Do you know how to properly delegate work? Part 1

23 Apr

Delegation is a process, not a one-off activity, and it needs to be done well to ensure success. The steps of the process are set out below.

The amount of your time and the level of formality you apply to each step will depend on a number of factors: the nature of the task to be delegated, how critical it is and the level of experience of the person carrying it out. The key point is that you need to include all the steps to ensure success.

Step 1: Define the task

Make sure that you have a clear idea in your own mind about what it is you want done. It should meet the criteria for delegation.

Part of the definition of the task should be to identify the actual customer of the task, internal or external, and decide what a successfully completed task would mean to them.

Step 2: Choose the person

If the person to whom you are delegating a task needs any training, make sure it’s in place before they start.

Step 3: Agree objectives and scope

You need to explain what the job is and why you are delegating it to this person because you want to ensure that the person is enthusiastic and motivated to take on this work, and will not see it as just another task to add to their already lengthy to-do list. 

You might also want to use the SMART way of agreeing objectives:

Specific – it is very easy to give vague instructions that can be misinterpreted. Give clear guidance and agree together what the scope of the work is and what it isn’t. Are you giving them authority to act, to make decisions, to spend money, or what? It is essential to agree all of this in advance. Ensure understanding by getting feedback from the other person on what they think they have been asked to do.

Measurable – how will you measure success? Both of you need to understand what the success criteria are. Think about success in terms of benefits also, and what these mean to the task’s customer, rather than just looking to the technical result.

Agreed – make sure that you both agree about all aspects of the task. People cannot be held responsible for something to which they have not agreed and they will be more committed if they have been allowed to contribute to its set up.

Realistic – this might seem obvious, but many people are given unreasonable targets or inadequate budgets. Set your people up for success, not failure. They may need resources – budget, equipment, other people’s time. Whatever they need, it’s your responsibility to make sure that it’s available.

Time-bound – be clear about when things must be completed (both intermediate and final deliverables).

You may also need to inform others that you are delegating this work to this person. These others might include your boss, your peers and/or your customers. Pay particular attention to any internal politics or difficult situations that might be relevant.

Help your delegate to understand how this task fits into the bigger picture of the organisational goals and mission. This will give them a better sense of why it is important. Don’t just assume that they will know this. If relevant, explain what recognition will be achieved on successful completion of the task.

Step 4: Deal with any concerns or objections

  • Ensure they answer yes to the following questions:
  • Do you know what to do?
  • Do you have the resources you need?
  • Can you do it?
  • Will you deliver according to what we agreed?

Finally, when you have a yes to the first four questions ask if there is there anything else that needs to be discussed. 

In effect, you are agreeing a contract with them. It is often a good idea to ask the person to send you an email detailing what they think they have contracted to do.

You need to carry through with this step because you absolutely must know if there are any concerns or objections lurking in the background that could derail the task. These might not even be related to the task: for example, the task may require someone to do something at a certain time each day that will then stop them from using their flexitime arrangements to collect their children from school.

The key here is that it is the perception of the delegatee that is important.

If you delegate a task to someone and they end up in the panic zone, you need to alter their perceptions, as they will not be able to perform while in this state. In order to get them, in their mind, to change zones, you must either increase their perception of their competence or decrease their perception of the difficulty of the task. You have several options to consider:

  • Point out that they have done something similar before – they may not have made the connection
  • Say that they can call on help from another person who has done it before
  • Show them how to do it
  • Send them on a training course
  • Break the task into pieces they consider manageable
  • Ensure they have understood the task correctly, as they may see difficulties where there are none
  • Redefine the task in terms they understand.

If you delegate a task and the person ends up in the drone zone, there is less you can do, but these types of routine, boring task still need to be done. Try to find some way of increasing the person’s perception of the difficulty of the task, for example:

  • You can turn it into a challenge: for example, ‘Sally did this last week in two hours’
  • Give them a reward task to do once the boring job is finished
  • Have them do it in parallel with another, more demanding, task
  • Have them think about ways to change the process, improving the task
  • Delegate two people to the task and make one of them responsible, and a teacher for the other.

Post provided by People Alchemy (@peoplealchemy)

Stay tuned for Part 2 in which we will look at monitoring progress and how to support, coach and provide feedback to the delegate. 


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