Are you being delegated to or simply dumped on?
If your manager gives you work to do and you’re not sure why it’s needed, where it fits in and just how on earth you should do it, chances are that you’re being dumped on. Or, dare I suggest, not listening all that actively to said manager as they explain the task to you. And if you’ve ever presented your manager with the fruits of your labour and found their reaction to be one of frustration (possibly at themselves as well as at you), chances are they haven’t delegated all that clearly.
You have a choice: you can let this sorry state of affairs continue, or you can take some initiative – and in doing so, build both your boss’s delegation muscles and your own.
Next time your manager delegates work for you to do, make sure you are able to answer all six of these questions before you start the task. Have them ready in your notebook / phone and use them to make notes of what’s needed and why.
1. What’s the bigger picture?
This is a polite way of asking why the work is needed – without sounding like a whining toddler. You need to know where this task fits in, the overall context. And don’t take, “Well it’s a s%*t job, but I had to do it and so do you”, as an answer. Yes, the task may indeed be, er, routine, but it will have a purpose. So entering data on the system may seem tedious, but if you know it’s essential to your employer’s cash flow position, that helps you stay motivated to do it, and do it well.
2. Can I see an example?
If you simply ask, “What’s needed?”, you may be setting up a trap for both you and your delegator to fall into. That’s because a novice or poor delegator can focus on “here’s how to do it” (because they know that very well) rather than “here’s what we need to end up with” (because they haven’t yet distanced themselves enough from the task to get that level of clarity). So ask to see examples. Examples will save both of you heaps of time spent discussing standards, expectations, formats and more.
3. How will this be used?
This question is worth asking if you’ve never carried out the task before. Again, this one will help you establish the bigger picture – what happens either side of your piece of the process. Is the output an internal document? Or will it be distributed to clients, suppliers and partner organisations? Is it background reading for a senior manager, or a team update? Is it top-line data or detailed stats with all references that are needed?
4. What tips and tricks have you learned?
You’re asking for specific handy hints and techniques about the task here – whilst at the same time giving your manager the opportunity to help you out, rather than see if you’ll sink or swim (which is dumping, not delegating). If it’s appropriate, ask them to demo the task for you, by showing you how to use a system, or setting out the essential steps.
5. When is this needed and what’s the priority?
Miss the answers to this question and you will create a world of uncertainty. That’s because you’ll be treating every task you have as equally urgent and important, which is a recipe for overwhelm. So get crystal clear on what the deadline is and, if the work is more than a simple task, agree an interim date to review progress. Asking about priorities is important as you may need to, a) negotiate which of your tasks comes higher or lower on the list than this new one and/or, b) ask your delegator to negotiate your workload and priorities with another manager if you report to more than one person.
6. How did I do?
All too often, managers don’t provide feedback once the job is done. That’s a real opportunity missed to learn from the experience, praise a job well done and discuss improvements that can be made. So you may need to prompt your manager to give you feedback. If you’re uncomfortable doing this, then next time they delegate the task to you ask, “How did I do last time?”
You may also find this post useful: ‘5 tips for managing upwards’
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