Any time that we’re working with teams, delegation is going to be central to our success. As a parent, we ask our kids to clean up their room or make the bed or brush their teeth. At some point in their lives, we were probably the ones doing those things. But, we want them to learn responsibility, so we delegate those tasks to them. In business, our capacity or skill level to do everything that needs to be done is limited. So, we delegate tasks to those that we lead in order to accomplish the mission of the organization.
But, good delegation – whether its with a child or an adult – can require some skill. Early on in my leadership, I was a horrible delegator. In fact, I would say that I’m still growing in this area in some respects. I’m not sure if it’s an introvert thing, but I definitely struggle with giving up control. I have a mindset that if I want it done right, it’s better to do it myself. But, I have definitely found some keys that must be present in order to delegate effectively.
1. Be clear about the assignment. What needs to be done? What should the final outcome look like? Why are you asking them to do it? What’s the budget? This is the time to be as specific as possible. Set the expectation so that there’s no question in anyone’s mind what is being asked for. Also, be sure to ask questions to be sure the other person understands what you’re asking them to do. Then, allow them to ask questions to clarify the details.
2. Set a deadline. Assignments without deadlines tend to never get done. There will always be other priorities that will pop up and overshadow the original task. And, if possible, set a deadline collaboratively. If it’s not urgent, give them some time to complete it. If there’s not a need for you to set the deadline, allow them to tell you when it will be done. This works well with children and adults because it gives them ownership and that usually leads to a better outcome. In my current role, I oversee several staff members and we use a great task list management tool called Wunderlist and I highly recommend it.
3. Follow up to make sure it’s done. This is the one thing in the list that leaders miss more than any other. As your trust and confidence in the other person increases, you don’t have to do this one as consistently. But it will always be necessary. It’s been said that “you have to inspect what you expect” and that’s the premise here. Once it gets checked off the list, take a look to make sure that it’s not only done, but done to your standards and expectations. This usually doesn’t come from a place of skepticism, but rather a place of continuous improvement.
4. Give feedback. The single most important part of delegation is giving feedback. Once again, it doesn’t have to happen every time – especially the longer you work with someone. But, it should happen often. If everything went well and it meets or exceeds your expectation, tell them. If it’s not quite right, tell them. I’ve written about giving feedback before and delegation is a pivotal time to let someone know how they’re doing. If they didn’t meet your expectations and you don’t let them know, then you can’t expect that anything will be different the next time you delegate a task to them.