Stop dithering and start delegating

What’s stopping you from delegating? This is something we deal with right at the start in Zoomly’s ‘How to delegate effectively’ workshop. For example, people can feel very uneasy about the whole idea of asking someone to take on a task and get it done. Typical objections that I’ve heard include:

“They’ll think I’m arrogant”

“They’re already overwhelmed”

“They’ll stuff it up”

And the old favourite: “I don’t have time”

Let’s take each one in turn:

Arrogant? Yes, they will think you’re arrogant if you laughingly dump a task on someone with the words “it’s a s*&t job but I had to do it” and/or that other classic, “let’s see if you sink or swim!” But when you delegate well you’ll soon realise that it’s about getting the right people to do the right job…right. If you’re clinging to a task from your previous role (before your promotion to a role involving managing people), it’s time to hand it over. In doing so you’ll be developing others and helping them step up.

They’re overwhelmed? Maybe they’ve simply said ‘yes’ to everything, thinking ‘no’ would be a Bad Career Move. If so, it’s part of your job to help your team members prioritise and focus on those priorities. Discuss what they’re currently so busy on and when they’ll be able to take on the task you have in mind.

They’ll stuff it up? Maybe they’re unsure how to do something; they may have stuffed up the last task they did for you. Did you review progress when the job was done, and give/get feedback? Did your delegate have complete clarity about the results you expected?

Not enough time? This is where we can really get in our own way. If you haven’t got time to delegate effectively, you will stay stuck in your present role – and watch others progress faster. Sorry, I know the truth hurts. People who progress soon learn the value of taking time to delegate; it frees up time for them to take on a new task.

Take these 7 tips to stop dithering and start delegating:

  1. Rethink delegation. It’s not just about you – when you get other team members taking on tasks and getting on with the work, they’ll be making progress as they develop new skills. Before you delegate something, consider the task from your delegate’s perspective: what’s in it for them if they do this task? Be ready to sell the benefits of taking on the task.
  2. Use examples. This is one of those simple-when-you-know-it elements of good delegation. Create a folder and add all the examples you can find of what ‘good’ looks like, whether that’s a great presentation, a well-argued point of view or a clear meeting report. Having examples that both parties can see eliminates guesswork and sets standards.
  3. Do a demo. Yes, really. Don’t assume that your colleague knows exactly how to use Excel to produce that gorgeous chart. First, ask them how they’d go about it – you never know, they may have this thing sorted. But if they’re unsure, take them through the process step by step, ensuring they’re taking heaps of notes and asking questions.
  4. Delegate first. If you want your whole team to be productive, work on the tasks that are ‘yours’ last and delegate first. Don’t keep team members waiting for you to explain what they are supposed to be doing – and then give them a now unrealistic deadline.
  5. Monitor, don’t meddle. Agree upfront when and how you’re going to be involved. Are you going to check in with each other by the end of today? Or later this week? What are you expecting to see when you review progress? If they keep asking questions at 5-minute intervals, say you’ll give them time by the end of this morning / today to answer all their questions (and ask them what they did with their notes…or maybe re-run that demo). Don’t take a task back. And brace yourself: they just might have a better way of doing the job that, before today, was your pet project. Having had that experience, I’ve learned it’s important to savour the moment – you’ve got a great performer on your team.
  6. Give and get feedback. As you monitor how your delegate is progressing with the task, give them feedback on what they’re doing well – and where they can correct course. When the task is completed, review how it went. What worked well? What didn’t work so well? What have they learned? What will they do differently next time? How can you better support them in doing a great job? Give credit for a job well done.
  7. Transition from teacher to coach. As your team member repeats the task and becomes more proficient, you can make the shift from teacher (‘here’s how you do one of these’) to coach (‘how will you approach one of these this time?’), for this combination of task / person. Different people and different tasks will require you to adapt along the ‘ask-tell’ continuum; you may need to be in coaching mode with someone on a task they’ve been doing for a while, but revert to teaching mode with them for a new project they’re about to take on.

‘How to delegate effectively’ is a popular topic on Zoomly’s menu of bite-sized workshops. Head to the ‘contact’ page if you want to find out more.

You may also find this post useful: ‘Ask or tell: which works best?’

Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’ and ‘How to be Zoomly at work’

Image credit: Businesswoman-@samuraitop/DepositPhotos

2 responses to “Stop dithering and start delegating”

  1. Miranda Ross says:

    Thanks Dawn.
    I’m guilty of most of the objections you listed at the of this article, so am very grateful for your clear and actionable advice. Will start right now collecting examples for future reference – why didn’t I think of that myself?

    • Dawn Sillett says:

      Thanks Miranda! Yes, examples are a real ‘get out jail’ card for those of us who struggle to get going with delegation.