Delegation: where to start? Some people find it easy, others claim to find it impossible. As ever, it’s your mindset that will determine whether or not you consistently delegate effectively. There are some great check-lists and formats out there but still people find it tricky to do. Here are some touchstones that – if you do apply them – will make the biggest difference.
- “Only do what only you can do”
The more senior you are, the more important it is to focus on the areas that only you can do and to aim to delegate everything else, e.g.
- creating 1:1 time to listen to & inspire your team; or
- creating the overall strategy; or
- conducting those “So, how are we doing generally?” customer conversations; or
- taking time out to understand your place in the industry or sector
- developing yourself
OK, nobody can only do what they can do 100% of the time but it’s a potentially mind-shifting mind-set to adopt when deciding whether or not to delegate an area of responsibility.
- Focus on doing your job really well and resist interfering in others
I’ve lost count of the number of clients who have reported how their team isn’t doing a good enough job…only to realise that actually they’re getting in the team’s way. And if the team isn’t able enough to get on with their work without you getting directly involved well, then there’s something wrong. Maybe they need training, maybe they are the wrong team members, maybe you need to improve your leadership skills. Either way, doing your own job is going to be much more of an effective approach than interfering in theirs.
- Focus on the agreed output (not ensuring that they do it your way)
One of the biggest errors that managers make, especially when they’re new to delegating, is to focus on the process, “do this and then do that”. No, effective delegation requires you to be really clear about the output that you’re seeking: to what standard, within what time, with these resources etc. And yes, you may need to discuss the spirit in which the tasks might take place, e.g. “We need to keep the stakeholders on side” but then let go. Yes, support, yes, keep in touch but let them find their own way of delivering. Maybe it’ll be even better than your way…
- Delegate consistently, especially when you haven’t got time to delegate
It’s so tempting to succumb to the notion that “I haven’t got time to delegate, I can do it quicker myself”. You’re right, it will be quicker to do it yourself but you need to invest in developing others and delegating to them on a regular, not inconsistent basis. Then they can prepare themselves and their schedules accordingly.
- “Strength spot” people so you can choose the right person to delegate to
If you have a keen understanding of what energises your colleagues then you’ll be best placed to be able to delegate the best task to the best person. Remember that someone who gets to use their strengths every day is six times more engaged than someone who isn’t; and they’re about 20-35% more productive too. That’s got to be worth stirring into your thinking, hasn’t it?
- Once it’s left your “to do” list, don’t let it back onto it!
Sometimes when you delegate something to someone you can find that task is back on your desk and you’re left wondering, “How did that happen?”. Was it:
- They never wanted the job in the first place; or
- You never really wanted to delegate it (you just knew you ought to!)
Either way….give it back and make sure it stays there by setting the delegation up properly.
- Be as good at delegating as you are at being delegated to
Wherever you’re delegating: at work, at play or at home, you’re as likely to be delegated to as you are to be the one doing the delegating. The same rules apply: set it up really well in the first place and the task is much more likely to be completed in a manner that meets the brief.
- Ask: “What exactly are you taking away from our conversation?” & LISTEN!
When delegating a task, most line managers will finish by asking, “Have you got that?” or “Any questions?” or more succinctly, “Happy?”. Of course, some people will ask lots of questions and clarify their understanding but many won’t. They don’t want to look stupid. It’s far better to invite the person you’re delegating to to summarise their understanding in their own words by asking, “What are you taking away from our conversation?”. My experience of this approach is that it’s an absolutely essential question and if you listen carefully to their answer you’ll be in a position to affirm, challenge or amplify their understanding.
- Check that you’re delegating effectively
Either ask for feedback, as in, “I’d welcome some feedback on how I delegate” or, as you close a delegation conversation (at the beginning of the assignment and at the end), use a checklist. Ask yourself and others. “How well did I…
- define the output or task?”
- select the individual or team?”
- assess ability and training needs?”
- explain the reasons for choosing them?”
- state required output (and not the process!)?”
- consider resources required?”
- agree deadlines / standards”
- support and communicate?”
- When in doubt…delegate
Maybe you know how the theory but aren’t doing it.
Maybe you come up with a thousand reasons why you shouldn’t delegate that task.
Maybe you see yourself as “someone who just doesn’t delegate”.
Whatever the reason for not delegating find a way to do it. Just do it. Follow these top tips and you’ll be more right than wrong and a better delegator than most.