The Three Rs to Better Delegation

It’s vacation season, and not a moment too soon for most of us.  It’s been a while since we felt free enough to hop on planes and go away for longer than a long weekend or a day or two.

Interestingly enough, vacations are good for you and your business, especially if you are an owner.  True, you have to haul tail before going to make sure everything is staged to run smoothly while you’re gone.  And then there’s the pile of love waiting for you when you come back.  But it is healthy for you to get away.  It’s even more healthy for your company.  Done well, it may actually impact the value of your company.

Vacationing done well, in the context of your business, means you have mastered the art of delegation.  Delegation is the portal to freedom.  When we are skilled at delegation, we are clear-eyed about our strengths and weaknesses, and what we like to do and not do.  We also have a strong understanding of our team.  We’ve observed and developed our team members’ strengths.  We’ve committed to leveraging those strengths to create opportunities for them to take on additional responsibilities.  And then allowing them to do it. 

The act of delegation is the core of an owner-independent business.  It allows for people to work to their talents and zones of genius, owner, and colleague alike.  This type of system and structure inherently makes the company more valuable.

You may be thinking “’Just delegate’, she says.  Easier said than done” and you would be 100% correct.  For many of us, myself included at times, delegation is a bear to personally master.  It requires thoughtfulness and discipline, two traits that are at risk when we are under the gun to get things done.  It requires strong relationships and trust between the delegator and delegate.  And let’s not forget how crucial good, timely communication is.

There are a number of steps we can all take to up our delegation game, including:

Reflect:  Find a quiet moment to reflect on your activities.  What are the tasks and responsibilities that you have where you are “in the zone?”  This is where you do your best and most impactful work.  Similarly, what are those things that you have to get done that you aren’t so hot at, take a lot of time that someone else can do, and/or distract you from your most impactful work?  Make a list with three columns – “my zone,” “definitely not my zone,” and “I like but shouldn’t do.”  Consider what the list is showing you.

Recruit:  To delegate something, there needs to be a person to delegate to.  Selection of your delegate requires thoughtful consideration as well.  By considering and understanding your delegate candidates’ strengths, interests, role responsibilities and aspirations, you will be better positioned to select the best person for the job.  The goal is to align the nature of the work to the person and their role.  For example, asking your staff accountant to make you copies of something may not be appropriate.  It could even offend in the wrong circumstances.

Depending on the nature of the task, the act of delegation may encourage the delegate to stretch their skills and knowledge.  That’s a good thing, as long as you’ve mastered the mechanics, communication rhythm, and process of delegation.

Respect the Process:  Delegation is a process. How you go about it makes an enormous impact on the quality of your results and the mutual satisfaction with the experience.  The process should include:

  • Define the task at hand: What is the objective of the work or project that is being delegated? What is the task? What is the deliverable? What format?  Are there any specific aspects, systems, or criteria for the task that the delegate needs to abide by?
  • Clearly Articulate Expectations: When does the task need to be completed by?  Who else might need to be involved?  How do you want the delegate to report back to you with questions, concerns, and/or updates?  What authority does the delegate have to make decisions?  What action should be taken if they find themselves up against the limits of their authority?  What are the preferred methods and schedules for communication – both ways?
  • Confirm Priorities: In the absence of information, we fill in the gaps based upon the pressures we are under.  It is one thing to state when you need something by.  It’s another to respect the fact that we all only get 24 hours in a day and our needs are never the only thing that person is dealing with.  Whether they are juggling multiple tasks and responsibilities for you personally or you’re one of a number of people they work with, you both need to be aware of how a particular request fits into the scheme of things.  As the delegator, we have a responsibility to ensure that priorities are aligned, respectful, and reasonable.  As a delegate, we have a responsibility to speak up when there’s a coming clash.  It’s how we create a win-win.
  • Provide and Request Feedback: Feedback is a gift we give to one another.  It offers a path for supporting the other person as they work to accomplish tasks and, ultimately, goals.  Once the task is done, provide your delegate with feedback on what went well and what could be done differently next time.  Ask your delegate what, if anything, would have made the task easier, more streamlined, or engaging?  Are there things either of you would like to see done differently next time?

For delegation to have a meaningful impact on the value of your company, it needs become a way of life, steeped into the culture of the company.  For that to happen, there has to be a level of trust that goes both ways.  This demands a willingness to let go of control and let the other person do it on your behalf.  This is where the “easier said than done” part comes in.

Too often, we get twitchy about letting go.  We sense that the output won’t be as “good” as if we did it ourselves.  It may not be.  It could be better.  Or maybe not…. So what?  What difference will it make?  That’s not being snarky.  It’s a legitimate question.  If the impact is minimal in the scheme  things, you have the benefit of a teaching moment where you can help the delegate, constructively and with dignity and kindness, grow and improve. 

Alternatively, when someone takes a task back or barks us a new one, the opposite happens.  You don’t have to go any farther than remembering an instance of someone helping around the house.  The dishwasher or vacuuming is a good example.  You may have gone through this yourself.  Whether you’re on the receiving or giving end, the person doing the task is told they are doing it all wrong.  Maybe the barker goes so far as to rearrange the plates or the silverware in the dishwasher because it wasn’t done how they do it.  Chances are that the helper will never happily do the dishes again.  They’ll always wonder if the other shoe is going to drop, and they’ll be barked at for not doing it the other person’s way.  And for what if the dishes go in the washer, come out clean, and intact either way?  The objective is clean dishes, not a perfectly arranged washer basket.

The same is true at work.  If we give someone a task or project and go on to micromanage their work or, worse, dump on them when they use their own knowledge, experience, and approach to get it done, that is not letting go.  That’s allowing your inner control freak to run wild and sabotaging both of your growth.

No matter who you are, our best growth comes from failing and then trying again.  So, this vacation season, strive to up your delegation game.  Plan ahead, collaborate with your colleagues, roll with the flow, and enjoy the beach.



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