The First Question to Ask Before You Delegate

There are two important questions you should consider when you’re delegating a task. Especially if it’s beyond the level of “Take action, don’t report” type. Two questions that will improve the probability of success. But asking the questions isn’t enough. How we react to the answers, and how well we follow through have the greatest impact.

The first question is:

When Can You Get This Done By?

It’s a pretty straight-forward question, and you might think I’m kidding. There are times when it’s appropriate to arbitrarily set deadlines. In reality most work isn’t life or death. And one of the biggest motivators for even rudimentary cognitive work is autonomy. The ability to govern oneself.

Many times the most productive action bosses can take is to get out of the way. Let the people working for us do what they do well. Let them figure out how to do the work instead of being treated like a cog in the machine. Maybe they don’t do it exactly the way you could, and that’s OK. It will still get done.

So when you ask this question or any question please, actually ask a question, and then have enough intestinal fortitude to respect the answer.

Actually Ask A Question

“I need you to do this.” is not a question. It doesn’t even have a question mark at the end. Yet that’s often how tasks are assigned. How much autonomy are we granting the person assigned the task when we do this? None.

If you really ask a question, use a sentence with a question mark at the end. Can you do this? and When can you do this by? are both examples of actual questions. If you need the work done by a specific date, then ask “Can you do this by Tuesday?” (or whatever the date is).

Asking puts the responsibility for completion with the delegate, increases their commitment to the task, builds a relationship, and allows them to develop their priority management skills independently. All things good managers who are committed to developing their staff will want.

And don’t worry that it will diminish your status. It won’t. Treating people like cogs in the machine will.

Respect the Answer

A wise sergeant once told me to never give an order I knew wouldn’t be obeyed. I say never ask a question that you don’t want to hear the answer to. You may have to negotiate, re-balance workload, or ask questions about priorities. And you may not like some of the answers.

Yet your job as a manager is to deal with reality, not react to the pressures put on you and pass them down. If you’re not going to manage the priorities put on you and your staff, then you’re not really needed, are you?

One of my clients called this being “a window”, just trickling down the directives and orders from on high. He’s the regional manager for a recruiting and placement firm. Last week they had no new starts in all of Western Canada, which was a huge under-performance for him and for the region. His CEO asked him “How can a region your size have no new starts in a month?”, a question for which there is no good answer.

Yet he didn’t start banging the table and  demand that people start producing. I’ve seen leaders who know better, cave under the pressure and threaten their staff with the boogey-man of “heads are going to roll” and their boss being “not happy”. And really what does anybody at the front line of an organization care if the CEO is happy or not, even if she knew what to do about it?

He has a plan for measuring, coaching, and increasing performance across the entire region, and he’s sticking to it. He’s putting the right people in place, he’s showing confidence in his staff, and they’re working their tails off for them.  He’s leading, not letting himself be buffaloed into a knee-jerk reaction.

Question for the Comments

How have you handled push-back to your delegations in the past? What do you do when somebody tells you they can’t and won’t do the work you’d like them to do?

Other Articles You May Be Interested In

Four Different Ways to Delegate
Why Delegating to Your Staff is Good For Them
You Need to Get Good At This to be a Leader

Bernie works as a leadership and business coach, consultant, and facilitator. He believes there are simple things outstanding leaders do well, and that not doing anything about bad leadership once you know about it is abuse. Check out what he does with RESULTS.com

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4 responses to “The First Question to Ask Before You Delegate

  1. Pingback: The First Question to Ask After You Delegate | Practical Managers

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  4. Pingback: Over-Communicate to Drive Change | Practical Managers

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