Last week I told you about Simon and how he was always interrupted. His company perceived him to be poor at delegation, hence my involvement. We identified that he was too available and last week I gave you some solutions for this common business ailment.
Let’s take a look at the issue of delegation and some simple keys to improve it.
Good delegation doesn’t come naturally for most of us. We grow up with a bias to action, yet to be effective delegators we have to learn to step back and help others do the work we used to do.
Keys to delegation
1. Delegation is not one action – it’s a process. Direct, then coach, then support and only when they’re fully trained can we can expect staff to be able to take full responsibility.
(Kenneth Blanchard in ‘Leadership and the One Minute Manager’ goes into this in more depth.)
2. What exactly is the job? Until you can explain it clearly, you will not get good results.
3. Have you got the right person for the job? Don’t waste your resources trying to pick acorns off an apple tree.
4. Carefully describe the result you want.
5. This next one is a vital step. Have your chosen person explain back to you what they have understood. This step takes time initially, but often saves hours at the other end.
6. One key phrase NOT to use is “Do you understand?” No one wants to look silly. Most of us, if asked that question, will say ‘yes’ and then try and work it out, or ask someone else. Instead, take responsibility for the possibility of mis-communication and say something like: “In case I haven’t explained it clearly, tell me how you’ll go about it and I’ll see what I’ve missed out”, or “What would you like me to go over again?”
7. Most of us can only hold about 2½ instructions in our head at any one time. Don’t become a waterfall of words that overwhelms the poor newbie.
8. Tell them what authority or resources they have access to. If you’ve given them access to resources they wouldn’t normally have, tell anyone else who may question them, or need to know.
9. Be clear about when the task needs to be completed.
10. If necessary, demonstrate. Having demonstrated, let them have a practice while you watch and guide. John Cleese, of “Fawlty Towers” fame, is credited with the phrase (probably in one of his ‘Video Arts’ training videos) “I do it normal, I do it slow, I do it with you, and off you go”.
11. Leave them alone to get on with the job. There is nothing more off-putting than a senior person watching while you try to practice.
A successful businessman told me how, as a student seeking holiday work, he had the chance to work for two hay-making contractors. One man told him how to drive the big unwieldy tractor and bailer round the paddock, and then stood watching him, yelling every time he went even fractionally crooked. He ended up feeling really jittery and incompetent.
The second man explained, gave him a bit of practice while he watched, and then went away for about half-an-hour, saying “Have a practice and then I’ll come back and see how you’re getting on.”
Guess whom he chose to keep working for? Once he’d had some ‘mistake’ time, he got the hang of the technique very quickly, and became very good at his job.
12. Set a time to review and inspect what you have delegated. If the delegatee is inexperienced the review time might be as little as 5 minutes, but it is important to give them time on their own.
13. One of the common faults with delegation is that people forget how long it took them to learn the task they’re now showing someone else. Be realistic. You may have to show them more than once. That’s O.K. If you start to feel impatient, just remember the first time you tried to make a computer do what you told it.
14. Praise and encourage. If managers recognised the power of praise, they would use it always as a management tool. Praise gives life, and sets people free. There is not enough of it in the workplace. Praise releases energy, criticism kills it.
Remember always – once someone is trained, a good team leader directs what needs to be done, not how it’s done.
A version of this article appears in Robyn’s regular NZ Herald Online column