When working with managers and leaders, the issue of delegation comes up often. Sometimes, it’s not delegation itself that comes up but people saying that they’re feeling overstretched, even burned out because they have too much to do, or sometimes they’re expressing concerns about people in their team, or colleagues in other teams not stepping up and taking enough responsibility, or maybe they even feel that their time management needs work. In many of these cases, the underlying issue isn’t really the presenting issue, it’s actually a fear of delegation. Or at least an anxiety over it.
The fear of delegation
So, what kind of fears or anxieties are we talking about here? Fear of others not delivering quality but you can rely on yourself, so you just do it yourself. Fear of missing a deadline, it’s usually quicker if you do it yourself, right, so you may as well just do it this time rather than asking anyone else. Fear of giving feedback: what happens if the person you’ve delegated to screws up…you might mess up the feedback and hurt their feelings, so it’ll be less awkward if you do it yourself. Or fear of letting go of stuff you enjoy or are good at and that makes you feel valued and useful, so you do the thing that you really should give to others to do.
But the problem with any of these strategies is that they lead to overwork, burnout, ironically problems with work quality as the overstretch kicks in, feelings of resentment, isolation, less opportunities for others, leading to them losing motivation and perceptions of you being over-controlling or so essential in your role that you’re not thought of for a promotion or role change because that would be too much of a risk for the organisation.
If any of these anxieties describes a tendency that you have then welcome to the club of almost everyone who needs to delegate… which let’s face it is pretty much everyone at every level, including people who need to just share work tasks with colleagues. But also, know that following the steps covered in this article will help with most of these issues. So here are 5 steps to delegating effectively:
How to improve delegation skills
1. Deal with your own issues first (let go)
First (and potentially forever) you need to be honest about your own issues. If you have a fear or anxiety about delegation, face into it and work out what it is that is causing that and then address it head-on. In the end, as a rule of thumb for managers and leaders try to delegate everything and whatever’s left, ask yourself why it can’t be delegated. Do you need to upskill people so that the things that are left CAN be delegated, do you need more resource, or are you keeping some things which genuinely only you can do and which relate to the purpose of your role? Do all you can to make as much as possible delegatable.
2. Be very very clear on what you want to achieve and how that looks
Next, and this one is a big one; leave NOTHING TO CHANCE when it comes to briefing what you want. Be really clear what you want as an outcome and take the time to define and specify this – give examples, get the person to play back what they think you’ve asked for. Don’t assume that it’s obvious just because it’s obvious to you, spell it out. And also get feedback from the other person on what might get in the way of your vision for the task and how they think the task might be best done. Don’t assume you have all the answers in terms of HOW something’s done, but do bring the answers in terms of WHAT you want to be done.
3. Agree on timescales and standards
So next, once you’ve made clear and agreed what you want, the next thing to do is put together a plan – this is also a bit of an Achilles heel for some, definitely for me. Once I’ve got my vision down, I have a tendency to think ‘job done’. Ridiculous, it hasn’t even started! So you’ll need to agree on a deadline and if the task is big, what the check-in points are along the way. Also, what are the standards you are expecting – does it need to be 100% perfect or just fit for purpose? And fit for whose purpose? YOU can produce the time plan or better still, ask the person you’re delegating to put the plan together because they’re then going to be that little bit more invested in the outcome.
4. Check-in EARLY and provide support
Next is another big risk area – EARLY check-in on progress; make sure that your delegatee has fully understood what you expect and so that you can give early feedback if not or if so. Make sure not to back off too early, to let them get on with the task but this can sometimes lead to people going off for waaaaay too long in the wrong direction without you knowing and by the time you’ve found out, you could be at risk of missing your deadline. Also, early check-ins show that you are supportive and interested and engaged and that you haven’t just moved on to the next task and forgotten about this one.
5. Keep the plan on track and show that you care
And at this point, make sure that you are giving well-constructed, thoughtful, motivating feedback…this might be positive or it might be negative but do make sure it’s handled well. I’ve podcasted separately on giving feedback well using the BID and BIRD techniques for feedback – that podcast’s at Season 1, Episode 4 – so have a listen if you need a reminder or if you haven’t heard about the BID and BIRD approach.
And with points 4 and 5, be sure to give honest feedback throughout, whether it’s good bad or indifferent.
As you progress over time, remember not to assume that everything is going to automatically remain on track with time and quality. Keep to the plan, remain on hand and supportive, check in when you said you would, keep giving feedback. In short, show interest and show that you are invested in the task and the outcome. Demonstrating that level of interest will make a big difference to the end result.
So that’s the 5 point plan for delegating effectively:
- Deal with your own issues
- Be clear on your vision
- Agree on timescales and standards
- Check-in EARLY, giving helpful feedback
- And keep following the plan to show you’re interested.
Good luck with your delegation, it is honestly one of the trickiest things to master at work, whatever your role, but it’s essential to do so unless you want to get stuck doing everything yourself forever. And if you do, good luck with that journey ahead!