Few leaders think of delegation as a process. Taking a little time to think through your delegation beforehand will significantly improve your consistency to efficiently get work done through the help of others.
Most leaders will naturally follow many of these steps just by virtue of giving work to others. When a leader misses just one of these steps is when delegation and accountability becomes difficult and creates avoidable conflict. See the reasons delegation fails in a previous post. Consider each of these four steps when delegating what I call Phase Three Delegation: Act and Report.
The first step is to prepare. Part of preparing is to clearly identify the scope and the expected result of the delegated work. Determine also who should do the delegated work. Considerations include; who has the best skills to do the work, who has the ability to do the work, who has the time or capacity to do the work, who is ready or needs an opportunity to be trained by doing the work. An important part of this process is to assign the work to only one person. Do not spread the delegated work to multiple people or keep a part (unless clearly defined). This invites confusion and is hard to set expectations.
2. Describe and Confirm
The second step is to describe and confirm the work to the person who will do the work. Being effective in your communication is a chief ingredient. When communicating with the person who will do the work include a description of the expected result. Paint a clear picture what the result will look like. What will be delivered as a result of completing the work?
Give authority to the person doing the work. Be very clear what decision-making authority the person doing the work has while completing the work.
Confirm understanding by asking the person doing the work to explain what they understand needs to be accomplished.
If necessary, provide clarification of any misunderstanding and provide any resources necessary to ensure their success. Ask what they need from you or someone else?
3. Determine a Due Date
If there is no due date established, the delegation will typically fail to meet expectations and is difficult to hold the person doing the work accountable. However, it is very important to refrain from “assigning a due date”. Leaders I work with, at first, struggle with not assigning a due date. Don’t get me wrong, you must have a due date in your mind when delegating work, but as the leader, do not “assign” the due date.
So how do you establish the due date without assigning a deadline? Ask for a due date! Now that the work has been clearly defined, ask, “when do you think you can have this work completed?”. When the person doing the work has a say when the work will be completed, significant ownership is created. Here is what is discovered when asking for a due date:
- Often times it is discovered that the work can be done sooner than the person delegating thought (but didn’t share). When this happens to me, I do cartwheels in my head!
- In the discussion, unknown obstacles are uncovered by the person doing the work. There may be other higher-priority work the person doing the work is doing that is unknown by the leader. This is where negotiation for the delegated work happens.
- If the person doing the work says it can be done after the leaders deadline (deadline in their mind), simply ask, “What it would take to have sooner?”. The leader may be able to reprioritize other work that is less important than the delegated work. If the other work is a higher priority, the leader may need to accept the later deadline. No matter what, a deadline must still be established.
The last part of this step is, get out-of-the-way. If done correctly there is no reason to insult the worker by micro-managing them. Simply trust them to get the work done.
It may be appropriate to add an additional sub-step by asking for a checkpoint. Many times when delegating work to less experienced or less skilled workers, it is appropriate to establish a checkpoint. This is not micro-managing when done right. Simply ask if you can check in with them at some point before the deadline. The word I use, “If I don’t hear from you by [date], can I check in with you?”. It is very important not to use the checkpoint as a threat.
Checking in with the person doing the work sounds like, “I said I would check in with you today. Are we still on target to complete [delegated work] by [established deadline]?”. If the person doing the work is on target, simply thank them and stay out of their way. If the deadline is at risk of being missed, now is the time to find out. Discuss and re-adjust as necessary.
4. Accept Completed Task
The last step is to accept the completed task from the worker. Keep in mind that you may need to limit standards. Especially if the delegated work was given to a new worker or less experienced/skilled worker. Remember this if you delegated as an opportunity to provide experience.
- Offer appreciation. Acknowledge the work that was done and thank them for completing on time. Provide positive feedback about the good work that they have done.
- Provide constructive feedback for anything that could be improved. It could be that you did not do a good job in the earlier parts of the delegation process. Remember, that most people do not try to do a bad job. If someone does a bad job, the reason may be the leader. Again, see the reasons delegation fails.
“The productivity of work is not the responsibility of the worker but of the manager.”
– Peter Drucker
4a. Or, Follow Up
Sometimes the deadline is missed. If you have done the steps above properly, you should be ready if a deadline will be missed. If you are surprised that a deadline is missed, review the steps above. Likely you missed something. At the time of the deadline, follow-up on your promise.
It’s imperative and you are obligated to follow-up at the deadline because you agreed to it. If you don’t, you will set a precedence that will be hard to recover and will impact your credibility and effectiveness as a leader.
Work with the person doing the work and determine together what caused the missed deadline. Address the cause (not the person) and make adjustments.
Delegation doesn’t have to be hard. Following a simple process with effective communication can increase your consistency and effectiveness for successful delegation.
What work are you doing that should be delegated to someone else?
What would you add to these delegation process steps?
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The New Leaders Guide to Delegation and Accountability