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The Six Steps to Delegation

By implementing the six steps to delegation, a manager creates a work environment that is more productive, fosters creativity and opportunities for growth and focuses on the importance of communication.
Written Dec 16, 2010, read 11909 times since then.
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There are six steps to successfully delegating tasks. Most managers and leaders only do one of these steps, while some conduct two of the steps.  When the task isn't completed to the manager's satisfaction, all too often the manager comes to his coach or boss complaining that his employees just don't get it, or he can't find employees who are good enough to “get the job done.”

Delegating for outstanding results is a formula.  The good news is that it's rarely the employees at the heart of the issue.   Good news because it's a lot easier and less expensive for a manager to learn an improved approach than to be replacing staff!

Delegating is usually approached as a transaction, which it isn't.   "I tell an employee to do a task.  The employee does the task.  I reward the employee.  Everyone’s happy." At its core, delegation is an act of trust.  When successful, the relationship between leader and employee is strengthened. When ineffective, it can get one or both fired.

The obvious reason successful delegation is critical is the capacity to get more done in less time. The second reason is that it frees you up to contribute at your own highest and best level.  Skills developed by delegating:  planning, communication, self-management, and transfer of technical skills. These are developed in both the delegator and delegate!

Popular Myths about Delegating

Myth:  It’s just faster to do a task myself.

Truth:  This is short term thinking.  Saying this myth to yourself for any longer than two weeks turns an emergency situation into the status quo that permanently limits growth.  (To be clear, I'm not talking about two weeks as a time. I'm talking two weeks period).

Myth: My employees understand what I want without me really having to tell them.

Truth:  Even a team of unusually gifted psychics wouldn't get things right 100% of the time.   In a situation like this, the leader usually isn't clear on the desired outcome from the beginning.  This is setting the team up for failure and can lead to high employee turnover rates.

Myth: My way of doing things is the most productive / best method.

Truth: All employees bring their unique abilities and approach to process that creates the result they're tasked with.   Good managerial coaching may improve these processes as long as the process belongs to the person tasked with creating the outcome. Successful delegation is about results - *what* is to be accomplished instead of *how* to make it happen.

The Six Steps to Delegation

Walking through this process becomes faster and more fluid the more you implement it.  When you have mastered this process, it will be a part of your managerial DNA; you'll flow through it easily and reap consistently outstanding results.

1. Prepare

Employees can't deliver results successfully if the task delegated to them isn't fully thought out or results are a moving target.  Take the time and create the discipline to know what you're asking for since an ounce of prevention of worth the pound of cure repairing a situation where delegating falls apart.

2. Assign

  • Hand over the deliverable with timing, budget and context to enhance understanding.
  • Provide tips and coaching while making it clear to the employee that she owns the process.
  • Set expectations for communication and updates: frequency, content, in person or via email, etc.
  • Have an open door policy for the employee to ask questions.

3.  Confirm Understanding

One of the most critical areas where delegating tends to fall apart is when an assumption is made that the other person understands what we mean.  Confirming understanding is a process that takes about 60 seconds and can determine the success or failure of delegation more than any other step in the process.

  • Have the employee paraphrase the deliverable you've assigned in his own words.
  • Be up front about the process of delegating.  This is simply a step that helps you both be certain there is clear understanding.
  • Be creative about how you elicit the paraphrasing from your employee.  Replace the phrase, "Now what did I just tell you?" with “How would you explain this task to a fellow employee?”
  • Ask employees if they feel they have the tools and resources to be successful.
  • Ask questions to make sure employees understand what the task will require.

4.  Commitment

This is another area that most managers tend to skip in the delegation process.  Managers assume an employee’s acceptance of the task.  In a relay race, the most critical stage is handing the baton to the next runner.  A huge amount of training is invested in learning the handoff.  It's no different in organizations.  Commitment is making sure you've successfully handed over the baton.

5.  Avoiding “Delegating Back”

Many of the managers who begin working with me are extremely overworked, and one of the first determinations is that their employees are better at delegating than the manager.  We know this because delegated tasks return to the manger's workload.  I call this "delegating back."  There are very few, if any, cases when a manager taking back a delegated task is necessary.  When an employee reaches an impasse, managers need to coach them through it, but let employees do their job.  Don't take tasks back. 

6. Accountability

Communication in delegation is key.  Finding out that a deliverable wasn't completed or wasn't done satisfactorily after the completion date is the nightmare scenario of delegating. Accountability is actually the act of giving a report on progress.

It can be difficult to overcome the myths of delegating and getting into the process of conducting all six steps when delegating tasks.  By implementing this process, a manager creates a work environment that is more productive, fosters creativity and opportunities for growth and focuses on the importance of communication.

 

Learn more about the author, Michelle Randall.

Comment on this article

  • Indexer | Technical Writer | Editor | Environmental & Town Planner 
Bellevue, Washington 
Paul Sweum
    Posted by Paul Sweum, Bellevue, Washington | Dec 17, 2010

    This is an interesting and engaging article Michelle. It's a subject that I don't see many folks on this site addressing, probably because the majority of Biznikers don't have a bona fide management background within structured organization.

    I do, however...and one element I might add to your approach, in an overarching principle, is that making yourself approachable is key. I never believed in ruling by fear, and I saw the results that brought about.

    I'd also add that a little humor can also work wonders!

  • Principal 
Morgan Hill, California 
Michelle Randall
    Posted by Michelle Randall, Morgan Hill, California | Dec 20, 2010

    I agree about accessibility and humor.

    In doing so, it is imperative to know and exercise strong boundaries.

    This is especially important since as managers tighten their delegation, employees will naturally push back.