"The time invested in mentoring, reviewing work, and providing feedback creates an enormous ROI for the organization and enhances one's value as a leader."
By Susan G. Schwartz, PMP
Delegation is about entrusting someone else with the responsibility or authority to assure designated work completes successfully. Being able to delegate well frees managers and team leaders to focus on priorities; and just possibly take a day off.
Delegation is a win-win for all involved. Staff and team members gain confidence as their performance is recognized and publicly valued. With all the benefits of lowered stress levels, increased productivity, and positive workplace culture, why is delegation so hard?
Delegation is hard because people don’t want to delegate. Their reasons?
"I am too busy."
"I find it easier to do it myself."
"I am the expert. No one does it as well."
"I was blamed when my team dropped the ball."
"I will train them when they are ready."
Do any of these responses sound familiar to you? My response to busy people is “If you are the only person who can do the job, how will you ever be promoted?” The truth is you can’t be too busy to train people to do important work properly and learn from their mistakes.
Are you ready to learn how to delegate? TAG, you’re it!! Delegating work to other people takes practice. When you pass the responsibility baton onto someone, there are three simple steps to assure their success. And yes, yours too.
Trust staff intention
Align toward your shared goal
Guide professional development
The first step is to trust your staff’s intention to do a good job. Do you find it difficult to trust your staff to do the work you should delegate because they:
Deliver a different outcome than what was requested
Make the same “mistakes” over and over
“Check out” and don’t give their best effort
Have you stopped to think what is causing your staff to not meet your expectations? Could it be effective communication on your part? Did you discuss the format and timeframes for the delegated task? Did you take the time to assure they understood the requirements and had the skills to do the work?
The above are very important questions. Have you ever performed work per your manager’s directions, only to have them tell you the work product was not what they asked you to do? How did you feel when they told you they should have done it themselves in the first place? Were you motivated to learn from the unexplained deficiencies? Or did you choose not to bother trying since whatever you do will never be good enough?
Trust is two-way. Just as you need to trust your staff’s intention to perform good work, your staff needs to trust that it is your intention to help them be successful.
The second step is to assure everyone on your team targets the same end goal and understands how tasks align. It is easy for people to “lose” their way working on complex projects. Different perspectives, shifting priorities, minimal communications, and confusing role assignments create misunderstandings that cause work efforts to shift away from the designated goal.
A manager’s role is to monitor the progress and quality of the work effort. Being able to recognize symptoms, remediate the problem, and clearly communicate changes will help staff to maintain focus on the primary mission. Documenting updated schedule, budget, and role assignments enables you to maintain alignment and provide continuity and consistency which reinforces trust.
Practicing effective communications takes time which you may feel you don’t have. If you choose to make the investment, your ROI will be huge. And it might not take as long as you think. The first step is to discuss the purpose of the delegated work and how it aligns with the mission of your group. Next, identify all the required task elements. These include the information or resources that are needed and where can they be found. If the delegated tasks will be combined with another task or delivered to a different department, it is important for them to understand how their work effort blends into the total project.
Although necessary, meetings are often seen as a curse, they can be a tremendous tool to assist you in your efforts to align the different efforts you delegated to your team. How often are meetings scheduled because someone thought there ought to be a meeting without thinking through the purpose and most important means to communicate the information. Meetings may convene for a variety of purposes. It is important to think about the purpose of the meeting before deciding if a meeting is necessary, or will an email suffice to communicate your message?
Redefining meetings is one delegation strategy to consider. What if meetings were shorter and only the people who were part of the specific discussion attended? Instead of a one-hour meeting attended by 12 people, a 15-20 minute meeting would address one set of related delegated tasks. The manager may be in meetings for 60 minutes; however, the staff is able to discuss specific topics, conclude the meeting, and immediately begin to address the action items. A shorter meeting strategy enables you to assure your staff continues to be aligned with the overall mission and sends the message that you want them to focus on their work and that you respect their time. On the other hand, there are times when all-hands meetings are important – especially when you want to assure everyone receives the same message and gains consistent clarity from the discussion.
Whether large or small, agendas are key to a meeting’s success. Agendas sent to attendees in advance of a meeting is an invaluable productivity tool – no matter the length of a meeting. One agenda preparation tool is the T-POINT method. The “T” represents thank you. Thank people for taking the time to prepare the necessary information and attend the meeting. You can never thank people too many times as long as it is delivered with authenticity. “P” addresses the purpose of the meeting and what information will be discussed. Meeting attendees are then able to prepare and bring necessary documents. Time is valuable. Meetings should not be delayed because people are not prepared. “O” defines the topic outline to be discussed and the allocated timeframes. Yes, ask someone to be the timekeeper to assure the meeting stays on track and ends at the designated time. “IN” represents the input and discussions of the people attending the meeting. “T” identifies the transition from the conversation to assigned action items and meeting close. When compiling the meeting summary that identifies the conversation topic points and action item assignments, be sure to thank everyone on the list for their contribution to the meeting discussion and follow-up activities.
The process of guiding team members to achieve excellence is THE most important aspect of delegation. Busy, busy managers who don’t have time to help people learn are not necessarily seen as high performers. As mentioned above, the time a delegator invests to mentor someone, review their work, and provide feedback creates an enormous return on investment (ROI) for the organization and enhances one's value as a leader.
An apprenticeship approach is used by many successful leaders to expand their staff’s capabilities and critical thinking skills. This approach has four core elements:
Element – Substance
Purpose – WHY
Context – WHO
Expectations – WHAT
Staff Success – INTENT
The way you approach the four delegation elements will differ depending on the person’s experience and background. Even the most experienced person on your team needs to understand the reason why the task is important. The person to whom you are delegating the work needs to know the people involved which can include the original requester, the people to include in the work effort, and the person who will receive the result. Defining your expectations is extremely important for successful delegation. These parameters might include schedule, budget, design, or quality procedures – whatever the person to whom you are delegating needs to know to properly perform the task.
Lastly, how do you assure they are successful? This defines the intent of your actions. Are you dumping or delegating the work? If your intent is to successfully delegate, ask questions. Clarify the person understands the purpose, people, and expectations. Ask them to describe the work and expected outcomes. Check in at appropriate intervals to verify the work is proceeding well and clarify any questions they might have. Be careful about asking questions that encourage succinct answers. “How are things going?” will result in a single word response such as ”fine”. Ask questions that demonstrate you are truly interested and want to assure their success. You want to inquire to be able to provide necessary support, not interrogate to put them on the defensive.
Being able to delegate work to your staff is a win for you and a win for them. A thoughtful “TAG, you’re it” approach builds trust, assures alignment, and guides professional development. The delegation strategies discussed are not parallel processes. They overlap and need to be adapted depending on the experience and background of the people to whom you are delegating.
Successful delegation takes practice. You may find yourself stressed and doing work that could be delegated. Take a breath and try again. With enough practice, delegation will become second nature and you just might be able to take a day off.