THE HUNGER FOR THE TOPIC
I was reminiscing with a colleague about our journey of managing people and we both agreed that it would have been so much better for everyone concerned if we’d learned the art of delegation much earlier in life. We both hit the same cycle that a lot of people do when they’re new to management. We took on the extra responsibility, but we thought that also meant that we had to take on the extra workload. After a prolonged period, we felt tired out and it wasn’t until we hit that stage that we started to pass work out. However, we fell into all the traps that you do when you’re sinking. We weren’t specific in our delegation of activities, we didn’t provide realistic deadlines, nor did we schedule check ins to see how things were progressing. And of course, we often received the output that we dread when we delegate; a half cooked result that needed more of our attention, leaving us to think why hadn’t we just completed it in the first place?!
Does this sound familiar? Both of us had initially been insufficiently organised or perhaps a little too inflexible to delegate efficiently. There were parts of us that didn’t want to lose control, but of course the longer we tried to soldier on, this is exactly what was happening. And perhaps deep down there may have been a little bit of wanting people to depend on us a bit too much. How things have changed!!! I haven’t become a Teflon person, but I do think I have nailed the art of delegation and so want to share my tools and tips with this wonderful ingredient of WILD-RICE.
In my research I found out that several Native American cultures consider wild-rice to be a sacred part of their culture and the plant is granted with the right to exist and flourish. I feel it’s so opportune that I chose this ingredient to show us how to become better delegators because when you get delegation right, it not only helps us to exist and flourish with better balance in our life, but it also helps those around us to continually develop and flourish too.
THE INGREDIENTS FOR SUCCESS
- What – what is it you’re going to delegate?
- Individual – who has the skills and ability?
- Let go – don’t micromanage, let them get on with it!
- Deadline – Set achievable deadlines so that you’re not setting either of you up to fail.
- Resources – or the lack of them, are often the elements that create barriers to success. Find out what support your people will require.
- Instruction – If you can verbalise what you visualise as the output and the standard to which you’d like it to be achieved, you are much more likely to get the result you require.
- Check-in and coach – as the person to whom you’re delegating to set regular opportunities to check in with you so that you can monitor progress and work on any issues that may arise.
- EBI – once the task is completed, hold a review. Find out the learning from the individual and what would make it even better if they had to do it again.
THE METHODS THAT BLEND IT TOGETHER
What should you be delegating? Proper delegation requires up front effort! My suggestion is to write a list of all the things you currently have to do in your role. Jot them down under broad headings and then note down the percentage of time you’d like to spend on each. Over the next week, carry out an audit of where you actually spend your time and see how it matches up to your initial list. Now look down your second list and decide which activities you should continue to do and which ones you can pass onto others. As Eli Broad, the American Philanthropist said, “Once you’ve identified your crucial tasks and sorted out your priorities, try to find a way to delegate everything else.”
Delegation is akin to empowerment. It’s a step by step approach in which you hand over responsibilities to individuals within your team in a controlled and gradual way. If you delegate too much too quickly you can have even more chaos on your hands than you did originally!! So, choose wisely! Don’t delegate things that really need your care and attention, but items that will develop the potential of others.
Individual – think about who you are going to delegate the task to and what skills and capabilities they have to make sure it’s carried out in the best possible way. You can usually choose a person for one of two reasons. Their skills match the task, or you can link the objectives to their development and learning.
If you are matching the task to the person, you will consider their strengths, talents and interests, whereas if you’re linking it to their development and learning, you will be looking at what will stretch their current capabilities. The latter may need a little more direction.
Let go! If you don’t, you’ll be thoroughly exhausted. It was Craig Groeschel that said ‘when you delegate tasks, you create follows. When you delegate authority, you create leaders’. Don’t be one of those managers who is always looking over the person’s shoulder micromanaging them on the task. I know that we remain accountable for everything that happens on our watch, but we never grow our team’s capabilities if we’re constantly correcting them. And when we take this approach, we eventually create people who stop trying their best as they know you’ll change it anyway.
Deadlines are a crucial element of delegating a task and I often think there are two that need to be in place. The hard deadline when the task needs to be completed and then there’s the deadline for you. And I mention this because, I’ve experienced work delivered to me in the twelfth hour and had no time to review it. When it’s all last minute it gives you a feeling of stress and a feeling of being out of control. I like to work more proactively, so having the work with me at least 24 hours before it’s required is my ideal.
Of course, it’s vitally important that you have realistic timescales in the first place. It’s no good sitting on a task for days procrastinating what needs to be done and then dumping it on someone else as the deadline is fast approaching. You’re setting both of you up to fail. There will always be some things that are urgent, but on the whole, you should be giving people the appropriate timescales to finish any activity delegated to the standard required.
Resources, or lack of them, can be the items that derail any project. I find it best to ask the person what challenges they think they’ll face. This open question helps the person to think about what support they may require, what other work may get in the way etc. You can then have a sensible discussion about what needs to happen to move forward in the best possible way. I also think it gives you the opportunity to hear whether they have grasped the project in the way you envisaged. Which leads me onto the next ingredient.
Instructions! Having clarity on what you want to see as the end result is absolutely essential. When you can visualise a great result and describe that to the person to whom you are delegating the task, the end result will be so much better. Initially, I used to think you had to give instruction as to how you wanted the task to be carried out, but I now know that this isn’t the case. We should be looking how we empower people to do the best job rather than giving them constant supervision. Learning from mistakes are our best teachers, so there’s always a rule of thumb in delegation – a win is seen as when something is done 85% to how you would do it! “Delegation requires the willingness to pay for short term failures in order to gain long term competency.” ― Dave Ramsey
The person only needs to know the ‘what’ and not the ‘how’. Getting caught up the minutia can be seen as interfering and stops the person from using their initiative. I love it when the person, left to their own devices, creates a much better result than I ever would have done!
Check in and coach is another critical part of delegation. Regular check ins are good for you both as it measures progress. My number one tip here is to ask the person how regularly they’d like to check in with you, rather than you dictating the timescales, as this provides them with the control of the process. If you think the timings are too far out, you can always suggest a greater frequency.
The reason I mention this is because many years ago I was asked to carry out a project and my manager wanted to meet so regularly that it added additional pressure to the task. I felt I had to have certain things completed by each of these deadlines I started making silly errors which of course ended up in the manager wanting to see me more often. It was a vicious cycle, and it was only when I asked for a greater time between meetings, that I was able to get back in control of the situation. Don’t let this happen to you. Ask the person to set their own agenda for your meetings. At each session, find out how they’re feeling their achievement is in line with their schedule and what support they may require. You’ll become an enabler rather than a controller!
And finally, EBI. This stands for ‘even better if’ and I think it’s really good practise to check on the learning that comes from any piece of work that stretches you, whether it’s a project or life experience.
Perhaps during your final check in, ask the person if they had the chance to do this activity again, what they would do differently. This creates an opportunity for reflection on the whole task/project. Together you can discuss any learning that has taken place, new connections made and what transferrable skills it has created.
It is also an opportunity for you to reflect upon what you felt went well so that you can recognise the individual for their work and to voice any parts that you may have approached differently. It also means that you’ve created a fully rounded learning experience.
THE SEASONING TO MAKE IT YOUR OWN
As my mum is always reminding me, delegation isn’t just an activity to be carried out in the professional environment. It works at home too. We all have so many things to juggle, but when we pool our resources, it helps us to gain more balance in our lives. I was mentioning this to a couple of friends at the weekend, and they laughed and said they had already started delegating certain tasks to their children. Some who had young adults had been delegating the cooking of one meal a week to them. Not only was it a great help in the house, but it has also provided them with essential cooking skills when they leave to go to university. Others were good at delegating cleaning tasks!
Whatever it is you are going to start delegating, think about creating a two way conversation. One of the biggest reasons that we don’t delegate as much as we could is because we think it’s either quicker or easier to do it ourselves. And that’s because we’ve been burnt in the past by people not fulfilling the job. If we reflect on why this happened, it’s usually because we haven’t been as liberal with our communications as we could have been. Perhaps we didn’t check to see if the person fully understood what we asked of them. I now have one question that I ask to make sure we’re on the same page and it is …..
‘How do you think you’ll approach this task?’
I promise you, their response will tell you straight away if the person heard the delegated task in the same way as you intended!