Delegating is a great way to ensure that more tasks get done in less time, and it also builds team capacity. Unfortunately, a lot of managers don’t pay enough attention to the delegation process, and thus fail to reap the benefits. Are you a successful delegator?
There are six steps to successfully delegating tasks. The problem is that most managers only do one or two of them, and then, when a task isn’t completed to their satisfaction, complain that their employees aren’t good enough to get the job done.
As a coach, I’ve seen scores of executives from myriad companies do this. Getting outstanding results from delegating demands following a formula. Only once this formula is mastered is it fair to evaluate whether you really have the right people for the job. The good news is that employees are rarely the problem. It’s a lot easier and much less expensive for a manager to learn a new approach than to replace staff.
Here are the six steps you should work through when delegating:
Employees can’t deliver quality results if the task delegated to them isn’t fully thought out, or if expectations keep changing. Take the time and develop the discipline to map out exactly what you’re asking for. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Once you’ve taken the time to map out exactly what you’re looking for, you need to convey that information to your employees. Be sure to include clear information on timing, budget, and context, and set expectations for communication and updates, including frequency, content, and format.
3. Confirm understanding
One of the most common mistakes made in delegating is assuming that employees understand what you want, rather than making sure that they do. Confirming understanding only takes about 60 seconds, but is the most important determinant of success or failure.
The best way to confirm understanding is to ask your employees to paraphrase the request or assignment in their own words. If you’re not comfortable doing that (many managers feel–often correctly–that it makes them sound like a kindergarten teacher), you should, at the very least, ask questions to make sure employees understand all aspects of what’s required.
4. Confirm commitment
This is another part of the delegation process that most managers skip. They often just assume that employees have accepted the tasks they’ve been given. The most important part of a relay race is the handing of the baton to the next runner. Runners spend a huge amount of time learning this skill. It should be no different in the workplace. Commitment means making sure you’ve successfully handed over the baton.
Confirm that employees are committed to the expected results, and to the process that’s been set out (including the schedule, budget, and tools), and that their overall goals for the task are aligned with yours. Make sure they’re aware of any consequences (for the company and for themselves) that may result if they fail to deliver on the desired outcomes.
5. Avoid “reverse delegating”
Many managers are extremely overworked. Sometimes, this is because their employees are better at delegating than they are: Managers often end up completing tasks they had delegated to others, because those tasks somehow end up back on their plate. I call this “reverse delegating.”
It’s rarely, if ever, necessary for a manager to take back a task that he or she had delegated to someone else. (If this is necessary, it likely means that not enough time was spent on the preparation stage, and that time, resource, or other constraints have led to problems that you did not foresee.)
If an employee reaches an impasse, treat it as a learning opportunity. Coach the employee through it, making sure he or she has the resources and knowledge needed to complete the task. That way, you’ll still be free to focus on other things, and the employee will be better equipped to carry out similar tasks in the future. The bottom line? Don’t take tasks back.
6. Ensure Accountability
Two-way communication is a key part of delegating. Finding out at the completion date that a deliverable hasn’t been completed or has been done unsatisfactorily is the nightmare scenario of delegating. That’s why you need to make sure your employees are accountable for the task.
Accountability is key to the process of delegation: It means employees are regularly communicating with you about the status of the deliverable and the timing of delivery so that there are no surprises at the eleventh hour.
The delegation process becomes faster and more fluid the more you do it. Once you’ve mastered it, it will become a part of your managerial DNA, and you’ll consistently reap outstanding results.
–Michelle Randall is an executive coach and management consultant. Throughout the past decade, her clients have included Fortune 500 executives and breakout entrepreneurs along with their teams. Author of several books, Michelle’s newest: Life Worth Living: A Practical Guide to Extreme Executive Effectiveness comes out later this month. Follow her @enrichingleader or subscribe to her newsletter, Relentless Results.
[Image: Flickr user Lou.Hadley]
Perhaps no leadership principle has been more widely misunderstood than delegation. It is common to hear comments like these about a leader who is overloaded with work: “He ought to delegate more” or “Why doesn’t she learn how to delegate?” The assumption is that all there is to delegation is turning work over to someone else and suddenly being free from that responsibility.
Any good leader knows, however, that delegation won’t necessarily give him more free time immediately. In the long run, effective delegation should give the leader more time for other matters, but in the short time frame, it may involve an even greater time commitment.
Assignments, projects, and areas of work
How can you make delegation a useful tool instead of an unwieldy burden? An important beginning point is understanding what’s involved in the task you’re delegating.
1. Assignments. An assignment is usually a clear, specific, single task given just once. Giving talks, presenting parts of lessons, and running errands are examples of assignments. When our sixteen-year-old son needed to be driven to an early-morning basketball practice, I asked one of the older boys if he would be responsible for handling this for me. This was a delegated assignment, a single activity, that relieved me of a task for one day.
Because assignments are one-time tasks, they usually lead only to limited development of new skills. However, an assignment may be the beginning of interest, training, or development in a new area.
2. Projects. A project is a larger, more complex set of tasks requiring more skills; but, like an assignment, it is usually not an on-going job.
For example, our bishop delegated to our high priests group leader the project of handling the ward banquet. This included making all arrangements for the food, tables, decorations, serving, and program. The quorum leader in turn made a number of assignments for those specific responsibilities.
When appropriate, parents should give children responsibility for entire projects. For example, children could be delegated projects like planning family home evening activities, doing the weekly grocery shopping, planning the menus for a week, or assessing the food storage supply—rather than just small assignments—“make your bed,” “take this back to the neighbor,” “pick up your coat,” “take out the garbage,” “set the table.”
Well-delegated projects should provide excellent growth opportunities to those given the responsibility. It is only the unwise leader or parent who is afraid to delegate out total projects and gives only assignments.
3. Areas of work. An area of work is a complex set of activities that will persist over time—not just a “one shot” assignment or project.
A delegated area of work may be formalized—built into a particular position or calling. The stake president may delegate responsibility for certain welfare farm activities to a particular high councilor; another may be given the program for single adults; still others are delegated the Young Men or Young Women programs, teacher development, sports activities, etc.
In other instances, areas of work are not formally built into callings or positions but are delegated out as the need arises. One father turned over to his oldest son the responsibility for keeping the family car in good repair. A teenage daughter was asked to accept the task of getting the family up every morning for scripture reading and prayer. Some families divide the housecleaning into areas of work and delegate to various family members the responsibility of keeping a particular part of the home clean.
One mother delegated the family marketing to her daughter. This meant the daughter was responsible for handling a rather large amount of money, for buying all the food, and for generally coordinating the buying with the family menus.
In areas of work there is a great opportunity for the one given the task to learn, to grow, and to relieve the leader or parent of the burden. But at first the instruction and training may actually take more of the leader’s time than doing the job himself.
Why leaders do or don’t delegate
Leaders delegate for two main reasons: (1) they lack the time, skill, or other resources to do the job; or (2) they wish to give someone else the growth opportunities that come with a particular responsibility and activity.
On the other hand, many leaders do not delegate because: (1) they can’t always rely on people to do the job the way they want it done; (2) it takes more time to show people how to do it than it does to do it themselves; (3) it is frustrating to delegate something and then not have it done the “right” way at the right time; (4) sometimes delegated tasks involve more problems and time, as people keep asking questions and complaining about the assignment.
Eliminating obstacles to effective delegation
It is possible to overcome these blocks to delegation, however. These suggestions can prove helpful:
1. Seek inspiration. Determine prayerfully who should receive particular assignments and what tasks to assign to particular people. Then both you and the person receiving the assignments can feel more committed to the arrangement.
2. Give challenging assignments. Sometimes leaders parcel out only the hard, boring, or uninteresting activities and keep the best for themselves. This means that the person receiving the tasks often does not see the work leading to any significant growth or improvement, and, in time, begins to resent and resist the task. If a child were delegated to always do the dishes after a family night and never had a chance to give the lesson, select the activity, or plan the dessert, he could easily become dissatisfied. A wise church or family leader periodically reviews what has been delegated to see how people feel about their assignments.
3. Clarify expectations. When one turns work over to another, he still retains a certain degree of responsibility. While a mother may delegate the family marketing to her daughter, she is still responsible for the family’s diet, nutrition, and meals, even if the daughter does a poor job marketing. It is important that the mother clarify what she expects—that she clearly explain the importance of shopping, the amount of money to be spent, when the marketing is to be done, and the quality of merchandise to be purchased. If these things are not clearly communicated, the daughter may unknowingly violate the expectations of the mother or the family, and then be scolded or punished for not doing what she never really understood.
4. Get a commitment. After explaining the importance of the task and identifying the objectives, the leader should give the person a chance to respond—to accept the assignment, project, or area of work and commit himself to accomplish it. A verbal response can do more than just help the person feel committed to his new assignment; it can also open the door for questions or clarifications and lead naturally to future follow-through.
5. Give training as needed. Often a new area of work is unfamiliar to the person receiving the assignment and he is therefore unable to immediately begin performing at a skilled level. To help him reach the desired level of performance, the leader may need to spend time giving adequate instructions and training. For example, when a priesthood holder is delegated the responsibility of home teaching, the leader should take the time to give clear and appropriate training. This might include a period of explanation as well as a joint home teaching experience to show him how effective home teaching is done. Without this preparation, the home teacher may do a poor job, frustrating everyone, and the quorum leader may never realize that he is part of the problem.
6. Follow-through. When a task has been delegated, the leader often assumes that he can sit back and let the work get done. But in fact, the work is not going to get done as it should unless he has a consistent program of follow-through. This includes taking time periodically to examine what has been done, assess the outcome, do some replanning, and perhaps give some additional training and coaching. Follow-through does not mean always checking up, but rather having times, mutually agreed upon, to review progress.
For example, if a teachers quorum committee, under the direction of a chairman, has been delegated the responsibility for a quorum skating party and food afterwards, the quorum advisor should first give clear instructions and then set dates when certain arrangements should be completed and reported to him. He should not wait until the day of the party and then frantically call everyone to see if all the arrangements have been made. Many programs fail because there is no planned method for stimulating or redirecting people with assignments. Also a lack of follow-through may be a signal to the person given the task that the leader has lost interest in the project or is no longer concerned. This may cause the assigned person to lose motivation.
7. Let go. While the leader should clarify expectations, give instructions or training, and follow through, it is unrealistic to expect the person receiving the assignment to carry it out exactly as the leader would if he were doing it himself. The leader must let go, allowing the other person the right to do the job consistent with his own skills, personality, style, and experience. It is terribly frustrating to be given a job and then be watched over, regulated, and directed by someone else who feels he must control everything to make sure it is done just as he wants it. The person doing the task cannot help but inject something of his own uniqueness into the work. This should be expected, allowed, and even appreciated. Hopefully, if the individual is going to grow in the assignment, he will begin to take over and perhaps do the job even better than the leader had imagined.
For instance, a Relief Society president may find that the counselor who is asked to conduct a meeting or supervise a project may do so in a different manner than she would. The counselor’s style may be equally effective and may even produce superior results if the president allows some freedom. But the counselor will never grow if the president exercises too much control, checking up too closely, hovering around so much that the counselor is afraid to do anything.
Delegation is not just a gimmick to get rid of work. It is a leadership strategy—a larger plan in which the leader is eventually relieved of certain activities and the person receiving tasks experiences growth and development in the new area of work. Effective delegation is the result of Serious planning, a clear explanation of what is involved, proper training, follow-through, and a willingness to let go.
William G. Dyer, a professor of organizational behavior at Brigham Young University, serves as high priest quorum teacher in his Provo, Utah, ward.