As an experienced professional, you may find it tempting to simply do something yourself in the belief that it will get done faster and better; the process of delegating can appear to be too time-consuming.
But those who fail to delegate often overlook the true cost of diminished effort against other, higher-value-adding activities. This inefficiency also manifests itself as ineffectiveness, leading to increased stress, longer hours, and limited opportunities for team members to develop.
Here are six tips to help you delegate more effectively:
Overcome your fear of letting go. Letting go does not mean losing control. It means learning to trust yourself and learning to trust others. Understanding the answers to the following questions can help you develop that trust in yourself:
- “What is going on here that is preventing me from delegating?”
- “What needs to be different for me to delegate?”
When it comes to trusting others, the answers to the following questions are helpful:
- “What would prompt them to invest in my success?”
- “What might prevent them from investing in my success?”
When you build trust with your team, it becomes easier to communicate. When you have trust and effective communication, your team can more readily see how their goals are aligned with yours. Your team will then recognise how contributing to your success will help them.
Do, delegate, or eliminate. We might not be fully conscious of how we plan our daily activity or, indeed, why. Applying some simple filters to the way we plan can give us an insight and yield significant productivity gains. Use this powerful decision-making tool:
Question 1: “Does this task/activity need to be done?” If “yes”, go to Question 2. If “no”, eliminate it.
Question 2: “Is this task/activity one that only I can do?” If “yes”, do it yourself. If “no”, determine whom to delegate it to.
Manage the scope of the task. Starting by delegating small tasks helps build the confidence needed to gradually delegate more complex and sophisticated tasks. But to do this, you first need to break down tasks into delegable chunks. This requires knowledge, analysis, and planning. Answering these questions can help:
- “What is the overall goal I am trying to achieve here?”
- “What are the three components of this goal that will make it a success?”
- “To what extent could I work on a single component while someone else is working on another component at the same time?” For example, when putting together a forecast for a business unit made up of three divisions, could you delegate the preparation of the forecast for one of the smaller divisions to a direct report?
Define the outcomes you’re seeking. The temptation to prescribe or direct exactly how someone should go about a task often robs us of their creativity and the potential for innovation. So the questions that we need to answer here are:
- “How can I better define the problem I need solving?”
- “How can I better describe the outcome I want to see?”
Taking time to consider these aspects allows us to better use someone else’s time and skills. It is also easier to hold someone accountable for an outcome when they choose how to deliver it than it would be if you told the person how to deliver it.
Monitor, don’t micromanage. This isn’t just agreeing on a deadline and then leaving someone alone: It’s about agreeing on timing, budget, and context. It’s also about setting expectations for communication and updates, including frequency, content, and format.
Agreeing on terms rather than imposing them creates buy-in from the person to whom you are delegating. By knowing when you’re going to check in, they won’t feel harassed. When they know what you are going to ask them, they won’t feel overburdened with scrutiny. Here are some helpful questions to consider:
- “How will I know that [the colleague] understands what I am asking them to achieve for me?”
- “What are the signs that will reassure me that [the colleague] has committed to delivering it on time?”
- “What effect might agreeing to regular review intervals and even the agenda for check-ins in advance have?”
Know your team’s strengths. Identify the skill level, experience, capacity, and degree of ownership each team member exhibits and have a system that helps you apply what you know or need to look for. Remember, you are not just delegating a task, you are often delegating authority, too.
Ask yourself, “What makes this person suitable for the task?” You also need to develop a formula for determining the complexity, priority, and how critical the task is to your business. Again, simple questions can help here:
- “What would it take to complete this task?”
- “At what point does this task not getting done cause me a problem?”
- “How would I determine how important this task is to me?”
Mapping the answers to this second set of questions against your answer to the first question is a quick way to match tasks to team members and play to their strengths.
Charlie Hugh-Jones (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a US-based strategist who specialises in helping individuals and organisations become more productive, more purposeful, and more resilient. To comment on this article or to suggest a topic for another article, contact Samantha White, a CGMA Magazine senior editor, at Samantha.White@aicpa-cima.com.