Four secrets to better delegation

Man drowning in dark water, with city scape behind him

Are you one of those control freak small business owners with so much on your plate you don’t have time to breathe? You need to learn the art of delegation.

You start your business and work through the night until you almost drop. You think hiring people is really going to help. Then you hire that person/people and start to grow. For some of us, it feels like a ‘real’ company for the first time. Now you have people to delegate to. Excitement reigns. But then you find out the reality. As my mother says, paradise is flawed.

Not only do the new people not do as you thought, or as you asked, but there are miscommunications, frustrations and exasperating time wasted. You expend energy chasing, redirecting and managing people. You think it might be easier if you just did everything yourself.

Why aren’t my staff like me?

So why aren’t people like you? And why don’t they do things the way you do? The answer is quite simple, because they are not you. The sooner you realise that, the easier life becomes.

Of course it’s not always like this. Sometimes delegating to your team works like clockwork. In the 16 years I’ve been running Taurus it often works like a dream. Having like-minded people on side you can trust, enjoy and travel a road together is a precious place to be and one of the greatest and most rewarding joys of being in business. My first staff members still work with me. We are virtually telepathic and have a deep mutual respect.

The fault lies with us as managers

But delegating often does not work well and the fault often lies with us as business owners in not communicating and delegating effectively. Lawson Consulting Group experts tell us that the biggest barrier to effective delegation is you.

It is the same for personnel in big corporates as it is in private companies. Activity doesn’t equal productivity. Being busy isn’t clever, being productive is.

So why do so many managers struggle with delegation?

When you hear excuses such as “I haven’t got time to delegate because it will take too long to explain”, or “I’m the only one here that can get this completed in time”, or “I don’t want to dump this on the team, they’re already overloaded”, then you have signs that delegating (or of course operational delivery) isn’t quite stacking up.

Statements such as these could be harming your team and your business. Most of us are operating under too much stress and could do with a ‘’chill pill’’ as my children say. Remaining overloaded causes stress and in stressed environments, you may not give your team a chance to shine and rise to the challenge.

The 2011 Safe Work Australia Study, identified that “body and mental stress” costs the Australian economy approximately $30 billion a year, and highlighted a feasible solution was better workplace delegation and communication.

Four secrets to better delegation

1. SOS: When a ship sends a message to another ship they do so with the use of Morse Code, a series of taps and signals that tap out an entire message. When a ship receives a message it sends the message back in its entirety to the sending ship to ensure the right message has been received. There is simply no place for error. In the same way, when you delegate a task, ask the team member to repeat back to you what the task is. This way you can pick up any miscommunications and ensure that your request has been understood.

2. The “it’s not done till it’s delivered’’ boomerang: When you throw a boomerang it comes back to you and this is what you want with delegated tasks. Ensure your team member understands that the task isn’t complete until a response or feedback is returned to the owner. Often in the office you will hear “yes I did that”, but as I tell my team, ‘’it is not done until it is delivered.”’ Until you, the manager, know that a task is competently done, you have not delegated effectively. Ensure your team knows that a task is not considered done until it is delivered back to you.

3. Beware of black holes: Black holes generate fear. They exist in the universe and swallow up planets, stars etc. Things can be lost in black holes and I tell my team I want no delegation black holes. I want to hear back on progress, all the way back up the management line.

4. Cultivate a culture of care not ‘Who cares?’: Disengaged staff harm business. If staff are not interested in servicing customers beyond expectations and performing duties well, the business will suffer and ultimately so will bottom line. A good starting point is to put the right people in the right jobs, doing what they like. In a competitive marketplace, most people won’t stay if they are not happy. We tend to be good at what we enjoy. Ask how to keep them motivated. Incentives, rewards and a genuine thank you go a long way.

Some common fears when being delegated a task include:

  • Criticism or embarrassment if I get some or part of the task wrong, or if I fail to meet expectations
  • Exposure of the lack of my skills or current working knowledge
  • Being seen as the frequently ‘dumped on’ or most junior employee, and consequently not being taken seriously

Workplace delegation involves three important concepts and practices: responsibility, authority and accountability. Each of these is equally important to both the manager and the relevant team member.

Accountability is the top down as well as bottom up

As manager, when we delegate to our team, we need to be aware that we share our responsibility with them. Individuals and teams should be accountable for their performance, as you are held accountable for yours.

Before you next delegate, prevent an unwanted game of ‘hot potato’ with the following:

  • Does this task really need to be delegated?
  • Who is the best suited individual or team for the task?
  • Does it need a high level of specialisation?
  • Explain why the task is being delegated and provide a bigger context?
  • Explain why it is important, as understanding and responsibility encourages commitment
  • Set expectations for reporting and results
  • Agree on and set a deadline.

Once a task has been delegated it is important to maintain contact to:

  • Implement controls for reporting and feedback, create a two-way street
  • Train your people with the skills necessary to complete the task
  • Provide necessary resources for completion of the task.

At the conclusion of a delegated task:

So whether you are a business owner or you work in a multinational organisation, your need to perfect the art of delegation is the same.

I ask new team members to ask six questions when delegated a task:

  • Who is the work being prepared for specifically?
  • For what purpose am I doing this?
  • When do you need it by?
  • What format do you need it in?
  • Where should it be saved or stored?
  • How long do you expect it to take me?

An effective training session on improved delegation could boost your productivity this next week. Good luck.

  • Some great tips there, thanks Sharon.

    I’m a bit torn on points 2 and 3 though. I agree you need to know something is being worked on (better to check along the way than the day it is due!) but you have to balance that against excessive interruptions to your own work (which includes multiple short emails saying ‘done’ or ‘started’). I think putting in reporting needs as part of the task description can be handy – e.g. ‘progress report every Friday lunchtime or if there are problems’ – to get the mix right.