Delegation- The Fine Art of Giving It Away

I once heard Stephen Covey say, “There are only two ways to get work done.  Do it yourself or get someone else to do it.  Masterful delegation is a major leverager of time.” Now we may not be as good as Huck Finn when he got those others to do his fence painting for him, but there are some specific strategies that you can employ when it comes to delegating appropriately.  And by the way, technically Huck did not delegate, which the dictionary defines as “…to assign responsibility or authority.”  He actually influenced, persuaded and convinced (one might even say tricked and manipulated) rather than delegated.  So let’s see what would be useful and powerful if we were truly to delegate to others.

In my workshops on time management, the first thing I ask my audiences to do is to list the barriers and benefits to delegating.  The barriers go something like this:

“I don’t have the time to train them.”

“If you want something done right then do it yourself.”

“I don’t have anyone to delegate to!”

“It takes too much time to keep following up on them.”

“They’ll want more pay if they learn new skills or take on more responsibilities.”

“How can I be sure they’ll keep the information confidential?  If I do it myself, at least I’ll know our company secrets are safe.”

“I’ll lose control.”

“I won’t be recognized and acknowledged for the job anymore.  They’ll get all the credit.”

On the flip side, here are some of the benefits:

It frees you up to do those aspects of the job you were hired to do (and love to do as well).

It increases team morale, job satisfaction, and teamwork.

Cross-trains people to fill in when someone is out sick or out on vacation.

After the initial investment of time to train somebody, you recoup that time over and over again whenever you delegate that task to them.

It demonstrates that you trust and believe in your people.

It forces you to define the task.

And best of all, you get acknowledged for the results! (Be careful, though, because you might also get blamed for the results if they mess up!).

What it comes down to is this: what’s more important to you-that you do the job or that the job gets done?  If you answered that the job gets done, here are 7 tips for delegating appropriately:

  1. Think through your decision very carefully.  Have I chosen the right person for this job or did I just pick the person closest to my office?  Or the one who I knew would offer the least resistance?  Do they have the time, resources, desire, etc.?  Are they trained? What will they not be doing while they’re engaged in the task I’m delegating to them?
  2. Think through possible training needs.  If they do need training first, can they self-instruct, either through a class, video program, observing others, etc.?  Can I delegate the training to someone else?  If I have to do the training myself, how much time will it take and by when will I recoup my investment?  For example, if it takes me eight hours to train someone for a task that they will do weekly and which will then save me ½ hour per week, I’ll recoup my time investment in 16 weeks.  After that, I’m saving that ½ hour per week of time.
  3. Clearly define the task or project.  Put it in writing, with the objectives, the results you want, by when, etc.  Also let them know how important this task is, how it fits in with the overall company objectives, and how it will impact their career.  People are much more willing to do something if they know why they’re doing it.  And list out their scope of responsibility and authority.  Holding someone responsible for doing something but denying them the authority to get it done is self-defeating.  Be very clear about the level of authority as well.  Full authority is very different than make decisions and keep me informed which is different than check with me first before you do anything.  Just be clear about how much authority you’re willing to give them.
  4. Continue to supply resources and support.  Be available, be on call, have an open door so they can check in for guidance and support.  Answer their questions (within reason; after all, you’re trying to empower them to think on their own), provide direction and coaching, but resist the temptation to do it for them.
  5. Allow for maximum flexibility.  Focus on the results, not methods; ends, not means.  Let them do it their way.  They will make some mistakes, but that’s part of the learning process.  After the project is over, then go back and debrief, talk about what they learned and what they’ll do differently next time.
  6. Follow up.  Check in periodically to see how they’re doing.  Have specific milestones and deadlines to mark progress.  And I’ve noticed that follow up and trust are inversely proportionate: the more you trust them to complete the task, the less follow up is required.
  7. Acknowledge them.  Be sure to encourage, stroke and validate your people as they take on these new tasks that you’ve delegated to them.  A pat on the back and sincere praise will do wonders for their self-esteem and morale.  A final debriefing after the project’s over listing what you liked best and what they could do next time to improve will make them much more willing to take on new assignments in the future.

Finally, here’s a great question to ask yourself periodically throughout the day: what’s the best use of my time right now?  If it’s to do the task yourself, then don’t hesitate and begin it.  If, however, the best use of your time is to do some other task, then see if you can appropriately delegate that other item to someone else.