7 steps to better delegation

1. Choose carefully
Yes, it’s very tempting to delegate that task you’ve always hated (as in “it’s a s*%t job but I had to do it” – how motivating does that sound?) But it may be inappropriate to delegate it, wholly or in part. If you’re unsure what to delegate, you can try different approaches to decide what’s yours and what’s theirs. You can look back over the past two weeks or so at what you’ve actually done (Beware: what you actually did is not always the same as what was in your calendar! So refer to your timesheets or notebook for a reality check). Which of the tasks that you’ve done in the past few weeks are most commensurate with your pay or charge-out rate? Anything that’s worth less than you cost should be delegated.
Tip: if in doubt, create a prioritised list for discussion with your manager.

2. Prepare why, what, when

Don’t try to delegate on the fly – a dead giveaway is, “Could you just…?” or, “Can you have a think about…?” The recipient of this waffle could be forgiven for thinking it’s a) optional and b) not important. You may know why the task is important and where it fits in the bigger scheme of things, but don’t assume the person you’re about to delegate to will. Clarify this before you brief someone. What’s actually needed and how will it be used? When is the work needed and what interim deadlines will there be (such as when you review progress)?
Tip: gather examples wherever possible that you can both refer to throughout the process.

3. Delegate first

Don’t hang onto the tasks that you’re going to delegate until you’ve ticked off your to-do list for the day. Why? 1. You’ll be holding the rest of the team up. 2. You’ll get a reputation as someone who dumps things on people just as they want to head home. 3. You’ll probably have to re-run the delegation process the very next morning, wasting everyone’s time.
Tip: block out time for 1:1s with the people you’ll delegate to.

4. Provide support

We all go through stages of mastering a skill, and an essential stage is what’s known as ‘conscious incompetence’. In other words, we struggle at first. If you’re holding off delegating a task to someone because you don’t think they have the skills, either teach them yourself or take action to get the individual trained in the skills they need.
Tip: don’t assume someone has all the requisite skills; ask people about their experience of doing something similar.

5. Remember that learners take longer

After ‘conscious incompetence’ comes ‘conscious competence’, meaning the skill is now being used, but it’s not yet fully in the muscle. This is like the new driver who can still hear the instructor’s voice saying “mirror, signal manoeuvre”. Rather than teach at this stage, you’ll both be better off if you switch from ‘tell’ mode to ‘ask’ – which means coaching. See ‘Ask or tell: which works best?’ That way you’ll transfer responsibility for taking action to your colleague as your skilful questions encourage them to think for themselves.
Tip: broaden your repertoire of coaching questions to encourage people to step up.

6. Monitor without meddling

If you’ve delegated a task effectively, you’ll have agreed upfront when and how you’ll be involved. For example, you may have agreed a time when you’ll review a first draft presentation. That’s when you can monitor progress and provide encouragement to keep the work on track. Resist (no matter how hard it may be) the temptation to look over others’ shoulders as they’re working.
Tip: if you’re prone to micro-managing, encourage team members to create a checklist or process map so that essential steps are agreed – then back off.

7. Reflect and review

When the task is complete, take a few minutes to discuss with your colleague how it went. What worked well? What didn’t work so well? What have they learned? What (if anything) will they do differently next time? What suggestions do they have for improving the task or process? If they’re unsure, offer options for discussion rather than spoon-feed them your way of doing things.
Tip: Encourage people to note their answers to reflect/review questions, the better to remember them later.


You may find this blog post useful: ‘10 tips for managing a high performer’.

Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’, available now at bookstores and on Amazon.

Images by dizanna and RobSnowStock / Deposit Photos

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