Half-hour one-on-ones with your direct reports once a week will save you time, interruptions, email, and rework. Start doing them if you don’t already. Don’tskip them if you do.
Delegation is important, delegation is underutilized, and delegation doesn’t need to be complicated. If you can learn to successfully delegate, you’ll have added an important tool to your leadership toolkit.
Not everything has to be delegated in the same way. Nor does it need to be complicated, but you probably should take some time, even just 30 seconds, to decide how to delegate.
Consider these four “levels” of delegation, and which is appropriate to the task and the ability of the delegate.
Level 1: Take Action, Don’t Report
Some tasks don’t need a lot of detail, explanation, or even tracking. You trust the person assigned the task, or they’ve done the task successfully in the past. She can to act independently. If that’s the case, just go ahead and delegate.
My daughters raises rabbits in our back yard. Reminding her to feed her bunnies is an example of “fire and forget” delegation.
Level 2: Take Action, Report When Done
Either you want to ensure the task is done, or the task requires coordination with others. Be prepared to follow-up if and when the deadline passes. If they’re not responsible, and can’t or won’t do what they said they were going to do, that’s on them. If you don’t hold them accountable for it, that’s on you.
Cleaning out the bunny cage on a regular basis – a dirty, unloved chore – requires follow-up and even inspection to ensure compliance.
Level 3: Recommend Action, Get Approval
We want the delegate to do the research, make a decision, and recommend an action. They may either then be tasked with that action or not.
At this level we really start to see some of the “development” benefits of delegating. As a rule of thumb, if you believe the person you have in mind for this task can do 70% of the work, then go ahead and use them. They’ll need mentoring, coaching, and support, but that will be part of your delegation plan (more on that later).
We had a late season litter of five kits show up a couple of weeks ago. Surprise! The next local bunny and chicken auction (where all this started all those years ago, and where we could sell them at a good margin) isn’t until spring. We had to come up with other options. Listing them on Kijiji, selling them to local pet stores, or getting a second hutch and holding out for a bigger profit at the spring auction were some of the choices she considered.
Level 4: Analyse Different Options
This is appropriate for an especially complicated, challenging, or risky task. It’s also a huge opportunity to get insight into and shape the thinking of the person delegated to. At this level you are explicitly reserving the right to decide which option, if any, to choose. You may also decide to focus on researching and analyzing more thoroughly the most promising options after the initial report.
Since Nichole (the daughter) might be moving out to go to college next fall, we have to start planning for what we’re going to do with the rabbits. You can imagine I have a vested interested in managing this transition, otherwise I’ll be stuck with shovelling bunny poop while she’s away.
Anybody interested in taking over a viable bunny raising business? Hutch included.
Question for the Comments: What is the next steps in your team or organization when somebody fails to deliver what they promised? How does your company hold people accountable?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
I believe delegation saves leaders and their organization time & money in the long run. But what about the poor, put-upon, over-worked, under-paid employee? Well, turns out it’s good for them too.
I’m assuming of course that your staff wants to get better. That they want to gain mastery of their skills so they can come to work every day and do their best. That they want the autonomy that comes with being trusted and having a good track record. That they are mostly willing to prove themselves and have the evidence that they are trust-worthy, dependable, valuable to the company. They may even want to prove they are ready to be promoted.
Otherwise we need to have a different conversation about hiring the right people.
This is what good delegation does. It’s not about getting the tasks you don’t like doing off your desk. Although there is something to be said for finding somebody that enjoys and does well those things that you don’t. If we’re honest, we can’t be good at everything. It’s important we focus on the things we are good at.
It teaches them to prioritize their work, plan their day, and make them more effective. But what of the work that doesn’t get done? Some things might get delegated “to the floor”. Bonus points if they stop doing low or no-value activities because they’re busier with high-value (to the company) work.
This is part of your role. To help your people work out what they need to delegate to their own staff (if they have any), or not do it at all. If and you and your team are not getting the most important things done first, then you probably aren’t getting the most important things done.
Wouldn’t you rather get the least important things not done? I can hear the screams: “No Bernie! We have to get everything done!” Well, that’s not going to happen. So let’s deal with reality instead.
Question for the Comments: What’s your worst or best experience being delegated to?Bernie works as a leadership and business coach, consultant, and facilitator. He believes there are simple things outstanding leaders do well, and that not to do anything about bad leadership once you know about it is abuse. Check out what he does with RESULTS.com
I had an interesting search term show up in my web metrics the other day. When Google or some other search engine sends somebody to my blog I can see the search terms they entered that landed them at my page. The one that caught my eye was:
“how to get my people to stop coming to me for everything”
It’s Called Co-Dependence
“Stop answering all their questions” would be the simple answer. “But Bernie”, says you, “chaos would ensue. Without me to tell them what to do every minute of the day they wouldn’t know how to scratch their behinds.” And you’d be right. If you’re going to treat them like morons, they’re going to act like morons. It’s your own fault.
They’re helpless because you keep rescuing them. You keep rescuing them because they’re helpless. See how that works? You’re going to have to break the cycle. Yes, they might screw up, and yes, you might have to clean it up. Sometimes. But not every time, and much less often than you might think. Even less often as time goes on. Here’s the thing:
They won’t take they’re responsibilities unless they’re allowed to screw up and bear the consequences. Of course, if you enjoy the thrill of being able to solve everybody else’s problems for them then carry on. Just don’t ever expect to be promoted, appreciated, or recognized. You’re going to be stuck there for a while.
Dealing with Problems is Leadership
If you’re afraid to make a mistake, then you don’t be a leader. If you’re afraid your followers are going to make a mistake, then you really shouldn’t be a leader. It’s going to happen, you’re job is to deal with it. If things always went perfectly, and people were totally honest at all times, then we wouldn’t need leaders (or police).
Think of it as a “learning opportunity”, for both them and you. Set things up so that you know before they go off the rails if possible. But you’ll never be able to do that unless you can get everybody else’s monkeys off your desk and onto theirs where they belong.
Being a leader also means developing your people to the point they don’t need you anymore. What will you do then? How about get promoted! You’ve trained your replacement, which makes you more promotable in several respects: there’s no need to find your replacement – you’ve already done it; you’ve a proven track record developing talent; you’re department / division / team is so self-sufficient that your obvious talents are needed elsewhere. Congratulations!
Use These Words:
“What do you think we should do?”
“Have you thought of . . . ?”
. . . and then go ahead and let them do it. Yes, they might not do it the way you would have. They might even be doing it totally wrong, but unless somebody is going to die or get hurt, then it’s okay. It’s their idea, they’re invested in it, and who knows they might just even be able to pull it off. If they fail, they fail, and you help pick things up. If you have to, think of it as training.
If this kind of interaction with your staff is unusual for you, don’t be panicked if they don’t take to your new style right away. Be patient, be consistent, be confident. They’ll come around once they figure out you’re serious.
I think it was The One Minute Manager or a similar book I read years ago talked about how the author’s CFO had made a multi-million dollar mistake in a merger & acquisition situation. The CFO was distraught, and said “I suppose you’ll need to fire me now.” “Why would I do that?”, he replied, “I just spend three million dollars training you. Don’t do it again.”
What’s the most important thing you learned from a professional mistake or oversight? How valuable was that lesson to learn?
Delegating is a skill that outstanding managers are good at. It’s a skill that can be developed. What do you delegate, and are you doing it right?
Remember, there are few things more annoying that being asked to do something, and five minutes later being asked if you did it.
Why I Suck at Delegating (and Why You Might Too) from Kent Fenwick at Kent’s Posterous