The word "delegation" seems to leave a bad taste in people's mouths. In the business world, where many believe their merits as an employee are directly tied to the work they produce, it can be hard to understand how delegating that work to others is a wise choice. New managers often fear that delegating work results in being perceived as either lazy or high-handed, pushing work to others so they don’t have to do it. However, if practiced properly, delegation can be one of business’ most effective teaching tools.
Great managers create great opportunities for their teammates to learn and grow — delegation helps to build those opportunities. Managers need to understand where their time is best spent and how they can supplement their time by introducing their teammates to challenging new experiences.
Here are a few tips to help you start delegating more effectively:
Know Your 'Top 5'
Throughout your career, you have likely acquired a good number of tasks that you do regularly. However, how many of those tasks could (and more importantly, should) be done by someone else? It’s likely that many of those tasks were once delegated to you, and now it may be time to pass them down to someone else.
A good exercise for deciding if you should delegate a task is to write down a list of five or so things that you, as an employee, do better than anyone else in the company. Where is your time best allocated? What are the kinds of projects you contribute to most? By jotting down a list of traits or skills we dominate, we can identify tasks that we should spend time on and the tasks we should pass on.
Keep in mind, this “top five” list should be fairly specific. While many may feel that things like “spreadsheets” or “running sales meetings” are their core contributions to the company, these skills are actually quite transferable and are perfect tasks to be delegated as you grow in your career. Instead, what are you able to do that most others aren’t? These may be things like “mediating budget conflicts between sales and marketing” or “prioritizing product roadmap requests.”
Consider the things that allow you to contribute the most value. Anything that doesn’t match your list should likely be delegated to someone else.
Some managers don’t like giving commands, perceiving them as harsh and demanding. While phrases like “hey, it would be nice if you could...” or “when you get around to it, would you mind...” might be friendlier and easier to work into conversation, they also deemphasize importance, urgency and accountability. Accountability is critical to effective delegation as it helps confirm ownership of the task or project. If there is no clear hand-off for a task/project, there likely won’t be clear execution either.
Commands, while direct, don’t need to be harsh. Instead, commands help us to communicate important details in a clear and concise manner. If you need something done, don’t leave your request open ended. When delegating be sure to include a definitive deadline and documentation of the task at hand. The more information you can provide the less ambiguity and chance for details to be missed. Like any good contract, delegated tasks should clearly communicate “the ask.” (And remember, leading with “please” and closing with “thank you” goes a long way.)
Remember, It’s Not Just For You
Not all tasks you delegate will be the most exciting or challenging. In fact, if any of your direct reports are entry-level, there will be many basic and menial tasks that you may have to delegate to them. That doesn’t mean that these are the only tasks you should delegate. Many of your employees are looking to learn and grow, so provide them with projects and tasks that challenge them. Delegation helps to build trust between you and your direct reports. Managers who fail to delegate end up over-stressed and under-producing and their team is inevitably underutilized.
The most important part of delegation is the follow-up. Delegation isn’t simply unloading a task onto someone. It’s making sure that a task is seen all the way through to completion and that your team has the proper resources to make it happen. Provide feedback and praise to those who have taken on these tasks. Use it as an opportunity to open a dialogue. Did the project go well? Did they enjoy taking it on? Would they like to do it again? If so, there may be an opportunity for them to take over responsibilities like that in the future.
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