Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Keys to better delegation

Originally uploaded by anthonywuzhere

There are so many advantages to delegating work - better time use on your part, involvement on the part of other people in your department, burnout prevention, and professional development among them. But a number of managers have told me that they aren't delegating the way they could or should. And in some instances they've been burned by handing off a job that was then not done correctly or not on time. Here are some of the obstacles they've named:

  • I can't let go. I stress about it the whole time the other person is working on it, so I figure that I might as well work on it myself.
  • I do it the best, so why give it to someone who won't do as well?
  • My staff is already jammed with projects - they don't need my stuff too.
  • My next in command isn't ready with the knowhow to follow through on the project.
  • I don't have time to be following up. It's easier to do it myself.

What it gets down to is a clarification of what you're being paid to do as a leader. You might have gotten your promotion because you're the best technician in the company in your field, but are you supposed to be the chief technician in this role? Or are you being paid to help others perform effectively? My bet is that you're accountable for leveraging the skills of the whole team, not just your own.

If you want to get better at handing projects off, you can improve your delegation by:

  • Setting clear expectations for the task, including criteria that you will use to gauge the quality of the output.
  • Establishing a timeline, either by telling the employee when you need it, or by having them evaluate the project (if it's more open ended) and tell you when they expect to be able to deliver it.
  • Training them BEFORE you delegate to them. Otherwise this will be an exercise and frustration for both of you and you'll prove to yourself that you shouldn't have delegated in the first place.
  • Developing a project plan. If this is completely new for the employee you'll want to collaborate on the development of the plan. If they have more experience have them develop the plan and discuss it with you before they start. That way you can teach them about your thought process (and they can demonstrate theirs to you.) Understanding one another's thought process helps the learning from this situation transfer to the next one.
  • Incorporating progress review dates. If it's a big and/or important project you don't want to wait until the 11th hour and realize that it's not complete. If it's been broken down into steps (see project plan above) you and they will be able to see whether it's on track and take corrective action if needed.
  • Freeing yourself from the idea that it has to be done the way you do it. There is more than one right answer for many situations, and your biggest concern is that the project gets the results you want, right? So let the person use their own strengths to get the job done, even if it's not exactly the way you would execute.
  • Providing feedback during and after the project. If one of the big benefits to delegation is to develop staff, let them know how they're doing. The greener they are, the more feedback they'll want from you. Behavior you reward is the behavior that will be repeated, so make a point of telling them what's right with what they are doing.
  • Drive out fear. Mistakes can and will happen, and you'll jeopardize future attempts at delegating if you flip out on your employee for messing up. Of course you don't want them to be learning the same lesson over and over again, but if you create a hostile environment they'll be reluctant to take on more responsibility and hesitant to take action.


Jeff said...

Great checklist. The BIG Question, though: How do you get people not used to letting go to actually do it?

We've had some success at that, by the way, but . . . wow . . . it's a conundrum!Jeff Yablon
President & CEO
Virtual VIP

Julie Poland, certified business coach said...

Jeff -

Thanks for your comments - nice website, by the way. I've found that once I've provided a process by which to do the hand-off managers get much more comfortable actually letting go.

Another mindset that helps is to get people going with the "test and measure" attitude. That way you aren't as likely to wind up debating something in theory without ever taking action to see whether it would work or not.