Great Delegation Skills

Executives and professionals all delegate work. Leveraging others’ skill sets through delegation is a critical-path management tool for these individuals. Getting the right work to the right people who have enough time is the key to the efficient and effective completion of projects. Yet many people are poor delegators of work. Why that is and ways to improve your delegation skills follow.

Delegation Roadblocks

There are numerous reasons why people don’t delegate work or don’t delegate it well, including:

  • Individualists. Many are individualists and don’t tend to play well with others. Most high achievers focused and relied on their own efforts to succeed. Delegation requires the acceptance of a team environment and many high achievers  just aren’t accustomed to that way of thinking.
  • Fear. Many fear delegation because: (a) it questions their value if another can do the work, and (b) the delegator is exposed to negative consequences if the delegatee fails to accomplish the work properly. As for (a), your own worth is tied to your work product, not the stack of work on your desk. As for (b) the process detailed below will minimize the risk of failure.
  • Financial. Many believe that if they give away the work, their compensation will be adversely affected. The reality is that leveraging the skills of others allows the delegator to engage in other value-added activities, including higher value work, business development, etc.
  • Inexperience. As mentioned above, many lack experience when it comes to delegating properly. Experience comes from doing, so we’ll focus on that.

Delegation Framework

Here are some methods to improve your delegation skills.

  • Organize Your Work. You can’t possibly delegate work effectively or efficiently if you don’t have your own house in order. The “messy desk is a sign of a great mind” cliché is just that – a cliché. This article doesn’t address professional hygiene, but there are numerous resources available to those that need this assistance. The bottom line is: Get Organized!
  • What Can Be Delegated? Determine what components or projects can be delegated. Factors in this decision include skill set(s) required to accomplish tasks, interest or challenge in the work, and best use of available personnel. For example, a routine filing can be delegated, as can an ancillary deposition, but a key merger negotiation cannot.Like all skills, practice makes perfect. Though the list of steps above seems long, the steps are logically interconnected and flow easily once you acclimate yourself to the process. Improving your delegation skills will greatly improve both your own work and those of the people with whom you work.
  • To Whom Can it Be Delegated? Staff members can handle repetitive, easily completed tasks. Newer subordinates can handle more substantive work, provided the requisite skills have been developed. More advanced employees should handle less defined elements of a project and those that require application of more advanced critical thinking skills. Note: one factor to consider is the need to bring newer people along, so make sure everyone is challenged a little.
  • Define the Project Deliverables and Deadlines. One of the worst delegation mistakes work givers make is to ineffectively define what is expected from the delegatee. What may seem obvious to you is not so obvious to a less experienced individual. The same holds true for deadlines. It’s likely that you weren’t always able to complete projects in an efficient manner . Less experienced people need more time to become efficient. Give them specific and reasonable guidance on your expectations.
  • Estimate the Time the Delegated Task Should Take. Providing the delegatee an estimate of how long a task should take sets parameters around the task, as well as provides them a yardstick to use while doing the work.
  • Align Your Attitude/Expectations. This goes hand-in-hand with the last two points. Remember, it’s almost always more efficient for you to simply do the work yourself. However, there are only so many working hours in the day. Aligning your expectations with the work and the person to whom you’re delegating it will return a much better result for you both.
  • Schedule Enough Time to Meet. The better you explain the work, its background, and your expectations the first time, the fewer mistakes that will be made and the less repetition that will occur. If your delegatee walks out of your office with a sound understanding of the task(s), the better able they are to complete it without further assistance from you.
  • Delegate Ownership. Don’t have your delegatee come back at every step. Let them know that you want them to make decisions on their own. If they truly have a question they can’t figure out, you can always assist them, but challenge them to work through the problem on their own.
  • Obtain Feedback for Confirmation. When discussing the project, make sure you’re getting feedback that confirms that they understand what you’re saying. Similarly, feed back to them what you’re hearing to ensure you understand what they’re saying.
  • Engage in Progress Updates. Make time to check in on the progress of the project. This is especially true if the project is more involved. Just confirming for the delegatee that you’re interested in their progress will: (a) give them a greater sense of pride in the work and (b) provide ample opportunity to facilitate the work being performed.
  • Debrief if Appropriate. It’s always a good idea to debrief with the person you assigned work to if the project merits it. What went well? What could have gone better? These are opportune moments to greatly improve both the work product and the working relationships.

Like all skills, practice makes perfect. Though the list of steps above seems long, the steps are logically interconnected and flow easily once you acclimate yourself to the process. Improving your delegation skills will greatly improve both your own practice and those of the people with whom you work.

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