Delegating is not as simple as “here, you do this.” It requires planning and yes, relationship-building.
Before you delegate a project or task, consider if delegating is the best approach:
- Does someone on your team have the skills to do it? If not, does enough time exist so that someone can be trained to an appropriate level?
- If you delegate the project or task, does the person to whom you delegate have enough time in his/her schedule to take it on?
- If you delegate the project or task, will the person to whom you delegate take full ownership? If not, how will you compensate?
- Obviously, many more considerations need to be addressed, but the idea is to ensure success of the project instead of passing along work that will get abandoned.
Therefore, you want a “yes” answer to the following questions, or the project you’re delegating might not get done:
- Will this person assume an obligation in his/her heart to do the work?
- Do you feel comfortable giving control of the project to this person?
- Will you let the person retain control (that is, will you not take it back)?
- Will this person be able to produce a finished product that meets your mutual agreement?
If you’ve answered “yes” to those questions, you’re ready for phase two.
Here are a few more things to think through before you delegate (and it’s best to type out your answers or put them down on paper):
- What is the person’s work style?
- Is the person a “doer,” an “evaluator,” or somewhere in between? In other words, how closely will you need to stay in touch with this person about the project?
- Is this person a strict rule-follower or a loose cannon, or somewhere in between? In other words, might you have to assist the person get past potential obstacles, or perhaps put out a few fires because rules got ignored?
- How is this person at setting and maintaining priorities? In other words, might you need to set up regular meetings to assist with prioritization, or will this person pick up the ball and run with the project to the finish line?
- What is the person’s experience?
- What connections does the person have? In other words, will you need to shake some trees to pull in some help, or is the person well-connected and savvy enough to make things come together on his/her own?
- Does the person have enough knowledge and skills, or will a bit of training be needed? If training is needed, in what areas? Who will do the training? By when?
One you have answers to these questions, it’s time for phase three, the actual delegation.
- Start by writing out an overview of the project. Map out your perspectives on the boundaries of responsibility, authority, and accountability associated with the project. What’s the expected timeline? What’s the desired outcome? What resources will be needed?
- Create a summary of the above document, and then meet with the person you have in mind to oversee the project. Provide that person with the summary document and explain that you want this person to oversee the project. Ask if s/he feels up to the task.
- Assuming the person feels up to the task, ask the person if the expected outcome seems clear, and also inquire about his/her perspectives on some of the logistics that will be involved. Tell the person you’ll like him/her to create an outline for you of what s/he sees the project requiring … what resources, what checkpoints, what metrics, what timeframe, and what frequency of accountability will be involved. Emphasize that all you’re looking for is a rough sketch, and it doesn’t need to be picture perfect. Allow appropriate time (it could be a few hours or a few days, depending on the size and urgency of the project), and set up a time for the two of you to meet again to review the person’s outline. Make yourself available to answer any questions, but the idea here is for the person taking on the project to create his/her own outline.
- At the follow-up meeting, review the outline with the person present. If it seems to be about 80 percent on target or better, start moving forward with delegating the project. If less than 80 percent, make a few suggestions for improvement (that is, provide other areas to consider) and set up another follow-up meeting. Once the person’s planning outline seems to be about 80 percent, move forward with delegating.
- Make yourself available to provide support and answer questions as the project progresses. Just because you’ve delegated the project doesn’t mean you can forget about it. People want to know they’re doing a good job, so be there “where needed” to help people see they’re doing a “good job.” Giving public acknowledgement of people’s efforts goes a long way, so long as your comments are genuine.
- Although your monitoring will vary from person to person and project to project, be careful to remain concerned about results, not methods. If you start monitoring or questioning methods, you risk rapidly falling into micromanagement mode. By that same token, if people have problems, ask them questions to help them arrive at their own conclusions. Yes, it takes longer, but it grows and strengthens your organization.
When a project is complete, give abundant praise and credit both up and down the chain of command about those that did the work.
Be aware of the “power paradox:”
If you try to take credit for a project (trying build power for yourself), the person and/or team that did the work will lose respect for you, thus diminishing your true power. But if you give the credit to those that did the work, they will remain grateful to you for giving them the opportunity and resources to succeed, and your power base will be strengthened.
After every project, successful or not, it’s good to conduct an “After Action Review.” Meet with the people involved and get answers to the following questions:
- What went well?
- What didn’t go so well?
- What could have been different or better?
This information not only helps you when delegating future projects, it helps everyone who participated on the project grow, too.