Love it or hate it, it’s something that makes teams, families and people work better and get more done. It allows you to focus on what you are the best at, and leverage the strengths of others.
Unfortunately, most people are not very good at it. Myself included.
I tend to either use the “fire and forget” approach or else I engage in the “I’ll do it myself” approach. Rarely do I actually employ the proper method of delegation. It takes a lot more work, but in the long run it’s much more effective and can help you and your team get more done and help the other members of the team grow in their abilities as well.
Before describing the proper way of delegating, let’s look at a couple of the incorrect ways people tend to delegate.
Fire and Forget
Often people delegate by handing off the assignment and then forgetting about it. I call this ‘fire and forget’ because the person who has the assignment (delegator) will meet with the person receiving the task (assignee) and provide them with information and in the meeting ask them if there are any questions. If not, then they either verbally or even physically pat them on the back and send them on their way.
And that’s it.
There is no follow up, no check in, nothing. The assignee is left for themselves to either sink or swim with the new task. They could be lost or overwhelmed and need guidance, but they don’t have any way of getting it. If you’re lucky the task will actually get done, but more often than not, the task will languish and die. Assigning a task in this way is a sure way to kill it, and I suppose that if that is really what you want, then this is a passive-aggressive way of doing just that. It would be better to just kill the task instead and not waste the time or anguish of both parties to try and get it done.
Do it Myself
Another way to do delegation is to not do it at all. I find myself falling into this trap more than any other approach for a number of reasons. Many people have said, “focus on your strengths.” If doing this task is not something you are good at, then why are you doing it? For me, I like to know how things work. Learning how it all works is good and I’m okay learning how it works up front, but after a while, if it’s not a strength, then I really should off load it. That’s a problem for me. Usually I hold onto task for a couple reasons. Here are a few.
1. I want to save money
If there is a thing I know I can do, I usually just do it. However, there are tasks out there which need to get done, which I know have services out there which can do the same thing for me, but I’m cheap and figure if I can do it. The thought is “why pay somebody else to do it? Besides, how do I know they will do it the way I want them to.”
This is wrong thinking on my part. I should be focusing on my strengths and letting others take care of what they are good at. It may cost me more money, but the time I save is probably worth more than the time I spend on tasks that take me away from doing things I’m good at.
Take our family organization podcast (The Organized Family). I write the emails that go out, I schedule them, I edit and publish the podcast and I take the show notes and publish them to both the website as well as in an email. Usually the entire process takes me about two hours. That’s two hours I could be focusing on reading and writing (two things I’m good at) instead of doing something I could have handed off to somebody else. What could be handed off?
- Uploading the podcast
- Publishing to the website
- Scheduling the email
- Editing and tagging the podcast
- Creating the show notes
If I were to just delegate those, that would leave me with writing the copy for the emails. For me that’s something I like and something I think helps me connect with our audience. That’s important to me and it’s something only I should do. Everything else is not a strength of mine. Some of it could possibly even be automated and not need a humans involvement.
It really should be delegated, but isn’t because of money concerns.
2. I think somebody else wouldn’t do it the right way
There’s a little bit of arrogance in that thought process. Sure, somebody may not do things the way I do, but does that mean it’s the ‘right way?’ I may have extra steps in there which could be wasting my time. There may be tools out there which could reduce the amount of time I spend on the tasks that I just don’t have the time or inclination to learn about. How do I know if I’m doing it in the best way possible?
I can teach somebody how I do it and what I want to see as the end result. Once that has been done, if they find ways to make it more efficient and easier, great! That means more time for both of us. If it is something they enjoy doing, then they will dig into the task much deeper than I ever would, and that’s a good thing.
3. I don’t have the time to teach somebody to do it
Close on the heels of ‘doing it right’ is not having the time to teach somebody.
Chances are, if you are delegating to somebody who already has experience in this area, you won’t have to teach them much. Just giving them the details may be sufficient. There are other instances where you may need to teach them the specifics related to how you do things, but again, if they are already experienced, this should be quick.
There is another reason for ‘teaching somebody else’ and that is contingency planning. When you have taught somebody else how to do these tasks then you are multiplying yourself. Now there are ‘two of you’ who can perform this task. Depending on your mentality, this may be a good or a bad thing.
Maybe you are afraid that your job will be threatened or that this person you trained will supplant you in some way. And while that is certainly a possibility, if this is not one of your strong points, then why worry about it? You should be focused on the things you are good at and that you enjoy, not the things you do not. The whole reason to off load some of these tasks was to make it so you can do what you are good at, and if you teach somebody how to do this, then you are going to be freed up to do what you alone excel at.
Finally, another reason to teach somebody how to do these tasks, or at least a reason to document it, is so that if something happens to you, somebody else is able to pick up where you left off and take care of the task in your absence.
There are all kinds of reasons for you not being around. You could be on vacation, in a remote location, delayed from arriving in the office or unable to make it where you need to be in order to perform the task. The list could go on and on, but the point is that if the process is documented, then the work can still get done and you will look better for it because you provided a way to take care of it, even if you were unavailable. Most people are praised for enabling their peers in getting work done, and this is no different.
When it comes time to teach somebody and delegate the task, you can hand off the documentation and ask for feedback as they go through the process. When they return with the document, you can take their suggestions and incorporate them into the new version until it covers most cases.
Does documenting your process take more time than just doing it yourself? Yes. I find myself avoiding documentation for just that reason. I just want to get the task done, but going through the documentation process also helps me see what I’m doing from a high level and I can then see where I can also make some improvements as well.
Another way people claim to delegate, but in reality do not, is when they micromanage.
While I personally don’t suffer from this particular temptation in delegation, I have been on the receiving end of it.
Micromanagement is closely aligned to the “Do it myself” mentality. In this case we know we need to delegate and so we do, but then we hover or lurk while the person we have ‘delegated’ to performs the task. Instead of giving parameters and expectations we focus on making sure the person does the task with all the steps we expect. We cannot let go and instead focus on how and where the task is. This may stem from the thought that they need our help in order to get it right, or that they are incapable of doing it on their own without us.
Instead of empowering the person the task was delegated to, we erode their confidence. If done over an extended period of time we hamper their growth and we either drive them away, make them resent us, or make them so dependent on us that they cannot do anything else without us. Eventually it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy and they become dependent on us for everything they do or they leave. Neither of which helps our long term goals.
Before we dive into the correct way to delegate, we need to consider one very important thing. The people we are delegating to were not hired to fail. When they were hired we were looking for somebody who could help us and we had every intention to use their abilities as best we could. Now, it may be the case that we knew going in that they were not going to be able to do everything, but in those cases we probably expected to work with them to train them up to the level we needed them at and then we would be able to hand more things off to them.
People are usually hired to help with a specific task or responsibility and usually they are hired because they were the best candidate for the position. When we delegate using one of the less effective methods above, we are undermining their abilities, the specific abilities they were hired for, and instead weakening them as a person and co-worker and ultimately, our entire team.
So, how does one delegate effectively?
It begins long before we ever meet with the person to be delegated to. Going into that meeting we need to have a clear picture of the outcomes we want from the delegated task and, if necessary, we need to have the specific processes and contacts listed so the person can effectively accomplish the task. Then, after all these things are in place, we meet with the person.
In the meeting we describe the task, the people who can help accomplish the task and what our expected outcomes are. Once all this has been provided, we should ask if there are any questions and finally, when those have been answered, we set up regular follow up meetings so we can be informed of the tasks progress. In the beginning stages of the delegation for a specific type of task the follow up meetings should be frequent and, as you see a decrease in the amount support or help you need to provide, you can taper off on meeting with them and begin to just get status reports. You’re not telling them how to perform the task in these meetings unless they ask, but instead you are following up to see how they are doing on the task and if there is any additional information or support they need from you.
Once the task is complete, a final meeting is useful to see what could be improved in the process. Did they need more contact or less from you? Overall how would they like you to be involved in future assignments? This is a chance to see how you are doing on your delegation with this individual. You will find that some people will want more involvement than others and that one style of delegation does not work for everybody. It will even change depending on the task with the same person.
It’s more fluid because different people have different levels of confidence and competence with different tasks. Be sure to ask how much involvement they would like from you when you start off and provide opportunities for them to get more involvement from you in your regular follow up meetings. In some of those follow up meetings you may even incorporate some of these reflection questions to ensure you are providing the support they need throughout the task instead of letting it fail and evaluating in the end.
Your goal, when delegating, is to get the task done, but a secondary goal is to build up the people you are working with and hopefully make them more effective in their job while helping you with yours.
The image is ‘BXP135677’ by tableatny. You can find it on flickr