Delegate, Don’t Abandon
While the concept of delegation is straightforward— authorizing one of your employees to do work for which you are ultimately responsible—it is often tricky in practice.
There is a “delegation management continuum” bracketed by two extremes. One extreme is the micromanaging camp: they dole out a project in bite-size pieces and retain control. These managers want to approve each step, insisting that their staff do things exactly as they wouldo them. This approach often results in too many meetings and too much annoyance for their staff members.
The other extreme is the abandonment camp: they assign a task and then leave the person on their own to figure it out without any support or guidance. These managers give their staff a general idea of the assignment and then walk away. While this approach can work when the staff member is ready and resourceful, too often it feels more like being thrown in the deep end of the pool, ready or not.
Luckily, there is a wide swath of territory in between these extremes where a supervisor can delegate in a manner that leaves employees feeling confident, while being assured that support is readily available. Doing it right takes an investment of time up front, but it will save tremendous time and worry in the future.
I spoke with Rita Sever, a leadership consultant and author of Supervision Matters: 100 Bite-Sized Ideas to Transform You and Your Team, who offered this four-step process for delegating effectively.
1. State the Process
Don’t be coy about what you’re doing. Tell your employee that you are starting a process for delegating a task, responsibility, or project to them. Explain how the process will work and your expectation that they will give serious attention to each step in the process. Ask questions to ensure that they understand the assignment and that they know they are ultimately responsible for executing it. Give your employees a sense of the time frame, if you know it, and be clear about deadlines. Use language like, “You will be responsible for this in six months.”
Next it’s time to show the employee what you want them to do. You take the lead. For a simple task, this may be a five-minute demonstration. To define a responsibility, it may take a period of time until you have broken the responsibility into bite-sized pieces to outline the scope of the work. For a complicated, time-tiered project, this could happen over the course of an entire assignment.
Share the work as you start to let go, but don’t set the employee loose just yet. You listen to them answer a call, give them tips, perhaps even point out the answer if they forget something. Again, with a simple task this may be a quick one-time step. With a multi-step or time-dependent process, this will be more complicated. If you are training them to do a report, the share step might mean you ask them to gather the raw data and then you sit with them while they enter it into the system.
All along the way, you continue to highlight that you’re in a process. You remind them that you’re sharing the work this time and that next time they will be expected to take the lead.
Let the employee take the lead but don’t abandon them. For example, let them answer calls for an hour and then check in with them. Ask them to plan the curriculum for a training program and you review it. Or ask them to come prepared to a meeting with a list of questions and a plan for the next step of the process.
Remind them that they are taking the lead now and you are there to support them. If they run into anything that they’re not prepared for, help them problem-solve. Set up clear bench marks for the project so if there are problems, you will know.
And when they have completed this round, acknowledge that they have stepped up to the task and that you feel confident that they can handle the responsibility. Stay in support mode even if it’s rarely necessary for you to actively help out.
Through this four-step process you and your employee can be confident that nothing will fall through the cracks. Keep benchmarks in place as appropriate for the project.
Delegating in this way also lets you trust that your employee knows what they are doing and that they will be successful in delivering the expected results.