dealings with people, bureaucracy, and even the barriers I unconsciously put in my own way.

As Andrew Mawson says: "It is important, simply, to be open and alive to possibility, to encourage people rather than to be suspicious of them, and to see the potential for success rather than the potential for failure."