6 Steps For More Effective Delegation

DIY should not be the MO of the CEO.

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:

1. Prepare

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.

2. Assign

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]

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4 Comments

  • Paulp

     

    I love the direct and pragmatic approach in your article. I especially
    like the points you make about being attentive to “reverse delegating” and as well
    as accountability as the key to the process of delegation.

     

    A technique that we have found helpful in the feedback and/or
    directing a manager does with an employee, is to “ask for what you want.” We
    find many managers will voice what they don’t want or make a complaint, versus
    saying what they want to have happen, i.e., being clear about the desired outcome.
    A very simple example that we have all heard many times: “Don’t forget to….” When
    what we actually want the person to do is, “Remember to…”

     

    This reframing technique is somewhat explained in an article
    I wrote on our website about giving feedback: Do You Give Good Performance
    Feedback? Your Cardio Machine Does!. http://tinyurl.com/d2l3e6j

     

    I’m sure you can see how the technique has application in
    delegating as well. Again, thank you for a well thought out method for
    delegating.

  • Paul H. Burton

    Great list on good delegation. The best (short) book I ever read on this subject was "The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey." In particular, the reverse delegation issue is the very hardest to overcome. In my leadership-meets-productivity book titled "The Waterfall Effect: Six Principles for Productive Leadership" (Amazon), I talk about Peeling Back the Onion. That principle focuses on how to get the most out of your people and, in the process, engage your people to their fullest.