6 Steps to More Effective Delegation
Updated: Jan 3
Growing as a boss and leader is a challenging process when you are used to running your company yourself. As part of my growth process, I am taking a look at how to let go so my company can grow. Last year, I shared the experience of determining that we hired the wrong person. But once you have hired the right person, what comes next?
Delegation is such a little word but one of the hardest things to do when you are the boss. And for the record: 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.
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:
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.
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.
Confirm understanding One of the most common mistakes made in delegating is assuming that employees understand what you want, without ensuring 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 back to you 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.
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, both for the company and for themselves, that may result if they fail to deliver on the desired outcomes.
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." And for the record, this is one step of which I am most guilty. 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.
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.
Delegating is the next step in my growth process, and only when mastered can I move on toward being a better leader.