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How to Delegate

Moving into management or leadership roles will mean it's almost inevitable that you'll need to up your delegation game. As your responsibilities increase, the importance of delegating becomes even more crucial. By not delegating, your workload increases making it more likely you'll burn out or make a mistake and by delegating badly you might be setting up someone else to fail.

So, what are the top insights on the theory of delegation? Firstly, it's really important to know what you should be delegating vs what you need to hold on to. Whilst it's a well known classic, the Eisenhower Matrix still has as much appeal today as it had in the 50s. A simple diagnostic to help you prioritise and determine which things can be passed to someone else.

As the world has become more complicated however, these simple tools only get us some of the way. Fortunately Project Oxygen from Google identified seven steps that can really enhance our delegation skills.

First things first...

  • Look at the goals. What is the final objective and what results are needed to achieve it? What parts can be delegated?

  • Look at yourself. What tasks can’t you delegate, and why? Which tasks play to your own strengths and weaknesses?

  • Recognise the right person for the work. Who has the right skills to do the work? How might this task help them develop?

Once you've done this... Have a conversation with the person you're delegating to following these seven steps:

  1. Give an overview of the work: Be really clear about the overall goal of this piece of work and how it fits into the bigger picture. Be clear about what resources are available to your colleague and why you have selected them for the role.

  2. Be specific: Set really clear expectations about your desired outcomes but don't be too specific about the 'how'. Great delegators aren't too prescriptive or micromanaging. Ultimately you want your colleague to develop themselves, not just follow orders.

  3. Encourage questions, reactions, and suggestions. Make this a conversation. Catching concerns and questions right at the beginning of the process can pay dividends later.

  4. Listen to your colleague's comments and be empathetic: Listen for both what is said and unsaid. If this is a new thing that hasn't been attempted by this person before then spend a little extra time listening to how they think they might go about doing it. This offers you the chance to practice some great coaching skills. When they ask you how to do it, invite them first to say how they think it could be done and guide from there.

  5. Share how this impacts the team: Make sure it is clear who else is involved and how this impacts on Business As Usual (BAU). You might need to lift some responsibilities from this person for the duration of the project. Make sure everyone else knows what's happening to avoid confusion or conflict.

  6. Be encouraging. Express confidence in your colleague's ability to get the job done. Confidence is contagious! Where it is appropriate, create enough space for the person to experiment... Be clear about which bits of the project are 'Safe to fail' and which might need some extra attention.

  7. Establish checkpoints, results, deadlines and ways to monitor progress. The entire discussion should be a collaborative process giving ownership to your colleague for keeping you informed or updated as needed.

Often during projects, you'll be asked questions. Where possible, use this as an opportunity to build your colleague's autonomy with questions such as:

  • What would you do if you were me?

  • How would you go about doing that?

  • Who else might help you with that?

  • What are you noticing about this issue?

  • What is one small step to better?

  • What part of this have you not yet explored?

  • What other perspectives can you think of?

  • What are the most important things to focus on?

  • What do you need to help you decide?

  • What do you already know about this?

  • How would you summarise this so far?

As is always the case, thanks for stopping by and reading!

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