Friday, September 16, 2011

Delegation How To

I wrote previously about delegation closing with a couple of links to articles that offered a process to guide you. There are quite a few approaches on how to delegate but there’s one I like best. This article is a how to guide to this 8 step delegating process that I like best. And you can, for instance, use it with those in your team that you think are ready to take on other assignments. Or more generally, you can use whenever you have someone that is ready to evolve to some new ground.

Step 1: Pick your delegate
The first step is to decide who needs to grow, in what direction and where your delegate stands at the moment in terms of the required capabilities and skills.
Just a quick parenthesis: I had some trouble picking the word "delegate". My first pick was "victim" but it has a strong negative connotation. Then I thought of "target" which was OK as long as you took it in the sense of objective. But then you could also take it as a target to shoot at, not exactly what I had in mind. Anyway you can try these alternatives and read this article using independently the words "delegate", "victim" or "target".
Now back to business. You probably have someone working for you that somehow you feel like he/she is the perfect delegate but think about it: Does your delegate really wants to grow? What would he like to do in a near future? How far away is he from that? How much time do you have available to dedicate to him? Is your delegate the kind of person that likes being closely guided and told what and how to do? Or is he very independent? Does he has enough time to take on a delegated task? Will he be willing to take it? How much will he have to learn? Can you decide alone on his allocation to a task or is he doing some work on another project?
In a nutshell, you should do some investigations in the following directions: career path, skills and capabilities, availability, accessibility and motivation. Take a couple of minutes investigating in each of these directions asking yourself questions such as the previous ones.
By the time you end this step you should have a clear view of what your delegate's needs and expectations are and this should help you on the next steps putting everything into context.

Step 2: What to delegate
One thing I see a lot is people delegating tasks that are unimportant but urgent. The reason for this is that when you do it you get more done. I couldn't agree more but unfortunately that is not delegating, that’s assigning tasks. If you do want to delegate, please delegate tasks that:
  • have to do with your delegate’s growth,
  • should have little impact on you whether it gets done right or not,
  • won’t take away from you more time than the time you have available,
  • and you’ll get a big bonus if the task has visibility and if it’s something you enjoy doing yourself

Step 3: Define your desired results
OK, so at this point you have a delegate and a task. It’s time you think a bit on the possible outcomes or results: the one you want, what would be acceptable and what would kill the process. Are you willing to take the risks involved? If you are, define your desired results in the most objective way you can. You have some ways of doing this, maybe the most popular is using the SMART objectives. But one that fits perfectly in this delegating process (and I only learned about it earlier this year) is the MORE objectives. Like the SMART one, it’s an acronym and it stands for Measurable, Observable, Relevant and Example:
- Measurable: get specific stuff like dates or numbers that you can easily measure and that relate to the task end results (like how many pages should the report to have or when should it be ready)
- Observable: this is focused on the behaviours are you expecting to corroborate the task was done as you desired (did you get any feedback on that report? did someone ask for a more in-depth analysis on a particular topic?)
- Relevant: Why is the task important? Why should it matter to your delegate? Why is it important to you?
- Example: it’s very useful to show a similar result, if it’s a physical one even better ("Hey, I have the same report for last quarter, take a look at it to get you started", you might say)

Step 4: Sell the task
This is the key step of delegation: you have to make your delegate want to do this task and come back to you asking for more of the same. If that ever happens, you’ll know that you're really delegating. And it’s now time to talk to your delegate about the task you want him to do and sell it to him. I confess I’m not much of a seller, but still it’s a good start if you center the conversation on your delegate and answer basic questions like "what’s in it for me", "will I get a bonus at the end". You could explain how much you’d like to do it yourself, how important it is for the organization, that many people there would like to be in his shoes just to be responsible for that task. One thing that helps is delegating tasks that you wish for yourself, that puts some excitement when you talk about it that you just can’t hide.

Step 5: Communicate authority
When you talk to your delegate to sell the task you should take the change to make clear how much room for manoeuvre he has. This alone will prevent your delegate to (i) come back to you with just about anything and (ii) go too far and get into where he shouldn’t.
This is necessary but not enough. You should also communicate that new authority to at least (i) the person who asked you for that task and (2) the people your delegate will need to do it. Again, this will open some doors to your delegate that are usually closed.

Step 6: Establish a deadline
Suppose you don’t have a time frame for the task. As most people will take as much time to do something as the time available to do it (that’s called the Student Syndrome), you’ll never have the task done. And you don’t want that. So negotiate with your delegate when he should give you the task’s results. Negotiating is generally a good idea as it’s possible that you don’t know how much is going on with your delegate even after the initial assessment on Step 1.

Step 7: Negotiate follow-up
The amount of control you need on the task being done depends on:
- The distance between your delegate’s skills and capabilities and the ones required by the task
- How much is at stake with the task
- If your delegate is an independent person
So negotiate with your delegate how you both should follow it up and both be happy about it.

Step 8: Provide feedback
At least after the task is done (depending on how you agreed to follow it up) you must take the time to give some feedback to your delegate on how he met the objectives. This will allow your delegate to:
  • Know what he did right so he can keep on doing it (remember that if he’s not used to that kind of work so he probably won’t recognize that easily if he did it right or not)
  • What he did wrong
  • What he could do better
If you’re no expert on feedback, think of it like a sports coach. What a coach does when giving feedback is showing evidence (like a video) of what his/her athlete is doing well (like passing the ball to where the other player will be) and what he/she is doing wrong (like looking at the floor when he has the ball - and not looking straight). The coach exposes some negative stuff but he does it as a fact and shows evidence, his purpose is obvious: he is trying to make his athlete a better one. And so they listen to what he has to say and actually try to take on his advice as they do want to get better.

This is a guide to delegation that is pretty straight forward and easy to follow - there’s no rocket science here. Just don’t forget that delegation is frequently mistaken with assignment - as long as you can make the distinction you’re safe. You can check the previous article on delegation if you need some background on it.
When you start delegating in a specific direction with a delegate you will probably see a clear evolution of the delegate: he will be more and more independent and confidant. As this happens you can gradually give him more complex tasks, more autonomy and more responsibility. And continue doing it until your delegate is ready for his new assignment, promotion or whatever you were preparing him to initially. But do it someday, you can’t keep delegating forever, can you? Not on a single delegate.
And finally, even if you're assigning tasks and not delegating them, there are a few ideas in this article that you can use.

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