Delegating well and avoiding pitfalls

Do you delegate enough? If not, read on to find out how to make the most of delegation.

An introduction to delegation – Why bother?

Are you new to management? Maybe you have never really needed to delegate before. Perhaps you’ve been a manager for a while but have never quite managed to grasp the delegation nettle. Whatever your current situation, if you would like to develop the ability to delegate appropriately, more wisely and effectively, read on.

Delegation is one of the fundamental skills involved in being a manager. It seems relatively straightforward at first glance: just hand over a few key responsibilities to someone else with the right sort of skills and capabilities, then go your sweet way. However, delegation isn’t quite that straightforward. There is an essential suite of principles that underlie good delegation, a group of key indicators for great delegating.

Why is effective delegation an important skill? It provides more time in the long run for you to focus on the most important management roles of all, for example leading your team and having the vital head space needed to operate strategically. Delegation delivers more outcomes in less time. It generates a more motivated and productive energy around you, keeps the business humming and increases delivery.

If done well, delegation also contributes a lot towards raising staff morale, encouraging and enabling people, allowing them to develop and demonstrate their capabilities. When a manager delegates effectively to the right people, at the right time, in the right way, it becomes a surprisingly powerful tool whatever shape, size or flavour your organisation happens to be.

When delegation goes wrong – And how to fix it

Maybe there isn’t much delegation in your workplace that works well. Maybe there is a certain amount of delegation, but it is somewhat hit or miss. If you fall foul of delegation and get it wrong, it can have a profound adverse effect on the business and the people who work there.

For a start

As a non-delegating manager, you can quickly become a human bottleneck, that single, maddening sticking point at which things fail to get done and nobody can move forwards. It happens, even though it is common sense that nobody can do everything badly, never mind doing everything well.

As a manager, you are responsible for giving your people what they need to do a great job, enjoy the experience, spread their wings and acquire new skills. Poor delegation skills mean dissatisfied staff, often talented and accomplished people who are not allowed to develop in their role.

Delegation does not work when you just do it without thinking carefully about it first. As a manager, you have to spend time exploring the options before actually handing tasks over. In other words, you need to do the work before the work. The bulk of the preparation involves thinking through what you want to achieve and which staff member has the right skill set or abilities to carry out the task properly. Delegate the wrong task to the wrong person, and you can cause lots of upset and worry as well as trashing any deadlines you might want to hit. The same goes if you do not hand over the task or project correctly.

What people deserve

People deserve a clear brief, simple guidelines and a solid goal to aim work towards. Moreover, it is nice to make it clear why you chose them to delegate to – after all, handing over an important job to someone else is a compliment. It means you trust them; you appreciate their skills and abilities.
If someone doesn’t have the perfect skill set for the task, training is the key to delegation excellence. The simplest and most time-effective way is to use the ‘I do, we do, you do’ approach, where you show how you would tackle the job, then you both do it together, then you observe them doing it on their own before handing over.

Delegation - How to delegate well and avoid pitfalls

There’s such a thing as over-delegation, too. Delegating doesn’t just mean giving all the things you hate doing onto someone else. It’s about getting rid of the tasks you should not be doing in the first place.
As a manager, time pressures can prevent you from explaining the full context of a task or project. However, people find it tough to succeed if they do not have access to the bigger picture and know how they fit into it. All of us need to know the ‘why’ of a task. We naturally seek to understand and connect up what we have to do with a higher purpose, no matter what level we are operating at in the company. This wider contextual vision affects how staff see their contribution and how they feel about the smaller decisions they have to make along the way.

Delegation often means different things to different people

One size does not fit all. It helps to shape a task or project to the individual you want to delegate to, rather than to assume anyone can pitch in. Do you understand the person’s strengths and weaknesses? Do you have a handle on their background experience? Have you identified their preferred learning style or styles? All this good stuff is part of being an effective manager, part of the experience you need to become a great delegator.

Now and again, when everyone on a team is keen to move forwards, favouritism rears its ugly head. If you delegate all the choice tasks to one accomplished individual, the rest of your people will soon start to feel resentful. This can lead to the wrong kind of competition, the divisive kind that damages the glue that holds a good team together.

It is also essential to scope the task from your staff’s perspective. Will team members sail ahead or are they likely to need practical support on complicated or tricky projects? A reasonable intellectual stretch is an excellent thing, but try to extend someone too far, and they will lose the plot unless you are there to support them.

Along the same lines, are you approachable enough? If your team finds you scary or unapproachable for some other reason, they will be reluctant to ask you for help, which can prove disastrous. Make it clear you are there to support them, not locked away frowning in your ivory tower. Might the person you have delegated to want to touch base with you every now and again throughout the process? If so, make it clear that you are available and happy to help. Better still, pre-diary specific times to catch up.

Boundaries are also vital

You have to recognise the boundaries around a member of staff’s ability to make decisions or spend money. It applies to every human being – when you feel uncertain about the real expectations or underlying assumptions behind a task, you can guarantee there’ll be confusion some way down the line, and maybe even tears. We, humans, like to know where we stand in every circumstance, delegated tasks included. Then we are aware exactly where, how, when and what to focus on.

There’s no point giving people crazy deadlines. They need to be realistic. It’s always worth bearing in mind that a task that might take you a few hours might take someone less experienced a lot longer. Patience is a virtue. Make sure there’s enough time, resources and support available then you’ll ensure things are done well.

Secrets are not good

You might have a hidden picture in your head about what you expect, for example around the standard of delivery. Not communicating this picture, can become a stress point for everyone concerned, especially if you think you can do it much better yourself. If you have some unacknowledged trouble in letting go of responsibility, your people will feel it. Instead of having a collection of expected standards that you do not make clear, be specific right from the start.

Micro-managing is a delegation-killer.

You hand over a project or task, but you keep coming back to check it is going as you expect. There are few things worse than constantly being monitored by your manager. It feels like you are not trusted and can’t be left alone to do a good job, making you feel undermined and frustrated. Nobody wants to have someone else looking over his or her shoulder. It can so easily fuel performance anxiety.

What is your attitude to learning and mistakes?

Can your people quickly discuss things with you and find solutions, or are you likely to blow up and lose your temper? Bear in mind that mistakes are inevitable, and they’re often an excellent way to learn. A solution focused mindset is vital. Otherwise, people will be very reluctant to admit to mistakes or even feel compelled to hide them.

Do you understand the power of a positive challenge?

You need to understand how to challenge well, skillfully giving both constructive and somewhat negative feedback. When you have a good set of solid influencing skills, delegation can work a whole lot better.

How about your attitude?

If people see you as lazy or not willing to go the extra mile, it is unlikely they are going to respond well. It is more likely they will feel things are unfair. A sense of humour when the going gets tough is an essential attribute too, allowing you to lead your team with resilience and humour. However, above all, you have to genuinely appreciate the hard work that a team being delegated to delivers.

The simple act of saying thank you – and meaning it – goes a very long way. Moreover, getting specific with your praise and encouragement builds confidence in individuals, creating a working atmosphere where staff are fully engaged and motivated.

Last but not least, provide feedback on performance. It’s just as important as a thank you since it helps people to understand how to do something better next time and how to avoid mistakes and challenges in future.

Get help building your delegation skills

There’s a lot to learn. But once you’ve got it, you’ll feel so much more confident about delegating in particular and managing in general. If you’d like professional coaching to help you hit the mark, we’ll be delighted to help. Just get in touch.