Delegating Tasks Like A Pro: Top 5 Tips
Delegation: Not Abdication
At last, you're free... Your worries are over. Someone else is going to do that now... your newfound freedom takes on an all too common form. It's called Management by Abdication rather than by Delegation. In short...you hand the books over to Harry...and run.
When you abdicate, you do just that: hand the task off and run. What happens if Harry doesn't know what to do with the books? What if Harry messes up? What if he doesn't deliver on time or his work isn't up to par? It's his fault, right? Guess again.
The Essentials of Delegating Tasks
- Define Success. What does success look like? Don't assume the person to whom you are delegating a task knows, or that he or she shares, your definition of success. Clearly articulate what you are seeking to accomplish with this particular task.
- Set Due Dates. Too often, leaders and managers say, "Get this to me as soon as possible." What does that mean? By end of day? Tomorrow? Next week? ASAP means different things to different people. Don't leave it to chance: set a firm date for delivery. Tomorrow at noon. Next Tuesday before 3:00.
- Establish Priorities. Don't forget that your people are dealing with their own lengthy to-do lists. Adding to it without specifying priority sets everyone up for failure or disappointment.
Too often, direct reports accept the task - fully knowing that they will be stressed, overwhelmed, and unlikely to accomplish it on time or to the best of their ability. They try to figure out where the work fits within their priorities, and they do not ask for clarification.
Ideally, they could say, "You gave me this task, and I have five others on my plate. Where do you want me to put this item? At the top? Bottom? Somewhere in the middle?"
But if they don't, bring it up. Communicate how this new task fits into the grand scheme of your strategy and direction, and help them determine its proper place on their to-do list.
- Connect the Dots. With effective delegation, people understand the impact of their work on others and on the company as a whole. We operate in an information-based society. Our raw material is data. I give you information, you turn it into something. If I'm late, if I don't provide good or accurate information, if it is shoddy, that impacts you. Connect the dots so people can see where they fit and how they impact other moving parts in the organization.
- Do Not Assume. Typically, we communicate our intent to delegate a task verbally. Great. You should. But if that's all you do, you risk making assumptions that have no basis in reality. There's too great a chance of misinterpretations or misunderstandings. For absolute clarity, provide a written follow up. Here's what we talked about. You are going to do task X, which is urgent. It should be your top priority, and you can put off task Y until next week. Here's what I'm looking for, and by when I need it by. The most common outcome of most communication is... misunderstanding. Eliminate that misunderstanding.
Delegating tasks does not free you from responsibility. But when you do it right, it does free you to spend time on high-level, high-value work that moves your organization - and career - forward.