Militant Delegation That Works - In Both Your Business and Personal Life


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Why Is Delegating Important?

Delegating frees you up to tackle the truly important aspects of your mission/business/project. Too many leaders, believing only they are able to do things just right, insist on being involved in every single detail of their missions. They believe that this ultra-hands-on approach is good for business because they’re making sure everything gets done just so.

But a leader should be in charge of the overall direction of a team; he is the one looking ahead, steering the course, and making needed corrections to avoid getting off track. But buried in the small details, a man will lose the big picture and fail to see that the mission is falling apart until it is too late.

A good leader isn’t a slave to detail; he uses his valuable time to tackle what’s truly important. And this leads to greater success for him and his organization.

Delegating increases the morale, confidence, and productivity of subordinates.A boss that takes over his subordinates’ responsibilities, constantly looks over their shoulder, and sticks his nose in their every doing, creates very dissatisfied people. They feel like their leader has no confidence in them. Conversely, bosses that give important responsibilities to their employees, along with the freedom to complete the task their way, builds his employees’ innovation, morale, and satisfaction. It is crucial for a leader to show those under him that he trusts them.

“There are those who seem to think a proof of executive ability is to be fussing around all the while. Not so. The real leader flutters not. He knows how to delegate work. He is the one who directs and, therefore, seems least busy of all.” Ohio Education Monthly, 1915

Delegating saves you time. Not only does delegating allow you to concentrate on more important matters, it simply gives you more time in general.

Some leaders don’t believe this. “Why bother spending all that time training someone to do something that I can do myself with less trouble?” they ask. But while it’s true that training someone will involve more time in the short term, it’s an investment in the future that will pay compound interest.

The old adage, “Feed a man a fish, feed him for the day, teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime,” applies here. You can spend 20 minutes every day doing something your secretary should be doing, and thus spend 86 hours doing that task during the next five years. Or, you can spend 3 hours one day training your secretary to do it, and not have to spend any time on it ever again.

And what’s the point of working your butt off to get to the top if you’re going to be just as busy and harried as you were as a grunt?

Andrew Carnegie was a man who knew how to hustle to get wanted he wanted. But once he found success, he became a master delegator. To a friend who told him that he got to work at 7 in the morning, he said:

“You must be a lazy man if it takes you ten hours to do a day’s work. What I do is get good men and I never give them orders. My directions do not go beyond suggestions. Here in the morning I get reports from them. Within an hour I have disposed of everything, sent out all my suggestions, the day’s work done, and I am ready to go out and enjoy myself.”

How to Delegate Effectively

“Analyze the career of the successful business manager and you will find that he has done two things: by elimination and selection he has fitted competent men to the places at which the work focuses; by system he has so shifted detail to the shoulders of subordinates as still to keep the essential facts under his own hand.” -William A. Field of the Illinois Steel Company, 1919

Pick the best people. The true key to effective delegation begins before you actually do any delegating at all; rather, it starts in the hiring office. Choosing the best people for your team or business is the most paramount part of effective delegation. Everything rests on having people that can successfully carry out the responsibilities you delegate just as well as could do yourself. Pick people who are creative and self-motivated enough to work without you constantly looking over their shoulder and giving instruction.

Delegate in a way that people will willingly accept the assignment. When you delegate a task to someone, that person will greet the task with one of two responses: resentment or pride. To ensure it’s the latter, never delegate responsibilities that everyone knows you should specifically be doing. You delegate tasks when there are more important things that you personally need to attend to, not when you simply find a task unpleasant. My personal rule is never to delegate things that I wouldn’t be willing to do myself if I could.

When you delegate a task, tell the person why you chose them-why you think their particular talents are well-suited for the project. Compliments go a long way, and will give the person a sense of being needed and a sense of purpose.

Also, don’t play favorites when delegating responsibilities-doling out tasks based not on talent but on who you like. Not only will this create resentment among your team members, not picking the best person for the job simply handicaps your project before it even begins.

Have consistent standards. Leaders who complain that their subordinates don’t have the ability to tackle responsibilities competently are sometimes to blame themselves. They have not given their people clear guidance on what is expected of them. These leaders do not know themselves what they want and yet are angry when the result of a subordinate’s work is not up to par. They know what they don’t like, but can’t articulate what they do want. Developing Executive Ability, a book from 1919, sums this point up well and adds other invaluable advice:

“Let us analyze this complaint which has been voiced in one form or another by many executives—the detailed and reiterated directions these secretaries require, their lack of insight into the day’s work. It is granted that no brief could be maintained for all private secretaries; their ranks have been invaded by the incompetent and all are human. But as a rule the failure to get things done as the executive wants them is because he does not know himself what he wants, consistently. It is the lack of system, of standards, which is really to blame for the tangle, since the whim of the moment, and not a clear-cut standard, determines whether the typing or the choice of letterhead is to please him.

In order to satisfy the unsystematic man the secretary must be a mind reader…

A man’s efficiency is best developed by giving him responsibility with a clear understanding of that which is expected. Gradually increase the responsibility, always extending a guiding and helpful hand where needed. Give him all information necessary bearing on his work, encourage him to discuss troublesome matters with you or his next superior in order that errors may not occur for fear of exposing an apparent lack of knowledge. Remarkable results along this line can thus be obtained. We, as individuals, have but a slight idea of our capacity, and we realize possibilities only as we are put to the test. No greater encouragement can be given. It assumes a confidence that is appreciated. A man will strive his utmost before admitting failure. Responsibility causes a man to plan and think. When he begins to think, he at once becomes valuable; he feels he is a part of the company and that its interests are his interests. New possibilities that had been lying dormant are realized. New thoughts are aroused in rapid succession. The new opportunities act as a stimulant toward accomplishment.”

Give ample freedom for the subordinate to complete the task. Once you delegate a responsibility, you are placing your trust in that subordinate to carry out the task. Constantly jumping back in to check on how things are going will show your subordinate that you do not really trust them, and thus will actually erode their morale and impede their productivity, creativity and success. Give the person room to be able to successfully complete their assignment, and remember, while there is an agreed upon goal, they don’t have to get there exactly how you would get there. Let them do things in their own way.

Follow-up. Giving ample freedom doesn’t mean you never check in at all. Periodically follow-up with the person, not necessarily to stick your nose in what they’re doing, but to see if they have any questions or concerns that need to be addressed.

Share in rewards and give credit and praise. When you ask others to take on responsibilities, you cannot ask them only to share in the risk and drudgery, and not the rewards and glory. When a project is a success, a leader gives credit where credit is due. And he treats his subordinates as true partners, listening to their feedback and respecting their ideas and opinions. A great leader understands that the man on the ground often has the best insights to offer on what is really going on and needs to be done.

Delegation and SMART, or SMARTER

A simple delegation rule is the SMART acronym, or better still, SMARTER. It's a quick checklist for proper delegation. Delegated tasks must be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Agreed
  • Realistic
  • Timebound
  • Ethical
  • Recorded

Traditional interpretations of the SMARTER acronym use 'Exciting' or 'Enjoyable', however, although a high level of motivation often results when a person achieves and is given recognition for a particular delegated task, which in itself can be exciting and enjoyable, in truth, let's be honest, it is not always possible to ensure that all delegated work is truly 'exciting' or 'enjoyable' for the recipient. More importantly, the 'Ethical' aspect is fundamental to everything that we do, assuming you subscribe to such philosophy. There are other variations of meaning - see SMART and SMARTER acronyms.

The delegation and review form is a useful tool for the delegation process.

Also helpful tools for delegation, see the goal planning tips and template, and the activity management template.

The Tannenbaum and Schmidt Continuum model proviodes extra guidance on delegating freedom to, and developing, a team.

The Tuckman 'Forming, Storming, Norming Performing' model is particularly helpful when delegating to teams and individuals within teams.

Below are:

The steps of successful delegation - step-by-step guide.

The levels of delegation freedom - choose which is most appropriate for any given situation.

the steps of successful delegation 1 Define the task

Confirm in your own mind that the task is suitable to be delegated. Does it meet the criteria for delegating?

2 Select the individual or team

What are your reasons for delegating to this person or team? What are they going to get out of it? What are you going to get out of it?

3 Assess ability and training needs

Is the other person or team of people capable of doing the task? Do they understand what needs to be done. If not, you can't delegate.

4 Explain the reasons

You must explain why the job or responsibility is being delegated. And why to that person or people? What is its importance and relevance? Where does it fit in the overall scheme of things?

5 State required results

What must be achieved? Clarify understanding by getting feedback from the other person. How will the task be measured? Make sure they know how you intend to decide that the job is being successfully done.

6 Consider resources required

Discuss and agree what is required to get the job done. Consider people, location, premises, equipment, money, materials, other related activities and services.

7 Agree deadlines

When must the job be finished? Or if an ongoing duty, when are the review dates? When are the reports due? And if the task is complex and has parts or stages, what are the priorities?

At this point you may need to confirm understanding with the other person of the previous points, getting ideas and interpretation. As well as showing you that the job can be done, this helps to reinforce commitment.

Methods of checking and controlling must be agreed with the other person. Failing to agree this in advance will cause this monitoring to seem like interference or lack of trust.

8 Support and communicate

Think about who else needs to know what's going on, and inform them. Involve the other person in considering this so they can see beyond the issue at hand. Do not leave the person to inform your own peers of their new responsibility. Warn the person about any awkward matters of politics or protocol. Inform your own boss if the task is important, and of sufficient profile.

9 Feedback on results

It is essential to let the person know how they are doing, and whether they have achieved their aims. If not, you must review with them why things did not go to plan, and deal with the problems. You must absorb the consequences of failure, and pass on the credit for success.

levels of delegation

Delegation isn't just a matter of telling someone else what to do. There is a wide range of varying freedom that you can confer on the other person. The more experienced and reliable the other person is, then the more freedom you can give. The more critical the task then the more cautious you need to be about extending a lot of freedom, especially if your job or reputation depends on getting a good result. Take care to choose the most appropriate style for each situation. For each example the statements are simplified for clarity; in reality you would choose a less abrupt style of language, depending on the person and the relationship. At the very least, a "Please" and "Thank-you" would be included in the requests.

It's important also to ask the other person what level of authority they feel comfortable being given. Why guess? When you ask, you can find out for sure and agree this with the other person. Some people are confident; others less so. It's your responsibility to agree with them what level is most appropriate, so that the job is done effectively and with minimal unnecessary involvement from you. Involving the other person in agreeing the level of delegated freedom for any particular responsibility is an essential part of the 'contract' that you make with them.

These levels of delegation are not an exhaustive list. There are many more shades of grey between these black-and-white examples. Take time to discuss and adapt the agreements and 'contracts' that you make with people regarding delegated tasks, responsibility and freedom according to the situation.

Be creative in choosing levels of delegated responsibility, and always check with the other person that they are comfortable with your chosen level. People are generally capable of doing far more than you imagine.

The rate and extent of responsibility and freedom delegated to people is a fundamental driver of organisational growth and effectiveness, the growth and well-being of your people, and of your own development and advancement.

levels of delegation - examples

These examples of different delegation levels progressively offer, encourage and enable more delegated freedom. Level 1 is the lowest level of delegated freedom (basically none). Level 10 is the highest level typically (and rarely) found in organisations.

1 "Wait to be told." or "Do exactly what I say." or "Follow these instructions precisely."

This is instruction. There is no delegated freedom at all.

2 "Look into this and tell me the situation. I'll decide."

This is asking for investigation and analysis but no recommendation. The person delegating retains responsibility for assessing options prior to making the decision.

3 "Look into this and tell me the situation. We'll decide together."

This is has a subtle important difference to the above. This level of delegation encourages and enables the analysis and decision to be a shared process, which can be very helpful in coaching and development.

4 "Tell me the situation and what help you need from me in assessing and handling it. Then we'll decide."

This is opens the possibility of greater freedom for analysis and decision-making, subject to both people agreeing this is appropriate. Again, this level is helpful in growing and defining coaching and development relationships.

5 "Give me your analysis of the situation (reasons, options, pros and cons) and recommendation. I'll let you know whether you can go ahead."

Asks for analysis and recommendation, but you will check the thinking before deciding.

6 "Decide and let me know your decision, and wait for my go-ahead before proceeding."

The other person is trusted to assess the situation and options and is probably competent enough to decide and implement too, but for reasons of task importance, or competence, or perhaps externally changing factors, the boss prefers to keep control of timing. This level of delegation can be frustrating for people if used too often or for too long, and in any event the reason for keeping people waiting, after they've inevitably invested time and effort, needs to be explained.

7 "Decide and let me know your decision, then go ahead unless I say not to."

Now the other person begins to control the action. The subtle increase in responsibility saves time. The default is now positive rather than negative. This is a very liberating change in delegated freedom, and incidentally one that can also be used very effectively when seeking responsibility from above or elsewhere in an organisation, especially one which is strangled by indecision and bureaucracy. For example, "Here is my analysis and recommendation; I will proceed unless you tell me otherwise by (date)."

8 "Decide and take action - let me know what you did (and what happened)."

This delegation level, as with each increase up the scale, saves even more time. This level of delegation also enables a degree of follow-up by the manager as to the effectiveness of the delegated responsibility, which is necessary when people are being managed from a greater distance, or more 'hands-off'. The level also allows and invites positive feedback by the manager, which is helpful in coaching and development of course.

9 "Decide and take action. You need not check back with me."

The most freedom that you can give to another person when you still need to retain responsibility for the activity. A high level of confidence is necessary, and you would normally assess the quality of the activity after the event according to overall results, potentially weeks or months later. Feedback and review remain helpful and important, although the relationship is more likely one of mentoring, rather than coaching per se.

10 "Decide where action needs to be taken and manage the situation accordingly. It's your area of responsibility now."

The most freedom that you can give to the other person, and not generally used without formal change of a person's job role. It's the delegation of a strategic responsibility. This gives the other person responsibility for defining what changes projects, tasks, analysis and decisions are necessary for the management of a particular area of responsibility, as well as the task or project or change itself, and how the initiative or change is to be implemented and measured, etc. This amounts to delegating part of your job - not just a task or project. You'd use this utmost level of delegation (for example) when developing a successor, or as part of an intentional and agreed plan to devolve some of your job accountability in a formal sense.

contracts - 'psychological contracts', 'emotional contracts'

Variously called 'contracts' or 'psychological contracts' or 'emotional contracts', these expressions describe the process of agreeing with the other person what they should do and the expectations linked to the responsibility. It all basically means the same, whatever you call it. The point is that people cannot actually be held responsible for something to which they've not agreed. The point is also that everyone is more committed to delivering a responsibility if they've been through the process of agreeing to do it. This implies that they might have some feelings about the expectations attached, such as time-scale, resources, budget, etc., even purpose and method. You must give the other person the opportunity to discuss, question and suggest issues concerning expectations attached to a delegated task. This is essential to the contracting process.

See The Psychological Contract, and Transactional Analysis Contracting - both are highly relevant to delegation.

Certain general responsibilities of course are effectively agreed implicitly within people's job roles or job descriptions or employment contracts, but commonly particular tasks, projects, etc., that you need to delegate are not, in which case specific discussion must take place to establish proper agreement or 'contract' between you and the other person.

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