6 Steps To Successful Delegation

“Man, I need help. I have too much on my plate and I can’t get it all done.”

This is the battle cry of today’s working talent. And it’s true, we may need help and we need to delegate to others. Some of us try asking for more headcount, but we haven’t really asked for help from any of our colleagues. It’s a face-saver – it’s easier to ask for more headcount, get turned down, and then blame the boss.   

Or worse yet, when we should be delegating we accept more work from others, because accepting work, even if we are killing ourselves to try and get everything done, still looks better to others than asking for help.  

Delegating is an art form, it’s not dumping. Delegating often sounds like asking others to “do” – and delegation may be just a matter of more “thought.”  Maybe we have not figured out how to have those delegating conversations without the recipient feeling like they are being dumped on.

Here are 6 ways delegating should work:

1. Think. We are so busy thinking about how frustrated we are with our workload, we spend time telling others. We need to pause and think about what is getting us down. Determine what activities we actually like to do, and which activities we are not good at accomplishing, or don’t enjoy doing. Be really clear with your strengths and weaknesses in the work that you do.

2. Check your passions. There may be some work we aren’t good at doing, but we want to get better at– don’t give up! Ken Blanchard was told in college that he was not a very good writer. However, he wanted to be great, so he applied extra effort to learning the craft – and he has written over 40 books, including the iconic – One Minute Manager®.  

3. What do I not like doing? We all have tasks we are required to do, and we should be very clear about “what” of that task we find draining. Over the years, I have struggled with technology and details around financial reporting. I took classes of “finance for the non-financial manager.”  I set goals, MBO’s, and incentives tied to improving in this area. Yet, I was wasting time. I just got more frustrated, as did those around me, who were expecting faster, more accurate results. I came to the realization that certain technology i.e. SAP and other spreadsheet analytics were overwhelming me. So, consider these 3 questions, which I used on myself:
a. Who do I know who is good at these things?
b. Who do I know that wants to help me?
c. Who will support me in getting work done without making me feel bad?

Notice I didn’t ask “who has free time?” – because nobody has free time! We all prioritize our time, and usually we prioritize it around those things we like to do, or those things we find reward us with compliments from others. If you have a colleague who really excels at the task you do not, who likes doing that task, then we’re getting close to the “who” of delegation success.

4. Get past yourself. To some extent, we don’t ask others to do the task we don’t like because we have built up such powerful stories as to how nasty the task is, we are convinced no one wants to do that task. That is simply not true. I knew many people very capable, and in fact passionate, about some of the analysis requirements that were stopping me. Open your mind to the idea that the task might be someone else’s joy, perhaps just not yours. If someone you know really likes the task that you struggle with, they will get it done because they like doing it!

5. Reciprocity. Is there some task you could help them with, as they are doing your task? Is there a specific task you enjoy and excel at, which they do not? Sharing is built into great delegation – it is not dumping, it is team play.

6. Discuss. “Could you help me?” Start with the obvious. These words said in the right tone, one asking for genuine help, can be used up, laterally, and down in your organization. Finding a trusted source, one who is capable and passionate about the task in which you do not excel, and one who is interested in helping you, is key. They may help by not even doing the task, rather helping you re-think the task into bits and bytes of activity that are much more attainable and enjoyable for you. That thinking is delegating “thought.”

Delegation is more than them just doing the task, rather it is them thinking the task through with us. And in that shared discussion, it may lead to us rethinking that tough task, or it may lead to them doing the work they enjoy and that you need done.

I have some capacity – how may I help you?


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