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The Subtle Art Of Masterful Delegation (Delegation Series 2/4)

How do you delegate for success?

So, you have just made the all-important decision to remove something from your plate and assign it to your team.  Reviewing these steps can make a difference between a successful and rewarding endeavor versus a disastrous outcome. 

Here are some necessary actions to consider in the delegation process:

1. Plan. It is essential to think through what has to be done. Many problems in management deal with taking action without thinking and preparing. The old saying, “A stitch in time saves nine” is echoed by Brian Tracy, as he maintains that every minute spent in planning saves 10-12 minutes in execution.  A good start is to write out the goals, objectives, results, standards, deadlines, and a general checklist. A second step can even be to do some of the initial work yourself because you will have a much better idea of what the job entails before you pass it off to the next person. If it is the situation where you have been given this task from your boss but only been given partial information yourself, do the best with what you have and be clear with your delegate about the limited information you are working with so you can combine forces and fill in the gaps.

2. Choose the right person.  Ask yourself, does this person have the ability, readiness/attitude, and time to get the job done.  Have they demonstrated competence in previous projects? Do they have the motivation to learn? Believe it or not, busy people can sometimes be the best choice.  Tracy Dumas, Associate Professor of Management and Human Resources ran a study that showed that people were more productive and focused when they had a lot on their plates.  We tend to respect the limited time we have and make careful choices in how we spend our precious moments.  It is good to tell your team member why you chose him/her specifically, and how you hope to help him/her grow in this opportunity to take on more responsibilities. Will they benefit by doing these budget reports because they will have a greater understanding of how other departments work and can practice presenting dry data in an interesting way? Do not force a wrong fit, if the job is simply well beyond their scope and they do not have the right attitude and skill to approach it, the outcome is going to be disastrous. You can ask them how eager they are to take it on so you can also gauge fit.  People may be highly capable, but if they abhor the task, they may kick their feet in meeting deliverables.

3. Be crystal clear in goals, objectives, results, and standards as you co-create success.

A. Share your goals and objectives. Describe the job to be done (goals), the objectives to measure progress, and the date you need the work completed.  When people know exactly what is expected of them, their productivity increases and their self-esteem grows. In contrast, with ineffective, fuzzy, or vague delegation, it can cause confusion that can lead to poor performance and irritability where they are spending more time doing other activities and less time producing on the work that needs to be done. While it may be the case that the job to be done is brand new territory that both of you are exploring, you can still be on the same page on the general direction you are headed, and then make adjustments as your destination nears.  It is like embarking on a road trip out of NY and heading towards California, sure you may not know if you will end up in San Diego or LA or even detour to Austin, but having that general spot in mind will still provide a lot of early momentum and greater clarity as you cruise. As you take action, gain more insights, you can better steer in a more precise direction.

B. Determine your key results and set standards. The hallmark of a successful manager is an intense results-oriented approach. While people can be spending a lot of time doing work, it should not be confused with getting results.  As the Pareto Principle goes, 80% of the value people produce will come from 20% of the activity they do.  “The very worse use of time is to do very well what need not be done at all,” says Management Consultant Ben Trigo. Sure, it is possible that employees can learn much about increasing the customer experience, but if their efforts do not manifest into the goal of achieving a 5% increase in satisfaction, it is considered unsuccessful.  Additionally, having a shared understanding of standards of excellence is essential because you could have two different ideas on how an outcome may look.  To avoid confusion, you can paint your picture of success with as much vivid imagery as you can so you both know what needs to be done.

C. Co-create success.  As you are discussing the above criteria, it should be a two-way street. The delegates should be weighing in on the process and timelines.  Managers should invite them to ask questions, share concerns, and make suggestions. Towards the end of the meeting, have the person repeat back the assignment because there is a chance that they may have either missed part of the discussion or simply misunderstood.  Now is the time to catch the error.  See yourself as a teacher, be patient, and field questions.  It is during this process where you might be able to uncover where the employee is uncomfortable and what resources can be used for support.

4. Utilize these helpful management techniques:

A. Set check-ins. During this time, you can provide guidance on the project and regularly evaluate and compare the results agreed upon.  If they did not complete a task, you could drop them an email to ask how it is going, instead of taking an accusatory approach, e.g., “you were supposed to have that report already.” What is the frequency of the check-in? It is better to have more early on to make sure the project starts successfully and then once you are completely aligned, fewer check-ins are necessary. Will the check-ins be in person or through email? Does the delegate know they should initiate the email? Are there key questions you want to be answered, such as what progress have you made since the last check-in, what roadblocks have you encountered, and how can I support you? When you discuss the check-in process upfront, it does not seem like you are overbearing and that you are checking up on the person, but that you are putting in a loose structure that will allow you to connect intentionally and keep the project on track.

B. Provide feedback and encouragement. It is important to give regular feedback. Be sure to notice the good work they have been doing and share your appreciation. Practice positive, authentic expectations – “I know you will do a great job,” “I have complete confidence in you.” “I really like the way you handled that potential problem by consulting Dan.”

C. Empower autonomy and problem-solving.  Give people the freedom to accomplish the job as they will be judged on their results and not a fixed way of getting them. If they run into a problem,  encourage them to try and solve it so they can learn, make mistakes, and figure out how to correct them.  What resources do they have at their disposal so they can regularly explore before coming to you? If they are evaluating between 3 options, have them prepare their “recommendation report” where they lay out the pros and cons of each option, their recommendation, and the reason why. This will help them with problem-solving skills in gaining clarity, being resourceful, and presenting their options in a concise way.

D. Reflect. Afterward, take time to individually review and assess the outcome so you too can learn from your mistakes. Ask yourself how you can tweak your approach for next time. Can you delegate more involved tasks? Should you give them more freedom? Do you need to monitor progress more closely? You can ask the delegate for feedback as well, such as “what part of the delegation process was most helpful? What would be something I do differently to better support you?”

If the job went well, give amply public recognition and praise because when it is broadcasted in front of their peers, it has twice the motivational power.  Remember to be patient with yourself while you practice the skill of delegation.  You are going from the mindset of doing everything yourself to letting other people learn and while it may be bumpy at first, the payoff can be massive.

If you are feeling overworked and also know that there is more your team can be doing, it is the perfect time to delegate more!  By taking the proper steps of planning, choosing the right people, and co-creating objectives and results, you will experience greater collective success and not only ready yourself for more responsibilities but fulfill your most important role as a manager which is to grow the abilities of others.

Quote of the day: “When you delegate tasks, you create followers. When you delegate authority, you create leaders.”Craig Groeschel, founder of Life Church

Q: What works best for you when you decide to delegate? Comment and share with us, we would love to hear from you!

Delegation requires trust

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