Delegate or Fall Behind


Another day, another dollar. 

Working with your staff, on-site or remote, would be a piece of cake if the only tasks you ever requested of them were simple to tackle, easy to complete and well within their capabilities.

Today, this is a fairy tale. Increasingly, you might find yourself having to make what seems to be an unreasonable request. The individual(s) assigned such a task might at first squawk. Anticipating such resistance will serve you well.

Your role is to offer staff guidance on how to get started, generate momentum, avoid pitfalls, and proceed to completion. The more challenging the task, the more often you likely need to stay in touch. In the early stages of a project, you may be putting in ten “units” of energy for every one “unit” of output you receive. That’s okay. You and your staff are in a concentration mode.

Later, as the project gets rolling, you might be putting in ten units and receiving a commensurate return. Ideally, when the project is humming along, one unit of energy then offers ten units of output. Now you’ve achieved momentum! When the people you supervise experience the exquisite experience of momentum, your odds of succeeding on the next challenging project increase significantly.

Secrets of Effective Delegators

For most of your career, you’ve read or heard that one of the key approaches to getting things done is to delegate effectively. This of course presumes that you have others to whom you can delegate. In my contact with more than 950 organizations over the last two and a half decades, I’ve found increasingly that people have fewer resources, a lower budget, and less staff. If they want to get something done, often they have to do it themselves!

Assuming you have others to whom you can delegate, the first or second time you personally tackle a particular task yields valuable information. You learn more about the nature of the task, perhaps how long it takes, whether you enjoy doing it or not, and so on. By the third time, a task of the same ilk as those you’ve handled before often becomes best handled by someone reporting to you. Such tasks could involve updating a database, completing an interim report, or assembling meeting notes.

On the path to getting things done, your quest is to identify all those things that you can possibly delegate to others and then prepare those others so that they have a high probability of succeeding. In the course of your workday there may be only a handful of things that you and you alone need to do because of your experience, insight or specialized knowledge. Everything else that can be delegated should be delegated.

Some people feel they have to take care of everything themselves and to this day haven’t been able to break the habit of “doing it all.” If this someone is in your seat right now, recognize once and for all that as a category of one, you can only get so much done. Many managers and supervisors fail to delegate effectively because either they don’t fully trust the people with whom they’re working, or they’ve always been get-it-all-done-by-myself types.

Delegation Starting from Zero

Prior to delegating anything to anyone, take the time to actually prepare your staff for delegation. This would involve assessing an employee’s skills, interests, and needs. You could even ask people what new tasks and responsibilities they would like to assume. You might be surprised at the wide variety of responses you receive. There may be people on your staff right now who can help you with tasks you’ve been dying to hand off to someone but didn’t see how or when you could put them into play.

While you want to delegate to staff people who show enthusiasm, initiative and interest, or have otherwise previously demonstrated the ability to handle and balance several tasks at once, sometimes you have to delegate to someone who has not exhibited any of the above. In that case, delegate on a piece-meal basis. Ensure that the staff person is able to effectively handle the small task or tasks he’s been assigned and does not feel swamped or overloaded. When the staff person demonstrates competence, you can increase the complexity of assignments and even the frequency with which you delegate.

Walk Through It

The first time you delegate anything to anyone, painstakingly walk them through exactly what you want them to achieve. Paint a vivid portrait of what things will look like once the task or project is completed. You may have some instructions to provide or training to offer, but otherwise don’t necessarily be concerned with how the staff person will proceed. He or she may have a notion or two completely out of your realm that prove to be suitable and even appropriate for the task. Be available as much as practical although be careful not to encourage an environment of constant interruptions in which you cannot get anything done.

Match up the tasks you wish to delegate with those staff people who have the requisite skills and background. However, don’t be afraid to assign someone a task that represents a stretch. This is the way people learn and grow, and method for developing an increasingly competent staff.

Look to empower that person by offering guidance at critical junctures. If it helps, plot regular intervals at which time you two will get together to compare notes. Monitor project progress, offer additional guidance, and continue on.

As staff members begin to demonstrate their capabilities on the projects you’ve delegated, give them even more slack in terms of how they’ll approach and complete the assignments. Forsake any over-controlling predisposition. Ideally, you’ve delegated enough authority for your staff to successfully complete the tasks by allowing them to make their own decisions and take initiative. You know you’ve delegated effectively when they’re able to operate even in your absence. 



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