Many of us have been told to delegate – especially when we let slip to upper management that we feel overworked. “Delegate more,” comes the smug advice. But when we try to delegate, it goes badly. Feeling that we could do it better and faster if we did it ourselves, we hurry through instructions, omitting major helpful pointers, and then are angry when employees fail to do what we wanted and we are forced to rush to finish the project ourselves. Meanwhile, employees often feel “dumped on” and frustrated, and high achievers may question whether the only recognition they receive for their good efforts is more work. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Most supervisors have simply never been taught how to delegate effectively; there are 4 steps.
First, some tasks should not be delegated or should not be delegated right now. You must classify tasks as (1) important, meaning crucial to achieving the goals of the department or the organization and/or (2) urgent, meaning that it has a rapidly-approaching deadline. If something is neither important nor urgent, no one should do it; delegating such a vain task will be considered busy work. If the task is both important and urgent, you had probably better do it yourself this time because time is of the essence and success is crucial. Other tasks, however, such as those which are important but lack a tight timeframe and those which are urgent but where a mistake is not so costly are appropriate to delegate at any time.
Second, you must evaluate both the employee’s ability to do the task and his or her attitude. If either or both indicate a lack of readiness, you must take action to correct them. For example, an employee who is willing but lacks certain skills could be sent to training, given samples or templates, or provided with contacts to call for help. An employee who is able but whose willingness is questionable needs to be made to understand why he specifically was chosen. He must see what is in it for him – that it is a valuable developmental tool, perhaps a chance to be seen in a way in which he wishes to be perceived, or to gain new skills, to position him for promotion, as recognition of his expertise, etc. The supervisor must explain why this particular employee was chosen for this specific task – not just because the boss wanted to dump his work on someone and he was handy or because this employee won’t yell as loud as someone else.
The third step is to anticipate all possible questions, concerns, and fears the employee might have about undertaking the new project. Here are some key issues that a supervisor should discuss:
- Be specific about what needs to be accomplished.
- Explain the “big picture” and the stakes.
- List each stage and explain relevant past history.
- Explain what resources are at the employee’s disposal to accomplish the task.
- Alert the employee to potential problems.
- Explain how what the employee will do may affect others.
- Determine interim report times.
Most importantly, explain to the employee how this new task fits in with the mosaic of their existing work. Supervisors, whenever you add something to an employee’s plate, it is your duty to assist them in time management. You must help them to rearrange their plate, lest they fail to understand the respective significance of the new task to the rest of their jobs. In addition, the quality with which an employee works on the delegated task will be in direct correlation to their understanding of how this new task figures into their overall performance evaluation.
Finally, step four, is follow up. The supervisor should express appreciation and explain the results of the employee’s efforts. She should reiterate why the person was chosen and the benefits for them. In addition, the supervisor should set the stage for another effective delegation by asking what went well and what could have been done better and acknowledge his or her own shortcomings.
Following these four steps and being more thoughtful in your planning should make delegation a win-win for all people in your workplace!
J. Lenora Bresler, JD, SPHR, ASC graduated at age 20 from law school, J. Lenora Bresler is an attorney, SPHR, and leadership and engagement speaker, author, trainer, and coach. She is the owner of Bresler Training, LLC. dedicated to assisting organizations to create the best leaders, teams, and relationships on earth. An in-demand keynote speaker and consultant and a favorite with HR Florida audiences for years, J. Lenora specializes in bringing strategies that can immediately be applied. Her most recent book is Instant Insight: 15 Questions to Great Relationships. J. Lenora also teaches all modules of the certification review courses for two separate universities.
J. Lenora is Immediate Past President for Mid Florida SHRM, and currently serves as Editor for the HR Florida Review Magazine.