Successful delegation

DelegateIf you work on your own, there’s only a limited amount that you can do, however hard you work. You can only work so many hours in a day. There are only so many tasks you can complete in these hours. There are only so many people you can help by doing these tasks. And, because the number of people you can help is limited, your success is limited.

However, if you’re good at your job, people will want much more than this from you. This can lead to a real sense of pressure and work overload: you can’t do everything that everyone wants, and this can leave you stressed, unhappy, and feeling that you’re letting people down.

On the positive side, however, you’re being given a tremendous opportunity if you can find a way around this limitation. If you can realize this opportunity, you can be genuinely successful. One of the most common ways of overcoming this limitation is to learn how to delegate your work to other people.

If you do this well, you can quickly build a strong and successful team of people, well able to meet the demands that others place. This is why delegation is such an important skill, and is one that you absolutely have to learn!

Delegation is a critical skill. “Your most important task as a leader is to teach people how to think and ask the right questions so that the world doesn’t go to hell if you take a day off,” says Jeffrey Pfeffer, Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. Delegation benefits managers, direct reports, and organizations.

Yet it remains one of the most underutilized and underdeveloped management capabilities. A 2007 study on time management found that close to half of the 332 companies surveyed were concerned about their employees’ delegation skills. At the same time, only 28% of those companies offered any training on the topic. “Most people will tell you they are too busy to delegate — that it’s more efficient for them to just do it themselves,” says Carol Walker, the president of Prepared to Lead, a consulting firm that focuses on developing young leaders. But both Walker and Pfeffer agree that it’s time to drop the excuses.

 

Why People Don’t Delegate

There are plenty of reasons why managers don’t delegate. Some are perfectionists who feel it’s easier to do everything themselves, or that their work is better than others’. Pfeffer calls this “self-enhancement bias.”

Some believe that passing on work will detract from their own importance, while others lack self-confidence and don’t want to be upstaged by their subordinates. No matter how self-aware you are, don’t assume that you’re immune to these biases, Pfeffer advises. Instead, you need to proactively ask yourself what you’re going to do to counterbalance them.

Walker notes that letting go of these misconceptions can be extremely difficult and often organizational culture doesn’t help. “Giving up being ‘the go-to expert’ takes tremendous confidence and perspective even in the healthiest environments,” she says.

“It’s even more challenging in the average company, where being a good manager is seen as a ‘nice to have,’ but where producing the core deliverable is what is truly esteemed.” But accepting that you can’t do everything yourself is a critical first step to delegating.

 

The Who and How of Delegating

Having decided to delegate a task there are some other factors to consider as well. Once you’ve recognized what’s standing in your way, the next logical step is to adjust your behavior. Pfeffer advises keeping a daily diary of how you spend your time. After a week, you’ll start to see patterns. “You’re likely to find that a lot of time is spent on low-leverage activities that can be delegated,”

 

Choose the right people:

Some managers fear delegation because they’ve been burned in the past. It’s important that you pass on work to people who have the necessary skills and are motivated to get the job done right. Ideally, you should be able to delegate some form of work to everyone on your team. If you push work as far down the hierarchy as possible, you will free up time and help all your staff members grow.

 

Integrate delegation into what you already do:

Delegation shouldn’t be yet another task. Make it part of your process for creating staff development plans. Discuss which types of projects and tasks you will pass on to them so that they can build the skills they need. “Make sure it’s written down as part of their performance goals and discuss how you will be mutually accountable for making it happen,” says Walker.

 

Ask others to hold you accountable:

Give your direct reports permission to call you out when you haven’t delegated something you should. Remember that it’s never easy to give your boss feedback, so be crystal clear that you are open to and expect this kind of input. Also, let them know that they’re responsible for their own growth and if they see projects they want to take on, they should volunteer for them.

Really let go:

After you delegate, your job as a manager is to observe and support your direct reports, not dictate what they do. “It’s not about making the decisions for them. Develop their critical thinking skills so they become better at intervening in their own situations,” Pfeffer says. Give your employees space.

“If you want people to learn, you have to permit them to make mistakes and figure out how to correct them,” says Pfeffer. Micromanaging defeats the whole purpose. Be careful though. It’s possible to be too hands off. “While you don’t want to tell people how to do the job, you must be in a position to evaluate their performance and development,” says Walker.

Don’t walk away from a task you’ve delegated. Stay involved but let your employee lead the way.

 

Learn from experience:

Once you’ve started delegating more, pay attention to the results, and learn from your mistakes. Ask yourself how you can tweak your approach.

Can you delegate more involved tasks? Should you give your direct reports more freedom?

Do you need to monitor progress more closely? Be patient with yourself while you practice. “You’re going from an ‘I’m going to do everything because I know better than everyone’ mindset to ‘I’m going to let people learn’ mindset,” says Pfeffer. It may take time, but the payoff is great.

 

Keeping Control

Now, once you have worked through the above steps, make sure you brief your team member appropriately. Take time to explain why they were chosen for the job, what’s expected from them during the project, the goals you have for the project, all timelines and deadlines and the resources on which they can draw. And agree a schedule for checking-in with progress updates.

Lastly, make sure that the team member knows that you want to know if any problems occur, and that you are available for any questions or guidance needed as the work progresses.

We all know that as managers, we shouldn’t micromanage. However, this doesn’t mean we must abdicate control altogether:

In delegating effectively, we have to find the sometimes-difficult balance between giving enough space for people to use their abilities to best effect, while still monitoring and supporting closely enough to ensure that the job is done correctly and effectively.

 

The Importance of Full Acceptance

When delegated work is delivered back to you, set aside enough time to review it thoroughly. If possible, only accept good quality, fully-complete work. If you accept work you are not satisfied with, your team member does not learn to do the job properly.

Worse than this, you accept a whole new tranche of work that you will probably need to complete yourself. Not only does this overload you, it means that you don’t have the time to do your own job properly.

Of course, when good work is returned to you, make sure to both recognize and reward the effort. As a leader, you should get in the practice of complimenting members of your team every time you are impressed by what they have done.

This effort on your part will go a long way toward building team member’s self-confidence and efficiency, both of which will be improved on the next delegated task; hence, you both win.

By Captain Sam Addaih (Rtd)

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