You have to delegate work to grow your company. After all, your day only has so many hours, and you can’t do it all yourself. But effective delegating is one of the hardest things to do. This blog post lays out the five dimensions of delegating effectively.
The time dimension
FIND THE TIME
First of all, when you’re swamped in your day-to-day, you hardly find the time to delegate. Ironically, you’re usually swamped with tasks that you should have delegated already. As with all things in life, you won’t just happen to find the time for delegating a task. Therefore, schedule it. If your calendar is to busy the next two weeks, schedule it for the week after. Block an hour to sit down and structure the task and prepare a handover, then block another hour a few days later to go through the task with your team member (the actual act of delegating).
Once things get urgent, a common excuse to not delegate tasks is this: “Timing is tight; in the time I need to delegate this I might as well do it myself.” That might be true in the short run, but deprives you of the ability to focus your energy on more important tasks for the future. Therefore, aim to delegate as early as you can. That requires proper task management for yourself, of course. When delegating early, don’t forget to agree on a time plan for task completion with the team member you delegated the task to.
Not only the timing for each single task matters, also try to delegate consistently. This will have a training effect on your team and especially on you. Also, your team learns to expect additional workload through tasks being delegated and can schedule their existing work to accommodate that.
The task dimension
START WITH SIMPLE RECURRING TASKS
When working on your delegation skills, start with simple and recurring tasks. Simple tasks will make handover and tracking easier. Also, you will be more comfortable delegating them. The beauty of recurring tasks is that you can work on improving them over and over again. If you, for example, delegate the weekly KPI reporting, you can continuously improve it every time your team member prepares and presents it.
WHEN YOU GET BETTER AT IT, START DELEGATING MORE NON-ROUTINE TASKS
When you start getting better at delegating, you can incorporate more non-routine tasks. They are harder to delegate as they require more background information and usually don’t have a clearly defined outcome or path to reach that outcome. You will find, though, that as you get better at it, you will feel comfortable delegating more complex tasks.
DELEGATE RESPONSIBILITIES NOT TASKS
The ultimate scope for delegating is to delegate responsibilities and not only tasks. Think about it as not telling your team to “prepare the weekly KPI report that looks like this” but to “make sure the leadership team has constant transparency over the most important performance metrics of the business”.
What’s the difference? You increase ownership through increased responsibility. Also, you create an opportunity for continuous improvement: If you delegate a task, people will complete that task with the outcome you asked for. If you delegate responsibility, your team might come up with new and better approaches to achieve the goal.
Lastly, on your quest to scaling the company, you want to delegate responsibility as this will clear up much more capacity of yourself. And it can be the first step to building an organizational structure.
The handover dimension
START WITH WHY
Always start with why. There are two sides to it:
- Why are we doing this at all: Share why this task is necessary and how it contributes to the company’s strategic goals.
- Why are you delegating it to this specific person: Explain how the task fits into their scope of work and how it is linked to their targets
Knowing the purpose will again increase the sense of ownership.
GIVE AS MUCH BACKGROUND AS POSSIBLE
To navigate a new and unknown task, your team should have all the necessary backround information. This might include:
- Which stakeholders have an interest in the task or topic and why
- What depending tasks are there
- Are there time and budget constraints and why
- Is there a history to the task (has it been done or attempted in the past, is it new or has been redesigned, etc.)
PHRASE CLEARLY AND BE COMPREHENSIVE
First of all, be unambiguous in your handovers. Your team must know exactly what you ask from them. This requires that you sit down and prepare the handover:
- What is the task
- Why do we do it
- What background information is necessary
- Which stakeholders are involved
- What’s the deliverable
- What’s the timing
Written handovers are great because your team member can look up things after the handover. If written minutes or a document are not possible, use a video (if the handover is done in a video call).
The accountability dimension
FOLLOW UP BUT DON’T MICRO-MANAGE
Delegating your task doesn’t mean pushing it out the door and never thinking about it again. Instead, you should track tasks that you have delegated. Use your usual task tracking tool and add a dimension of responsibility. Most of the modern task management software are able to do that. There’s nothing wrong with checking in and see if there are questions to answer. But make sure to not micro-manage. Be there to help as a sparring partner or coach, but don’t plan out each single step and its completion for your team member.
PLAN FOR APPROVALS AND REVISIONS
When you delegate a task that needs to be finished at a certain date, you can’t just tell your team member that this is the due date. Rather schedule 1 or better two approval/revision cycles. Let’s say a task is due on October 1st, plan one approval for September 22 and another one for September 26. The time in between can be used by your team member to revise the result and work on it further.
The people dimension
CHOOSE THE RIGHT PEOPLE
If you want top results for tasks that you delegated, you need top people to work on it. Next to the questions which people you hire, also make sure that the task is a good fit for the person you are delegating it to. That doesn’t matter so much when you have an organization structure already that determines where a given task is handled. But if your task could be handled by different people, do the exercise to write down (do it, write it down) what’s necessary to succeed at the task. This will give you more clarity on whom to delegate to.
ENCOURAGE YOUR TEAM
Culture will play a crucial part in how successful your delegation efforts are. If you have a growth mindset culture, where people are encouraged to grow into new tasks, it is likely that this will help with delegating. If, in contrast, you don’t support your team and sanction mistakes of your team members, don’t expect anything good to come from delegating tasks. A negative feeling towards new challenges is often due to a culture that doesn’t deal constructively with mistakes.
BE FAIR AND CONSTRUCTIVE
Don’t expect wonders. As everything in business and life, things take time and compound over time. Start delegating and get better at it. It is a mutual learning process for you and your team. Encourage your team to continue and learn and make sure they have what they need for it. Over time, they and you will get better and better.
If you cover these five dimensions, the chances are good that you will delegate successfully and your team delivers great work.
Please share your experiences with delegating in the comments.
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