January 27

How To Delegate Effectively & Achieve More

Management, Podcasts

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Delegation Skills Training Podcast

Delegation Skills (Excerpt)

Hi.  Welcome to delegation; how to, when to, why to.  I’m Scott Watson.  Our time together today will be spent exploring delegation.  It’s a fantastic skill for any manager, aspiring manager, or leader to possess but so few managers actually possess it or do delegation particularly well. 

Now, I understand that not delegating particularly well or effectively is not a conscious decision.  As a busy manager, I expect you have dozens, if not hundreds of emails to respond to, several or more reports to produce and get approved, conflicting deadlines on multiple projects and you’ve got to lead a team to deliver the results that your organisation is paying, trussing out and expecting you to deliver for it.

What actually is delegation?  In the organisational context and people in the management arena, it’s allowing, supporting and enabling another person, perhaps a member of your team or a peer, to undertake a task or activity that you would normally do yourself.  That is what delegation is all about.  There’s a very big difference between delegation and abdication and we’ll explore that later, but the real benefits of delegation are often overlooked or at least misunderstood.  I’ve met hundreds, if not thousands of managers, people managers, project managers, change managers who simply refuse to delegate, first of all because they’re stuck in their own way, their preferred way of working.  They also refuse or are at least reluctant to delegate because they know that if they do the task themselves, it will be right first time, on time, pretty much every time to the required standards so there’ll be no need for any costly rework or additional investment in time required.

The few things that managers often overlook when they’re declining, refusing or reluctant to delegate that there are some fantastic benefits to be achieved for both the manager, the organisation and the person that you’re delegating to.  For example, if you’re a manager that’s a little bit reluctant or not too confident in delegating currently, I’m going to share with you a proven, practical, time tested template at the end of this programme but for now, you would be allowed to have that space and time to think about the few things that really matter for you to deliver rather than the lots of little things that just need doing.  You will also express trust in a member of your team, or members of your team, when you start to delegate to them; not abdicate, delegate.  You’ll also start to develop greater skills and competence and confidence within and across your team by delegating.

Now, the only people that tend to be reluctant to do this are managers that want to withhold information because they view that as withholding power and that’s not the way to be.  When you do delegate, as well as freeing up time, thinking space and also more time for you to do the few things that really matter, the recipient of the delegation of the task can receive it particularly positively in terms of they view it as you expressing trust, they view it as you trying to develop them, they view it as you wanting to collaborate and support them in their personal growth or competence and/or self-confidence and as long as you delegate using the template which I’ll share with you later and don’t abdicate, the opportunities for personal growth, more productivity, greater efficiency, higher quality, fewer costly errors and less costly rework are fantastic.  All you need to do is understand that by letting go of the reigns, you’re not letting the horse bolt.

Take a moment to think about two or three reasons why you may choose not to delegate to certain members of your team or any members of your team.  Some managers that I’ve met come up with five or ten answers.  Here are just a few of them, “Well, if I delegate to him/her/them, I’ll only have to correct it and do it again anyway.  I may as well do it right first time by myself.”  Another one would say, “They’ve got enough work to be doing.  I need to do this because I don’t want to appear rude or to be putting on them.”  That’s one worth thinking about.  Another one would say, “Well, they’ve not demonstrated that they can do it so it’s going to take longer than it would for me to do it on my own.”  Bear in mind, you only learned how to be competent and effective in your role by someone perhaps helping you out, showing you and demonstrating a little bit of patience and a little bit of empathy as well.

Could it be that some or all of your colleagues in different situations, different contexts perhaps deserve a little bit of that as well, because the great benefit for you is that when you do start to delegate effectively and do it following this process and do it with genuine empathy and authenticity, you start to develop your own coaching skills.  A really important part of being an effective manager, not just of projects and outcomes but of people, is becoming an effective coach, an effective enabler for other people to perform at or near their best on a consistent basis.  In short, becoming an effective delegator can be one of the key ingredients in the recipe for a highly successful team that delivers better quality, greater efficiency, makes fewer errors, collaborates more effectively and generates more value for your organisation. 

Alongside this, not just your organisation but more value for your customers, more value for your stakeholders, more value for your suppliers and partners but more than anything, it’s greater collaboration, two heads are better than one when it comes to doing things usually.  By expressing trust in another human being, allowing someone that opportunity to, not fall flat on their face, that’s abdication, but fall over once or twice but in a very safe environment with a structured approach to supporting, enabling and equipping that person or those people to perform that task and achieve and deliver the outcome that you expect and require for your organisation is a fantastic way to develop more credibility for yourself, more credibility for your team, more competence within your team, more collaboration within your team and across teams, and more respect for other people around your organisation.  Doesn’t that sound like it’s worth going for, a worthwhile goal?

There will no doubt be activities and tasks that you cannot and should not delegate and this is common sense but not always common practice.  For example, if you have a legal responsibility for signing a document or proving an outcome or content of a project, of course that needs to be retained by yourself.  If there’s an audit trail that requires your signature and authorisation as a manager, of course you cannot delegate the signing of that document.  You can though, in certain cases, delegate the collation of the information, the production of the data but the ultimate responsibility, as in any task or activity you delegate, remains with you. 

How do you go about identifying the relevant employee that you wish, want or need to delegate this activity or task to?  Well, there are several factors to consider.  First of all, it could be that someone has a development opportunity from their personal development plan or their last performance appraisal, if your organisation does actually have appraisal systems.  It could be that there’s some spare capacity; they’ve finished one project or their backlog of customer complaints is down so there’s an opportunity for this person to actually take some time and learn a new skill that will support your organisation and your team.  It could be that this person is really the best person for the job; they have prior experience in this kind of activity and task, and it’s an opportunity for them to learn something rapidly and demonstrate a certain skill or competence to you, their manager.  It could also be that the person has no prior experience of this kind of task or activity but has expressed a desire to actually learn.  Yes, in this case, the learning curve may be steeper and it may take longer for this person to actually learn how to undertake this task or activity successfully but think about your potential return and investment if you delegate effectively rather than abdicate and just wait for them to fall flat on their face.  It could also be that there’s a possibility for a number of members within your team to actually collaborate on delivering an outcome, a task, a mini project, so they can demonstrate and develop their collaboration skills in working together and producing solutions to tough, challenging every day obstacles that stop your team or your organisation performing optimally. 

If you take a moment now to think about the upcoming tasks that you have to undertake and the outcomes that you need to deliver for your boss back in your workplace this coming week, this coming month, or this coming quarter, are there certain tasks that you know that you should do, that you need to undertake, and are there also some tasks that you think, “Well, he/she/they could really undertake that task and take it off my desk and use it as a learning opportunity.  They could do that with a little bit of support from me.”  Are there some tasks like that?  If your answer is ‘no’, please take a rethink because there’s always a task that you can delegate.  It shouldn’t be so easy that the person or people can do it really quickly, really easily and not learn anything but stay in your good books in the process, and it shouldn’t be so difficult that if it doesn’t work out as intended or planned, the organisation is put at risk in some way.  It should work out as planned because you’re going to delegate effectively rather than just hoping that things get done, or just lumping something on the person’s desk and then walking away until they turn up and say they can’t do it, and then you have the additional pressure of the looming deadline and the conversation you’re going to have with your boss because things haven’t been delivered.

Pick two or three tasks, two or three people that are in your team or they’re actually peers who you collaborate with on a regular basis.  By regular basis, I mean once or twice a week, or you may collaborate on cross-team or cross-department projects.  Have a think, who can you delegate to and what are the tasks that you’d be happy to delegate.  Now, the next thing that we need to consider is what level, what degree of delegation are you going to implement. 

Is it full delegation where that person following your briefing has full authority to make decisions, amend deadlines and communicate across teams or to stakeholders, suppliers, partners and peers as they wish?  That’s a traditional approach, isn’t it, “Just go and get on with it.”  Is it some form of shared delegation where you and the employee that you’re delegating to share responsibility, you taking responsibility for ensuring that the person or people are fully equipped, enabled and supported to deliver the outcome required with a very clear outcome in mind right at the outset, including the biggest risks to the task not being delivered, the organisational goals, what contribution he/she/they are expected to make, what success would actually look like.  That’s shared responsibility.  You delegate, they deliver but with support from you as and when wanted, as and when required and certainly, as and when agreed in advance. 

There are few things more frustrating for someone that’s been delegated to find out that the boss says right at the outset, “Yes, any questions, come and see me” but the boss is never around because they’re in meetings.  Whichever degree of delegation you choose to implement and agree with your colleague, you remain accountable.  You are jointly responsible for ensuring that the outcome is achieved but whether it is or whether it isn’t, that is you.  That is down to you completely, and this is where taking this responsibility right at the outset avoids finger pointing, the finger of blame.  Please remember, every time you point one finger of blame at someone else, three point directly back at you.  This is what delegation is not about.  It’s about accepting and promoting responsibility so its shared understanding, shared ownership and clarity about the most important goals and what support will be there implemented, structured for that person or those people to do a great job for you and with you. 

For a moment, take yourself out of your manager role and put yourself in the shoes of one or more of your team members.  Your manager, for the first time, comes to you and says, “Hi.  I’d like to delegate this task to you.”  What’s your biggest fear?  Is it fear of success?  Probably not.  Its fear that something could go wrong in terms of you not achieving what’s required, you not delivering on the outcome that’s wanted but possibly more than anything it’s, “Am I going to get left to sink by my manager?”  This is the biggest reservation I’ve seen, having spent time with thousands of people in business, not just managers but the manager’s managers as well.  It’s, “I’m going to get delegated to.  No chance, they’re going to dump something on my desk, expect me to do it then just leave me to try and do it without any support, without any clarity, without any context, and also without any time built in for me to be able to go and ask questions, and also being able to ask questions without looking like I don’t know what I’m talking about or feeling a little bit stupid.” 

Whenever you delegate, if you’ve no prior experience of delegating to that person and doing it effectively and achieving a collaborative win/win relationship and the outcomes that you want and the organisation requires of you, there’s a fear to be dealt with.  That fear is self-preservation; am I going to look worse in my bosses eyes or am I going to improve my standing in my bosses eyes, not because I’m hugging up to the boss but because I’m competent, I’m confident, I’m delivering on my commitment, I’m keeping this thing on track and anticipating and overcoming the problems that do turn up quickly and effectively.

Before you even think of delegating a task, have a think about how is this task going to be received, what is my impact.  Am I encouraging and supporting that person to want to get involved or am I actively discouraging them and really putting them off wanting to get involved because they’re terrified of not achieving the outcome that’s required.  Your personal impact in how you approach the discussion, present the task and offer support throughout the task through to completion is vital. 

It’s so important that you don’t just create a positive impact but you have some structure there for that person to feel safe, secure, supported, encouraged and enabled to do a great job for you, not just a good job, a great job.  This can happen when two minds get together and you support as the manager and enable them and ask them, “What are your thoughts on this?  What do you think could be a good solution?  What do you think the biggest obstacle could be to achieving this deadline on time to budget?”  When you start asking the people on the front line who do the job day to day rather than just guess for yourself, you’re going to come up with far better solutions to everyday problems and obstacles that you encounter now.

Does the person that you’re delegating to realise that he/she can speak their truth to you, they can speak truth to power, because one vital ingredient in successful delegation and collaboration between you and your colleague is them sharing their thoughts, sharing their ideas, making recommendations, identifying concerns and potential obstacles.  They need to manage upwards so as well as a task getting delegated, it’s the relationship that needs to be developed.  This is about setting a clear permission about a standard for communication, collaboration and authenticity within the collaboration, within the relationship. 

There is no way that anybody should feel that they can’t share their thoughts, concerns, ideas and recommendations with you.  It’s up to you, as the manager, to make the first move on this.  Don’t just expect people to speak to you openly and honestly, they may not know you well enough to give you the bad news, feel that they can give you the bad news without you losing your temper or showing disapproval in some way or taking the task off them.  It’s really important that you, as a human being as well as a people manager, manage your impact and set that permission in the relationship so candid, win/win, authentic collaboration and communication can take place without a second thought.  It should be the norm, not the exception, but you may be surprised at how many managers just delegate the task, let the person get on with it but don’t say, “What are your thoughts?  What are your thoughts on how this obstacle can be removed?  What are your thoughts on what could be the two biggest issues affecting this project being delivered on time?”  These are the questions, very simple questions, but asked at the right time with authenticity can add lots of value, save headaches and help you get more done in less time with less stress.


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