If you are reading this then I know you get it. Delegation is a power tool in your leadership toolkit. I also know that you are probably struggling a bit with making this tool work for you.
So what’s getting in the way? Fear, guilt and poor processes are barriers to delegation. A few years ago, I created a workshop on the art of delegation. I learned a lot teaching this class. I’ve learned even more listening to and watching my clients struggle with but overcome their fear of and guilt with delegation.
One of the best ways I know to address the fear and guilt that comes with delegation is to employ a simple step-by-step process. So here it is.
- Set realistic expectations
“What if they mess up?” The truth is they will not be as good as you the first few times they perform the task. You were not as good as you are now doing that task when you did it the first few times. Don’t compare your current and hard earned proficiency with your delegate’s neophyte efforts. It’s not fair to either of you. This type of thinking just sets you up for longer hours and burnout. Here is a better way of looking at delegation. If I can train my delegate to complete this task with little input and correction from me over the next few months, I will gain two additional hours per week. The pathway to effective delegation is a slow jog and not a sprint to the finish line.
- Know your team
In this step you will need to move past the shallow labels of demographics and job titles and into a more useful domain. Psychographics is the use of demographics to determine the values, attitudes, and motivation of a particular segment of a population. Psychographics will help you match your task and responsibilities to a goal and outcome that is desirable to your team members. Psychographics is what marketers have used for years to tailor their messages to consumers. As leaders, we need to simply ask, listen, and observe to learn more about our employees. Once we are clear on their motivations and aspirations, we assign relevant tasks and frame our messages in a way that they see the alignment with their own goals.
- Pick the right task
Until you become more comfortable delegating, it is best to select a task that meets these requirements: has low risk to you and the company; has a high probability of success; and has well defined outcome metrics. We will talk more about clear outcomes in step 5.
- Pick the right person
This is why knowing your team is a requirement to guilt free and effective delegation. Your end goal is to select the person who is both motivated and competent in the task you are delegating. When people see tasks that are congruent with their own goals, values, and motivations, the task is usually welcomed. Therefore, there is no reason for guilt. Another consideration for selecting the person is cost. Simply put, delegate to the most competent, motivated and affordable person you can find. Don’t give a task to a highly paid professional that your intern would be happy to do and capable of accomplishing.
- Have a clear metric for success
The best I have heard on this topic comes from the Seven Habit of Highly Effective People. Covey told his son, “green and clean” was the metric for success for their lawn. Both you and your delegate must have a crystal clear image and metric of success. If you are having trouble articulating what success looks like, the chances are that this is not a good task to delegate. Be sure your delegates can articulate a satisfactory definition of success of the task before you officially give them the responsibility. Once you are both crystal clear on the metrics of success, give your delegate room to figure out their own pathway to success with your support and guidance, of course.
- Collaboratively set the deadline
The assumption here is that you have a lot of say about the due date. Collaborative is code for soliciting the opinion of your delegate. Keep in mind that your delegate had a work load before this new responsibility was given. This step gives the delegate a chance to negotiate and to work through how to manage the new task and existing work. You, as the leader, have the final say, but if you are too heavy handed at this step, you might squash some of the innate motivation we discussed in step 4. Additionally, provide plenty of time for checkpoints and ongoing support. Effective delegation is a slow race, so don’t rush yourself.
- Provide resources and support
Your time and availability are the best resources and support you can give. If you don’t make time for this support, any failure on the part of the delegate falls directly in your lap. You are in the unique position as the leader to point out additional resources available to your delegates. Additionally, you can make sure that they have the resources they need for success by allocating the time of other members within your team. As in other steps, it is a good idea to ask your delegates what support they need as a starting point.
- Provide feedback
Please don’t wait until after the project is over to give your feedback. This is way too late. Also don’t micromanage your delegates by providing feedback on every word, comma, or paragraph that they produce. Find the balance somewhere in the middle. Remember you have done this task many times. Evaluate your delegate’s performance against others who are also new to the task. Be fair, constructive, and balanced in your feedback.
- Reward and recognize
Chances are they will not knock your socks off the first time they complete this task. Please be sure to provide praise for the progress that you did see. Don’t wait until your delegates are perfect at completing the task to give praise. It you are thinking that feels like a bit too much for your taste, just remember your end goal. You are doing this to develop capability and capacity and thereby get more time for yourself. Praise is free so freely use it. Only provide rewards greater than praise for results that are up to or exceed your standards.
- Conduct a post delegation review
Honestly reflect on how well you delegated. Use these steps presented in this article as your own rubric. Provide your delegate with these steps as well so that they can evaluate you against the same measures. Don’t obsess about the deficiencies. It is the bridging of the gaps where the real progress is made. Remain open and non-defensive. After you have reflected and solicited feedback about your delegation, give yourself some time, at least a few days, to process what you heard. The last step is to craft a plan that strengthens your delegation.
Be bold and share your areas of opportunity with your next delegate. Remember that this is a process. The keys to guilt free and effective delegation are working these steps while remaining patient along the way.