Have you noticed that some of the most important leadership skills rarely get taught?
If you’re going to grow your business, you need to delegate. Well.
If you’re going to grow the capacity of your team, you need to delegate. Effectively.
If you’re going to lead others, you need to delegate. Constantly. Even though most people do it poorly.
Most leaders spend a career winging it when it comes to delegation. Their default method is based on trial and error. Or what they vaguely remember from a prior boss of theirs. Or what mood they’re in that day.
Hardly intentional. Not very effective.
It’s too important to your success to leave it to chance.
But you need a process.
If you’re a leader, the process can be a difference-maker.
If you’re on a virtual team, it makes the work hand-offs much more effective.
If you’re the delegatee, this applies to you as well. Just reverse-engineer the process, and your results will skyrocket. I’ll show you how.
First, Challenge Yourself
According to the Conference Board, 78% of personnel surveyed said that their boss “routinely does work that would be more effectively done by someone at my level.”
Humor me. Assume those are your employees speaking. What tasks are you holding onto that could — or should — be delegated to someone on your team?
Challenge yourself to identify a specific task that you should delegate to someone else. Now consider the appropriate person for the task.
Keep the task and person in mind as you read through the following steps. To avoid treating this as a hypothetical situation, make it real.
The 9 Steps of Delegation Mastery
When you delegate, follow these nine steps:
1. Clearly Articulate the What — Describe the assignment in detail. What specifically needs to be accomplished? What is your expectation for what success looks like? Share any outcomes or deliverables. Clearly. Vividly.
2. Make Sure They Understand the Why — You need to provide some context for this delegated task.
- Why is the task being done?
- Why is it important?
- Is it a part of a larger project — if so, what does the entire project involve, and who else is working on it?
- Why did you pick this person for this particular assignment? Their unique skill set? Their prior experience? A good learning opportunity for them? It is hard for someone to embrace the opportunity if they’re wondering, “why me?”.
3. Be Specific About the When — What is the date and time by which this needs to be completed? If there are any interim results expected, set those specific dates, times, and the results expected. Don’t be vague about when — like “by the end of the week.” Be specific. Date and time.
4. Let Them Know What Authority They Have to Make Decisions and Take Actions — Be clear about the amount of authority the delegatee will have to complete the task.
If you truly want someone to execute the delegated task, provide enough authority to complete the task. Giving them authority also conveys the message “I trust you.”
5. Let Them Know What Resources are Available to Them — Share the resources and support that the person will have, including any financial, facilities, or people available (including you!).
Ensure that you are providing adequate resources to get the job done at the level you expect and in the time frame you expect.
6. Get Mutual Agreement — Encourage the delegatee to ask questions. If you’ve missed something, or if there is crucial input that they can provide, be open to their observations and comments.
Once you’ve communicated the details of the delegated activity and the person has indicated they understand, ask them to repeat back or paraphrase what they heard. The first time you do this it may feel awkward to you and a bit insulting to them. Do it anyway.
Don’t take their nodding head for understanding. They may be nodding their head hoping you’ll stop talking and go away.
The best time to avoid confusion and confirm agreement is at the front end. You’ll find out pretty quickly how important this step is when you uncover small, but necessary details missing, or instructions misinterpreted. Disaster avoided.
7. Determine the Cadence for Feedback — In a perfect world, everything happens as you planned, and the delegated task gets executed flawlessly. But this is not a perfect world.
Some people may not have the experience and may need some added help along the way. In other cases, circumstances may arise that change the planned approach.
Determine how they should report on progress or problems. Will there be regular updates? Written or verbal? In-person or virtual?
What information, events or developments do you want to be made aware of? In what form?
The frequency and detail will often be determined by:
- The size and complexity of the delegated task.
- The amount of risk or uncertainty associated with the task.
- The level of experience or skill level of the delegate.
- The familiarity and comfort you have with the individual and their ability to perform.
8. Debrief and Learn — When the assignment is completed, you need to properly close it out and put a bow on it. Too often, this step is skipped and the opportunities to learn and improve get missed.
For years I called them post-mortems, but never liked that term in business. The military refers to them as After-Action Reviews (AARs). Some people call these sessions debriefs.
When things go well, identify why it worked well. Was it due to our planning? Our execution? The performance of the delegatee? This is a great opportunity to recognize effort and performance by those involved.
When things don’t go well, this is a huge opportunity to learn. Have a mindset that this debrief session will make the leader (you), the delegatee, and the team better.
Where did things get fuzzy or go sideways? Knowing what we know now if we had to start this process from the beginning, what would we do differently? What did you learn? What did the delegatee learn?
9. Warning: Beware of the monkeys — Sometimes delegated tasks often find their way back to your lap.
One of the most downloaded articles — ever — from the Harvard Business Review, is entitled, “Who’s Got the Monkey.”
It describes the boomerang effect of delegated tasks that wind up coming back to the manager/delegator.
Sometimes it’s the leader who encourages it. They can’t let go. They like solving problems. They like wearing a cape.
Sometimes subordinates don’t want the responsibility or the pressure to perform. They have it down to an art form.
The status reports/feedback loops turn into opportunities for the boss to make decisions.
Sometimes the subordinate is “just asking for ideas or recommendations,” but in doing so, they shift the authority and responsibility to the manager.
The monkey is back on your shoulders.
One of the most powerful phrases you can incorporate into those sessions is “I don’t know, what do you think?”
As they offer alternatives, hoping for you to make the decision, you can ask, “Which one would you recommend?”
It forces them to think, to come prepared — and to retain ownership of the delegated task — and the monkey.
The Big Opportunity if You’re the Delegatee
If someone is delegating to you, I’d love to hear that they are open to getting better at delegating and open to executing the nine-step process outlined above.
If not, I want to encourage you to reverse engineer the process, and you will see a dramatic improvement in your results.
Consider doing the following nine steps. Yes, they should look familiar, just from a different vantage point.
1. What — make sure you ask questions so that you understand clearly and vividly, your boss’s expectations for the assignment. Verbalize your understanding of what success looks like and get confirmation from them.
2. Why — understand why this activity needs to be completed and how it fits into any larger picture or relationship. If there is a particular reason why this has been delegated to you, make sure you understand why.
3. By When — know the specific date and time that this activity needs to be completed. If there are any interim progress hurdles or stage-gate expectations, make sure you know them.
4. Know what authority you have to make decisions or take action.
5. Make sure you understand what resources are available to you. Is there a budget? Do you need equipment? Office space? What people are available to help if you need it?
6. Agreement — repeat back the details, as you understand them, and get confirmation that you and your boss are on the same page.
7. Make sure you schedule, in advance, any check-ins or reports required, if your boss wants status updates on the activity
8. If post-event debrief aren’t routine in your organization, make them part of all your delegated tasks. You may find others copying the practice (because it works!)
9. Keep the monkey on your back. Take responsibility for the process — and the results. Do what you said you would do. If you need help, ask for it, but don’t abdicate responsibility. Or whine. Or give up. Own it.
The same communication and clarity exists whether you’re the delegator or the delegatee. Regardless of your role, you become associated with less chaos, fewer misses, and better results.
Become the Champion… and the Results Will Follow
Delegation is a key leadership skill. To grow. To develop your people. To achieve results.
But most managers either don’t delegate as often as they should, or they try to do it… and it’s a train wreck.
They make it up as they go along. They’re inconsistent. Results are poor. People are frustrated.
And then they repeat it all over again.
And the world cringes.
And they wonder why they don’t get the results they want.
That doesn’t have to be you.
Follow the nine-step delegation process, and you can see execution improve and your people develop.
You’ll have a process you can consistently rely on to set people up to succeed and to accomplish your objectives.
It’s the sign of an effective team.
It’s the sign of a good leader.