Delegation – is it risky business?



Many of us have risen to a place of great responsibility or leadership because we are perfectionists and control freaks. Then one day we wake up and realize that we can’t carry it all alone any longer and our To Do List has surpassed our bandwidth.

At some point a coach, supervisor, friend or staff person says, “You’ve got to start delegating”. We know they are right so we find a task and hand it off. Initially we are barraged with questions, clarifications and sometimes missed deadlines. Suddenly our delegated task becomes a bigger burden and now at the 11th hour we have to jump in and save the day.  This leads us to wonder, “How is this saving me time? Wouldn’t it have been easier to just do it myself?

So back we go to being overburdened, angry, and resentful because we’ve created an “I have to do it all myself” mentality!

Delegation is a risk! It requires trust. It also requires acceptance that while others may not do something the same as we would, they probably can do it as well and maybe even better than us.

So let’s turn delegation around from risky business to smart business with some simple tools.

Bonus- If you are someone who is delegated to – simply begin using these steps when someone gives you tasks! It’s called managing up and it will make everyone’s lives easier, make you more successful, and help your supervisor let go of some tasks that you know you can handle well! 1. Get Clear Before you even begin delegating tasks or responsibilities, it is critical that you are clear on your own expectations, and communicate those expectations with anyone to whom you are delegating.

Things to consider:

Updates How often do you expect to check in and who is responsible for setting the meetings?

One supervisor I am coaching found herself overwhelmed by hunting people down to checkin on timelines. Make sure you let your team know that they are responsible for proactively communicating progress to you – not the other way around.

Proactive communication (aka No Surprise Rule) If there is a road block, another department won’t be able to get the information on time, a health issue, or a big mistake that requires starting over, make sure the person to whom you are delegating understands that you want to know this information right away. No surprises!

Know What You Are Asking Frame the task using SMART Delegating

Most of the time delegation fails because the person delegating didn’t communicate the task or their expectations clearly or completely. Prior to communicating the task use the SMART tool  to help frame your directive or request. Click here to download this tool!

Components of the SMART Delegation Tool

Specific – What exactly are you asking the person to do? How much leeway are you giving them? Is this a creative project or a tactical project? Is it “You are free to complete this in whatever way you see fit” or is it “I want a 4-page handout with 5 bullet points and a FAQ section on page 4”?

Measure – How will you both know that the task is successfully completed? Communicate this as clearly as possible, “Successful completion of this task means that you will have developed a first draft, clear of grammar or spelling errors and ready for review by myself and the marketing team”.

Achievable – Does the person you are delegating to have the skills, training, capability, tools, time and financial support to actually get it done? Is there anyone else in another department or on the team that this person will need support from? Have you clarified this with all other parties involved or are you providing tools/strategies for the person you are delegating to so they are able to get support?

Relevant - How does this task fit into the context of the bigger picture? Is it a step to achieving the person’s individual goals, the department goals or the organization’s goals? In other words, as you inform them that you will be delegating this to them, can you help them see how completion of the task advances the individual, department or company?

Time - Clearly indicate the TIME within which the task or responsibility is to be completed. Set a start date and an end date. For greater buy-in and accountability you will want to co-create this timeline with the person you are delegating to. For larger tasks, set small milestone achievements that you will checkin on along the way.

2. Prior to the Pass Off Thought Work Delegating is essentially a trust exercise. You are passing off something that you are responsible and accountable for completing successfully. Prior to the pass off you will want to establish some norms for how you expect people to interact and behave when you are delegating to them.

  • How often do you want to check in?
  • When should they let you know if there is a problem or gap?
  • How do they handle it when someone else (particularly a superior) isn’t getting them what they need in time?
  • How should they prioritize this task against other existing tasks?

3. Post Delegation Reflection Be certain to have a meeting at the end of the project for reflection and learning for both you and your team member. Simply ask these questions:

  • What went well?
  • What was challenging?
  • What might we do differently next time?

This is a goldmine opportunity for each of you to give and receive feedback, plus it allows you to find ways to improve communication and streamline processes.

Does this seem like a lot of work? You bet it does - in the beginning. But the more you practice delegating, the easier it will become.

The first few times will feel like you are training for a marathon. It may seem like an uphill battle. But as time goes on not only will your communication be clearer and smoother, you will also be empowering those to whom you delegate to be more accountable, responsible and proactively communicative.

Download the attached Smart Delegation Template to use as a guide. Share the template with the person to whom you are delegating or complete it together to get even greater clarity and have thoughtful dialogue.

Delegation can be fun and empowering – while lightening your load! Enjoy!