July 27, 2015
The Art and Skill of Delegation

The Art and Skill of Delegation

By: John Wittry

In the productivity work that I do, I often have the opportunity to talk to my clients about the importance of delegation. Somewhere along the line I make the statement “my goal is to delegate everything I do”. This often has mixed reactions based on the immediate story people make up. Most executives simply give me a knowing look and nod, most managers have a look of frustration and most individual contributors scowl or laugh nervously.

‘The knowing nod.’ – Successful executives (and by the way, successful parents) have learned that the only way to manage the expanse of responsibilities is to delegate to their team. Additionally, the best way to replace themselves and create independence (succession planning), which should be one of their primary goals, is to delegate work to their potential successors while they are in close enough contact to provide guidance, support and course correction.

‘The look of frustration.’ – Middle managers can experience a bit of frustration around delegation for a variety of reasons. They are being delegated to from their manager (hopefully for the reasons I’ve written about above) and they are in the process of learning how to delegate. Successful and appropriate delegation is both skill and art. Fortunately, the more you practice, the more skilled you get. While developing the skill, you learn the nuances of delegation which is the art.

‘The scowl.’ – Individual contributors can experience frustration with delegation because often times, they are purely the recipient of the work. If they don’t have the appropriate context for why things are being delegated to them and/or their approach to that work comes from a disempowering place as opposed to an empowering place it can be discouraging.

The skill and art of delegation has many components. Below are just some to be considered:

  • The work has to be meaningful and relevant
  • The hand-off has to ensure the recipient clearly understands and agrees with the outcome (i.e. the desired outcome, due date, ramifications for delay and/or error, etc.)
  • When handed off, it has to be accompanied by a significant measure of trust
  • There has to be an effective and consistent follow up mechanism between the delegator and the recipient for monitoring, education and course correction (see below)
  • The delegated item can’t be yanked back when things go sideways. Your reaction when things go off course will set the stage for how the next delegated item is handled
  • When reviewing status on the delegated item, the magnifying glass has to be placed, at the very minimum, equally on what is working and not working.
  • When delegated too, the recipient is most powerful when they come from the place of “doing this work gives me experience for the next big job” as opposed to “he/she is just dumping on me.”

Effective 1:1’s to support delegation:

The more proficient you become at delegating the better systems you need to have in place for follow up on delegated items. The most successful people I know follow a process similar to the below:

  • A list of delegated items that require follow up is created. This can be done in a Word document, Excel file, Outlook task pad or note book. The key is to have one place to go to.
  • Routine 1:1’s are conducted to review progress against delegated items, discussing the following things
    • On course / off course
    • Barriers to success
    • Support needed
  • Frequency and length of 1:1’s varies based on trust level and the volume of delegated items that require tracking
    • Weekly, bi-weekly, monthly
    • 30 minutes to two hours
    • In general, more frequent 1:1’s should be shorter. Less frequent 1:1’s should be longer
  • Keep relationship building outside of 1:1’s. Relationship building is important and my advice is to make it a separate meeting outside of your 1:1 meetings.
    • Personal sharing can impact your ability to hold people accountable because their story can get in the way
  • 1:1 meetings are your opportunity to help people be accountable
    • Your role is a manager is to serve your employees. Being nice to them does not always serve them.
    • You are serving people when you help them be accountable
    • Read The Power of Personal Accountability by Mark Samuel
  • Effective 1:1 meetings can require fierce conversations
    • Your role is a manager is to serve your employees. Being nice to them does not always serve them.
    • Read Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott