HER MAGAZINE

HER take on delegating: A conversation with Geonetric CEO Linda Barnes

Linda Barnes, CEO of Geonetric in Cedar Rapids, isn’t a big fan of the word “delegating.”

Instead of delegating tasks to employees in the traditional sense, Barnes allows teams of employees at the marketing and software development company to choose which aspects of projects they’ll work on.

“Delegating, to me, means I’m hoarding all the information and then pushing it out. Instead, we make the work visible and allow people to pull that work,” she said. Geonetric also has more of a “flat” corporate structure, with less traditional managers.

This, combined with the flexibility to choose tasks and projects, gives employees a significant amount of autonomy.

Still, it doesn’t mean there’s no leadership.

Barnes and Geonetric’s leadership board make decisions about where the company is going in a broad sense. They communicate the things that can’t be adjusted, like timelines, to teams of employees. Those teams are then responsible for deciding who does what and exactly how they’re going to get things done.

“We have self-directed, self-organized teams. We hire really great, smart people and let them run,” she said.

Part of working this way is accepting that people operate in a variety of ways and that’s more than one way to accomplish most any task.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“You know some people won’t do things the way you would, and that’s got to be OK,” Barnes said.

Although that might be scary for some managers, she said it has a significant upside. Because nearly the entire 90-person staff knows all the projects that are in the works, Geonetric is able to essentially crowdsource ideas about the best way to accomplish the company’s goals.

“Delegating in the traditional sense implies that, as the leader, I know all of the things. I think I’m a smart individual, but I don’t know everything,” she said. Barnes thinks all managers and team leaders can keep knowledge from getting held up in individual or departmental silos by having more open lines of communication.

“Teams have daily stand-up meetings where they discuss what they’re going to accomplish, what’s going well, and where they might need help,” she said. This helps employees understand not just the “what” of the job but also the “why” — something Barnes said is an important motivator. “You can make small changes that will help people understand the purpose of what they’re doing,” she said.

Another way the staff at Geonetric stay informed is by making their work visible — literally. The office walls at Geonetric are filled with sticky notes and index cards detailing what staff members are working on. They’re continuously moved around as work gets done or re-prioritized.

“I think we single-handedly keep the 3M company in business,” Barnes said.

She also works to makes sure the “telephone game” is avoided as much as possible.

With the developing coronavirus pandemic, Barnes said Geonetric’s clients are requesting enhanced crisis communication capabilities on their websites. Employees came up with recommendations to meet this demand, which were presented directly to the leadership, who acted immediately.

“They didn’t have to go through a manager, to a director, to a VP, to us. Our structure keeps us nimble and able to respond to changes,” she said.

Individual Geonetric employees are able to stay nimble in their career paths, too. Each team has a leader who helps prioritize and organize the workload, and people are able to step in and out of that role with more flexibility than might be possible at other companies. If a team leader decides they prefer the tasks they were doing before, like design or copywriting, it isn’t seen as a demotion.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“We’ve created career paths where you can grow in your career while still doing what you love,” she said.

Books on delegating:

The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You by Julie Zhuo

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink

Clockwork: Design Your Business to Run Itself by Mike Michalowicz

Quotes on delegating:

“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.” — Jessica Jackley

“Sometimes you just have to be willing to delegate and not feel like you’re the only one with the answer.” — Ronald D. Moore

“For everything we don’t like to do, there’s someone out there who’s really good, wants to do it and will enjoy it.” — Josh Kaufman

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.