Exploring people potential

Sue Stockdale’s focus this month is mastering the art and science of delegation

It seems that the skill of delegation is becoming a lost art in the world of business. Too often managers and leaders seem to assume that defining a task for an employee and setting an end date for completion is enough to ensure that it will be done.

What seems to be getting lost is the concept of the manager creating an appealing vision to accompany the activity so that it inspires the employee to want to take on the responsibility. In other words, to ‘pull’ them towards the outcome rather than it being a chore.

One can define delegation as getting work done through others by giving them the authority and control of the work. And rather like two athletes in a relay team, both parties must trust one another and see themselves as part of the same team. One must be prepared to let go of the baton and pass it on to the other, trusting that they will want to accept it and run with it. And the person receiving the baton must be clear about what the expectations are of them and why they would want to run with it in the first place.  Here are some questions to make the process of delegation more effective.

Questions for managers and leaders

What information is critical to share with the delegated person?

Think about what the desired outcome is for the activity that you want to delegate, and if there are any critical elements that need to be communicated in advance. For example, if the report needs to be in Times New Roman font, with an Executive Summary and three pages long, make it clear to the person before they begin. That may require you to do some up-front thinking before briefing the delegated person. And during, and after the work, be sure to offer feedback to the individual, on what they did well and how their work has been of value.

How does this task connect to the bigger vision for the business?

It’s likely that the person to whom you are delegating will be more motivated if you can connect the task to either something that excites that person, or the bigger business vision. For example, the report will be submitted to the executive committee and the delegate will have an opportunity to present it to them.

What will help you trust the delegated person?

Sometimes managers want to keep checking in with the delegated person, which can lead to frustration with both parties. Therefore, creating a shared agreement on milestones or how you expect the individual to update you can help to minimise concerns later in the process.

Questions for employees to consider

What do I need to be clear about so that I can feel confident to deliver the required task?

If you are the person being given responsibility for delivery of a task, think ahead about what you need to know so that you feel confident enough to deliver. Taking on a new task often means stepping out of your comfort zone, so accept that it may not be easy, but it will be a learning opportunity. Find out how it connects to the bigger picture, or whether you can see an example of something similar that has been delivered before. Be sure about the deadline, or how the results will be used.

What if I get stuck, how will I let my manager know?

Sometimes progress gets slowed on a task when the route ahead becomes unclear.  Ensure that you and the manager have agreed how you will communicate in between times. Will a quick WhatsApp message or email be acceptable, or an update at the end of each week? When both parties know how and when they are going to engage with one another, there are no surprises.

How do I juggle this task with my other priorities?

If you already feel overwhelmed, being given yet another task to deliver may seem impossible. So, ask your manager to help you reprioritise, or get clear about how the importance of this activity compares to others. That may mean having to communicate with others to reset their expectations too.

Delegation is not as simple as it sounds and done well can be a great way for both leader and employee to learn. Investing a little time before the process begins can yield many benefits later on.

Sue Stockdale is an executive coach and polar explorer

Sue Stockdale

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