Last week’s post, The Pros and the Pros of Delegation, covered the What and the Why of effective delegation. This week’s post is about the How. Here is a step by step guide to assigning a task to someone else and then putting a system in place to provide that person with meaningful support.
1. Deciding to Delegate
The first step in delegation is deciding whether or not a responsibility or task should be delegated.
A good rule of thumb is for business leaders to spend the majority of their time on tasks and responsibilities that directly impact organizational or personal objectives.
These mission-critical tasks that affect long-term success require leadership attention. Everything else is fair game for delegation.
This cut and dry rule of thumb is good when there is a clear delineation between mission critical and non-mission critical activities. For situations with more of a gray area around the nature of responsibilities, use the following questions to determine whether or not a task is worth delegating. The more yes answers, the more likely a task or responsibility should/can be delegated:
- Does someone else have (or could be given) the necessary information or expertise to complete the task?
- Would this be an opportunity to grow and develop another person’s skills?
- Is this a recurring task?
- Has this task not yet been delegated because of expediency, habit, or because it falls squarely in the leader’s comfort-zone?
- Can you schedule sufficient time to delegate appropriately and thoroughly?
- Can enough time be allocated for adequate training, questions and answers, progress checks, and possible rework?
2. Selecting the Right Person
To ensure that the task is completed to the leader’s satisfaction, it is crucial to select the “right” person for the job. Effective delegation is about assigning challenging jobs to the person most qualified to complete the work as well as most interested in taking on the challenge. When deciding with whom to trust a task or responsibility, consider the following questions.
- Once trained, will this person have the capacity to do the job unsupervised?
- Does this person have a track record of open communication?
- Do this person’s strengths match the required skill set and/or knowledge base to successfully complete the assignment?
- Is it realistic to add another responsibility to this person’s workload?
- Do you trust this person enough to be patient as he/she progresses through his/her learning curve?
Again, the more “yes” answers, the more likely the individual is a good candidate for delegation.
3. Setting the stage for success
When the time is right to assign a task or responsibility to the carefully chosen person, use the following steps as a check list. Covering each of these items gives the person receiving the assignment the best possible chance for success.
- Gain the Person’s Buy-In. At first, the person receiving the assignment may not see all of the benefits of having something added to his/her workload. Before speaking with the person about the assignment, consider what he/she values. What outcomes would this person deem worthwhile? Then, when presenting the assignment, take the time to discuss the upside to successful completion of the task from the other person’s perspective. Cover the impact on financial rewards, future opportunities, recognition, and other desirable outcomes that would motivate the individual to willingly take on the challenge.
- Set Clear Expectations. Include specific parameters around performance standards, a detailed explanation of the desired results, the scope of the individual’s authority, available resources, communication strategies, and schedules. As much as possible, capture this information in writing.
- Explain/Coach/Train. Make sure the person knows what works. Alert the individual to potential pitfalls as well as methods that have had less success in the past.
- Keep an Open Mind. Unless the particular steps to completing a task or carrying out a given responsibility are truly “written in stone” or must comply with a particular mandate, maintain the flexibility to consider different methods. Be willing to entertain the possibility that the other person may devise a better way to get the task done. Whenever possible, focus on the end-result and leave the means (the how to get there) up to the individual. The more input a person has in the task/responsibility, the higher their level of personal ownership; which will in turn enhance their attention to detail and the quality of their output.
- Maintain Communication. Talk about what needs to be done and the specific output you expect. Proper communication prevents misunderstandings and helps the other person to fulfill his/her potential.
- Establish and Adhere to a Periodic Review Schedule. Make yourself available for progress reports and questions.
- Try Not to Catch “The Boomerang”. If there is a problem, don’t allow the person to throw responsibility for the task back to you. When presented with an issue, avoid the urge to provide an immediate answer. Ask the person to provide recommended solutions instead. Then, ask the person to prioritize the options and explain the rationale he/she used. Work with the individual to select and refine the best option until a mutually agreed upon solution is developed.
- Provide Recognition. Be generous and genuine with praise. Give recognition in a manner that is most valued by the individual. For example, publicly thank an outgoing ambitious person in front of an audience of organizational leaders.
Well executed delegation is a morale booster, a tremendous force for productivity gains, and a significant development tool.
The key phrase is “well executed.” Haphazardly throwing responsibility over the wall in hopes that the other person actually catches it will only frustrate the person hit with the added burden and cost the leader precious time fixing mistakes and rectifying issues. When delegation is properly leveraged, leaders are free to concentrate on organizational imperatives and the individuals entrusted with tasks and responsibilities grow their skills and enhance their importance within the organization.