How to Delegate Work

How to Delegate Work – One Secret to Ensure Nothing Falls Through the Cracks

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I grumbled and shook my head. For what seemed like the 37th time that week, an assignment I’d delegated had not come back on time.

I was so tired of chasing down unfinished tasks and stressed because the time I spent making sure those things happened was taking me away from other critical tasks.

It wasn’t that my people were unmotivated or incompetent. They were awesome: they loved their work and were good at what they did. Like you, however, they often faced a day full of competing priorities and unexpected crises that had to be handled quickly.

Fortunately, I discovered a solution…

Freakin’ Frustrating

You know you’re supposed to delegate.

You understand that you can’t achieve breakthrough results on your own, that leadership means achieving results through relationships, and that when you delegate, you multiply yourself.

You know all that, but delegation can still be, in the words of one of our clients, “So freakin’ frustrating!”

How often have you delegated something, only to find yourself many weeks later thinking, “Whatever happened to that project?”

It happened to me so many times – until I learned one vital step about how to delegate work effectively.

This one delegation secret changed everything for me and ensured that almost every delegated assignment came back on time and complete.

What would it mean for you if you never had to chase down another unfinished assignment or project? How much time would you save? How much more productive could you be?

How to Delegate Work So Nothing Falls Through the Cracks

Surprisingly, this is a delegation process very few leaders use and yet it is simple and you can use it right away. Before I give you the tool, let’s take a quick look at delegation.

Delegation is the act of sharing responsibility and authority for a task, project, or outcome with another person. This definition is important – you’ll see why in a moment.

Before you delegate, you want to make sure of three things:

  1. The person you delegate to has the information necessary to succeed.
  2. You have time to delegate effectively. If you must train the other person before you can delegate to them, allow time for this.
  3. Finally, the task you want to delegate isn’t part of the work that only you should do. For instance, you don’t want to delegate a performance conversation that your management role requires you to have (believe it or not, we’ve seen people do this.)

Okay, so let’s say you’ve checked off those items. It’s time to delegate: you clearly describe the outcome and set a clear finish line for when the assignment will be completed.

Most leaders do that much, but there is one more critical step and this is what changes everything:

Mutually schedule a time to receive the task.

For example:

If the prototype is due on the last day of the month, make an appointment with the person to meet with you and show you what they’ve done.

If the assignment is to survey customers, prepare their comments, and provide a recommendation, set a specific time on a specific day when you will meet together and they will share what they did.

A specific time. A specific day.

When someone knows they will be sitting down with you at a specific moment in time, the task won’t get buried and forgotten. If there’s a real possibility that they won’t get it done, most people will come talk to you. Then you can provide coaching or help them manage their workload.

When you mutually schedule an appointment to receive the task, you’ve started from a place of active accountability. Most people won’t show up to that meeting empty-handed. (And if they do, it’s time for a serious INPSIRE conversation.)

Yeah But…

When we share this delegation tool, leaders often have two “Yeah, but what about…?” reactions.

The first is “Yeah, but this will take too much time.”

The reality is that it will save you time. A five-minute meeting to receive the task saves you countless hours of wasted time chasing down incomplete work.

The second is “Yeah, but what about longer projects? If you wait until the end to meet, it’s too late.”

That’s true. For longer projects, schedule periodic updates where the person you’ve delegated to will bring you a progress update, an outline, or whatever intermediary step is appropriate. The key is that they bring something to the meeting that shows their progress.

Your Turn

Remember that when you delegate, you’re still responsible: you share responsibility, you don’t give up responsibility. You are still responsible to ensure your team achieves what it is you delegated.

Schedule the follow-up at the same time you delegate the task and you’ll never again waste time chasing down forgotten assignments.

Leave us a comment and share your thoughts, questions, and tips to delegate so that nothing falls through the cracks.

The Best Damn Doer Syndrome: Why the Hardest Workers Seldom Get Promoted

Are you working too hard?

Does everything fall apart when you’re not around?

Do you find yourself bailing out your boss, your peers, and your team?

If you can answer YES to any of these questions, it’s likely you’re being held back by the “Best Damn Doer” syndrome.

Be careful.

I know. I’ve felt the guilt of being promoted over people working longer and harder than me.

I’ve also promoted the “right candidate” over the one with the most sweat equity in the game.

And the other night, I had one of my clients ask me to help “John,” his high-potential “best damn doer.”

“John’s the go-to for everyone, he adds huge value AND it’s holding him and the business back. How do we get him past being ‘the best damn doer?'”

5 Ways to Overcome Being the Best Damn Doer

The Best Damn Doers are the glue, the lynch-pins, the guys or gals who consistently win the awards…. AND yet are frustrated when year over year their less “competent” peers get promoted.

If this sounds like you, here are a few ways to back away from the grind and add additional value to the team–and your career.

  1. Start with a Heart-to-Heart with Your Boss
    Bosses love the go-to guy. I know. I’ve had them on speed-dial for years. But the truth is, your boss is likely the same person coaching you to “delegate more and be more strategic.” Even when it’s your boss asking for you to be doing the doing, pause and explain how you’re working to develop your team. Commit to setting clear expectations and inspecting outcomes, but resist the urge to be the one to take care of it, even if it’s your boss doing the asking.
  2. Build Skills Before the Fire Drill
    When the crap’s hitting the fan, it’s hard to hand over the reins. Bring your team in early and often in low-stake situations. Get them ready.
  3. Delegate Well
    In Winning Well, we offer lots of tools to help in this arena. Be sure you’re delegating process not outcome, defining the finish line, and are holding people accountable.
  4. Ask Great Questions
    The best way to get your team thinking is to ask not tell. One secret to great leadership is getting your team thinking along the same wavelength. Ask your team open ended questions that encourage them to find solutions (if you’re reading Winning Well, see pages 135-139 for a useful list.)
  5. Be a Curious Learner
    Ask your team to teach you what they know. You might be surprised by their knowledge and approach. Then your coaching is gravy.

Bottom line. The more you can replicate your best damn doer skills, the better the results, for your organization, the team, and for your career.

Step away from the doing, and watch the magic.