If I asked you to pass your phone or wallet to your colleague, would you do it? If your boss asked you to do the same, would you do it?
If your answer to both of those questions is “no” then that’s understandable. You may not have a choice if your boss asks but your phone and wallet are important and very valuable things to you, you wouldn’t want to just give them up or pass them to someone in the team to look after, especially if you don’t think that person is capable.
This can often be the reaction when we are asked to delegate work to someone. It feels like we are giving up something important and valuable and quite often to someone who we may feel doesn’t have the skill to manage it properly. However delegating effectively is critical to your success as you move up the leadership pipeline and if you do not master it, it can often be one of the most common causes of stalled leadership careers.
Why is there so much focus on it and why is delegating such an important skill to learn:
- It helps you leave behind the mindset that only you can do the job well; so often we don’t pass things on because we still have the mindset of an individual contributor. Learning to trust others is key to effective leadership.
- It provides professional growth opportunities for your people.
- It motivates the team because delegation shows your confidence in them
- It means you are getting the full potential from your employees
- It forces you to really understand your team, their skills, strengths and development areas so that you can match the right person with the right task and delegation situation.
- It gives you solid performance data on which to base year-end review and compensation decisions etc.
Above are six very valid reasons to master the art of delegation and like most things, if it was easy we would all be doing it but we’re not. As mentioned, the reluctance to delegate is because we are giving up something we perceive to be important and passing it to someone we feel is less capable. There is also a difference between just delegating and delegating effectively.
As a leader you may feel you delegate and are providing effective learning opportunities for your team members but think about the type of tasks you are delegating and how you delegate:
Are the tasks assigned to the right people, have you spent enough time evaluating your team’s current abilities and experience carefully so that you know them?
What development needs do the different team members have and how could a delegated task help them turn development needs into strengths?
Are the tasks trivial, low-risk such as filing or making a phone call that you cannot be bothered to do?
Have you spent enough time clearly explaining the assignment and / or the expectations of the results you are looking for from the employee?
Have you thought about and provided the right amount of coaching / follow up so the employee will be successful?
With this last point, a common mistake leaders make is to simply hand over a task and then walk away. They don’t consider the ongoing support the employee will require, especially if the task that has been delegated will take a while to complete. Whilst it needs to be a stretch assignment, it can’t be too much of a stretch such that the employee will fail.
So whilst knowing your team well and providing support are important when delegating, to truly master the art of delegation takes a bit more input and thought. When thinking about the activities you could delegate, you need to consider these five things:
- Task Goal – what is the specific task / goal and what is the specific result you are hoping to achieve?
- Capability – how strong are the team member’s knowledge and skills in relation to the task, what other skills does he / she have?
- Motivation – how committed and interested is the team member in completing the task? How confident and self-assured are they in completing it?
- Time scale – what is the time scale for completion of the project, how often will you need to check in and assess progress?
- Coaching – what coaching will you need to provide the team member, are there other colleagues who can provide support? How will you gather information to provide feedback for the employee once the task is completed?
And that’s not the end of it. You have identified the tasks, you have thought through your team and selected the right person to take it on, you have considered the additional support you will be required to offer and are comfortable you have the time available so everything is set. However I would urge you to go through one final exercise so you can sense check your decision.
This requires a person you can trust and who will give you honest feedback. Sense check your delegation decision with your partner by going through these five points and have your partner critically analyse and question your decisions:
A) WHAT – what is the specific activity you are delegating and what is the result you are expecting to be achieved?
B) WHY – why are you delegating this particular activity and why to this particular person, what will they learn from this opportunity?
C) HOW – how are you going to delegate the activity and how will you support the employee if they face challenges and obstacles?
D) WHAT IF – what will you do if the employee is unable to achieve the result or faces too much challenge? What do you expect the employee to do if they find it particularly difficult?
E) WHAT’S NEXT – what are the next steps and timelines for this activity?
The last 3 steps really help you think through the practical implications of delegation and help you prepare sufficiently. It may seem like overkill to go through so many steps and thought processes with regards to delegation but for you and the employee to really get the most out of these opportunities you need to plan properly.
Also, the more you follow these steps, the easier delegation becomes and over time, it won’t take you so long. Doing it the right way will become habit for you.
I live by the adage, “short term pain, long-term gain” and I see delegation in the same way. It requires effort and time from the leader upfront and if he / she invests themselves in this process then the benefits to him / her, the employee and the organisation are ten-fold. You get out what you put in and the most successful leaders I have seen are those that invest as much time in their people as they do the strategy.