Effective Delegation in the Workplace

The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. The greatest leader is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.” -Ronald Reagan

We can’t do it alone, but so many leaders fail when it comes to effective delegation in the workplace. Whether they have an inherent distrust for their people, a death grip on control and the need to do things their way, or a lack of comfort “ordering people around”, delegation is one of most challenging leadership skills to get right, but when you get it right, your team will fire on all cylinders, achieving a whole lot more than they would have otherwise.

The first step to effective delegation is nailing the setup. It takes a little planning, and takes some time, but it gets easier the more you do it, and the investment in time will pay off in the end when you don’t have to do more work to clean up after the delegating.

When you’re planning to delegate, ask yourself Who, What, When, Why and How.

You’ve got to think about who you’re delegating to. There are many reasons to delegate. A few are

  • Take advantage of someone’s strength
  • Give someone the opportunity to try something new and learn
  • Give someone a task they enjoy or that has greater visibility within the rest of the company
  • Allow you to focus on items that require your specific expertise and authority

When considering who to give a task to, think about the above reasons, and decide, do I need quick and efficient output, or is this a great development opportunity? Trusting a new person with a new project can be scary, but it could be a great opportunity to see what they can do, and if you nail the rest of this setup, they’ll have a greater chance for success.

One warning: when it comes to the “who”, we often have our go-to people. That team member who always delivers good quality work on time, and often we rely to heavily on that person. It can be demotivating for them, because their reward for good work is…more work! Or, if the work is desirable, it can be demotivating for the rest of the team, because they never get the chance to learn and shine! So beware of singling anyone out here. It can really compromise your effectiveness as a motivating leader.

What is the task you need completed? What are your expectations for completion? What does success look like? Be super clear on this. Have you ever been asked to do something, but walk away with no idea exactly what they want? It’s so confusing, disorienting and demotivating! If you want someone to be motivated to complete your task well and on time, be sure they understand what it is you need them to do. Be sure to ask them if they have any questions, and make yourself available for questions along the way.

When do you need the task completed by? BE SPECIFIC HERE! I can’t stress that enough.

“ASAP” for you may mean 3pm today, and it may mean next week for the person you’re delegating to!

“When you can” for you may mean at the end of the week, and for the delegatee, next January!

So be specific. Date, and time if applicable.

In my leadership workshops, sometimes managers say they’re uncomfortable “being bossy” and saying “I need this by Friday” feels bossy. If that’s the case, how about saying, “This research is in preparation for the staff meeting a week from Friday, and I’ll need to plug it into my presentation. Are you able to get it to me by this Friday? That would give me time to incorporate it, and practice so I can make our team look good in front of the company. Will Friday work for you?” Giving someone the reason for the deadline will give them a sense of urgency, and asking them if it’s works for them will make it seem less bossy. Be ready for them to say “No, but I can get it to you Monday.” And you may need to compromise, but at least they don’t feel like you’re ordering them around. It also works to ask them when they can get it done. Then you can negotiate more towards the date you want if necessary, but if they come up with the date, they’ll be more committed to it, and you don’t feel like a bossypants.

This is a big one. Adults like to know why things are happening. It helps them put the task into context so they don’t think it’s just busy work. It also helps them problem solve when they understand what the end goal is, so be sure to let them know why something needs to be completed.

Lastly, if at all possible, let them decide how they’re going to do the task. As the old saying goes, “there’s more than one way to skin a cat”, and we all have our favorite way. (ok, that’s kind of a morbid analogy, and I’ve never actually done that, but you know what I’m saying.) As managers, sometimes we have to let go of our death grip on control and allow someone to do a task their way. It may not be the way we’d do it, and we may think our way is more efficient or better, but if their way gets you to the end goal you need, gets the task off your plate, and was done in their way, they’ll feel better about the outcome, trusted and empowered, and you just killed 2 birds with one stone. WINNER!

Follow these 5 guidelines when planning your delegation, and you’ll have a much better chance at success. It takes a little time to plan and be ready for the delegation, but it’s an investment in ease in the future. Your team will feel successful and empowered, and you’ll have more time to focus on bigger priorities.

©Anne Bonney All Rights Reserved.


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