Delegating for Development

Delegating tasks always sounds great…in theory. Some of us may even fantasize about the ability to delegate all of our work away so we have time to truly focus on what’s important – incessantly DMing Stephen Colbert on Twitter (ya know, for example). But in reality, most people are actually hesitant to delegate their responsibilities. They figure it’s easier if they complete the job themselves. And they know the work will get done in the manner to which they are accustomed.

However, if managers truly want to help their employees grow, they will delegate. Doling out new responsibilities provides workers with the opportunity to stretch their talents and develop new ones. To put it plainly, good bosses delegate. If you oversee people, you should follow suit. And if you’re unsure of how to start, just as yourself these simple questions: who, what, where, why, when and how?   

Who?

Delegating is not about taking work off your plate (though that is a nice perk). Rather, as we just noted above, it’s about helping others develop new skills. Of course, before you delegate a specific job, really think about your employees. What are their individual talents and interests? What motivates each of them? The answers will help you best match the task to the worker. And, in turn, lead to the most successful results.

What?

Carefully choose what you delegate. Is the job just drudge work? Is it well beyond the scope of your direct report? You want to ensure the work is worthwhile for all involved. Additionally, we recommend setting milestones and checkpoints so that no one becomes overwhelmed. And make expectations clear—what do you expect from the employee, what can he or she expect from you and how much authority/autonomy is being given? It’s hard for people to proceed with confidence if they don’t know their limits.

When?

Don’t pass off work just because you’re busy. Delegate when you have time to guide someone through new processes and when he or she is ready to jump to the next level. If you hand off an assignment prematurely or haphazardly, issues are likely to arise. And you might ultimately end up creating more work for yourself. Ugh, who wants that?

Where?

Before you delegate, think about your work schedule. Are you about to leave on an extended business trip to Beijing? If so, safe travels! Or, more importantly, will you be in the office and available to help? If you’re going to be gone, perhaps it’s best to wait.

Also, don’t forget that there’s a difference between answering a few questions and hand-holding. You don’t want to hover over a project once you’ve assigned it to someone else. That can undermine your employees and curb their development. Trust that they have what it takes to tackle the task and the wherewithal to come to you when necessary.

How?

No matter the task, make sure you delegate with clarity and allow for flexibility and creativity. After all, your employees may approach an assignment from a different angle or viewpoint. That’s totally cool, as long as the final results are acceptable. You should also allow for the possibility that their work might even be stronger than what you would have produced. If that’s the case, make sure you demonstrate gratitude and give credit when due. And always debrief to optimize learning potential.

Why?

Ultimately, delegating tasks is a win for all involved (unless you work with some lazy people). Sure, it might initially slow your progress. However, as your employees get up to speed, your schedule will open up. You’ll get a little breathing room and maybe even the opportunity to tackle some new projects of your own. Just as critical, your employees will gain confidence with their newly developed skills. See – we weren’t lying about this being a win.

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