The ability to delegate well - effectively and tactfully - is not only an essential management skill, it is an ability that will lead to better, more productive, more relaxing outcomes in all aspects of life. Despite this, the fact that early career success is usually due to our ability to do things ourselves, before achieving management roles which hinge upon our ability to get others to act on our behalf, means that many managers at all levels struggle to delegate in an inspiring and developmental way.
Delegation is a learned skill, which can be mastered easily with some of the following hints.
Start with yourself
To see the most common barrier to effective delegation you need look no further than your own mirror. Trusting your team, and accepting the idea you may not be the only one with the right skill to achieve the task in hand are the cornerstones to effective delegation. If you can’t let go, your efforts are doomed to fail, and attempting to improve your delegation whilst micro managing is futile.
If it’s not your natural style to step back and allow others to deliver for you, give yourself added confidence in your team’s ability by starting small. Pick a simple task, give the appropriate training to your member of staff to set them up for success, and be open minded to the outcome, as your team might go about things in a different manner to you. You never know - you may even get a better result. Be sure to be clear in any task you delegate, what the absolute most important parts are, the things that cannot be missed, but then have appropriate flexibility beyond that to allow your team to fulfill the request in the way that best uses their skills and strengths.
Understand your team
Having overcome any personal barriers that may prevent delegation, the next step is to understand the strengths of each team member in order to delegate appropriately to individuals who will be able to succeed for you. Choose the right people to delegate to - but don’t forget delegation might be right as a development opportunity for your high potential team members, as well as playing to the strengths of others.
Get to know your team through one to ones, review their previous work, understand their aspirations and who is high potential, and delegate the right tasks to the right people for the best outcomes.
Whether you’re a senior executive or a mum at home with the kids, you’re not likely to get any help if you don’t ask. Don’t wait for others to offer, and most importantly, don’t be a martyr. Recognise it if you tend to be the ’suffer in silence’ type - learning to delegate could help your out in other aspects of life, not just work!
Pay attention to the ’back of mind’ voice that tells you not to ask for help - whether that’s because of a fear of refusal, a belief that you’d get the job done better or quicker, or a sense that you simply should not need to ask. People are often blissfully unaware of your struggles, and you may be a long time waiting on the offer of a helping hand.
Delegate the objective
Let your team member know the end result you need to achieve rather than telling them in minute detail how to achieve it. This takes trust and a coaching mindset but will be far better received and probably achieve a better end result, as your team member will feel freer to approach the task in the best way for them. Check back, once you have described your objective, and ask your colleague to summarise what they’re aiming for to ensure understanding and give you peace of mind.
Tools to do the job
Allocate adequate resources, time, training and patience to the individual you delegate to. Accept that they may be taking on a new job for the first time, and may take longer than others, or make errors along the way. Recognise them for their help, and be grateful, genuinely, and publicly if this is appropriate for the task and individual. Treat delegation as an opportunity to help a team member develop - in a true sense rather than the dreaded poison chalice task handed over as an ’opportunity’.
Develop the culture
Once you have mastered the art of effective delegation, and started to show by your actions that delegation is a desired skill within your team, it is time to get others to do the same. To help the culture of delegation flourish, be careful to describe delegation as a strength not an admission of weakness. You may even choose to include the skill in your own personal development plan, discuss it with your team as a whole, and encourage others to do the same.
The biggest influence on culture will be when things do not work out as you had hoped in a delegated task. Think carefully about your reaction if things don’t go as you planned, as people will watch your reaction as manager to assess the risk to themselves of accepting delegated tasks.
In the longer term, a culture of delegation is a sign of a strong and successful team. As manager, try to ask people what they think should happen to grow the team, and how to move the business forward - ’planning with’ your team is more effective, inspiring and enjoyable than telling them what to do, and this motivational management style is a natural lead-on from a real culture of delegation.