Delegating is a challenging task for me. Not only because I have a skewed perception of my quality of work, but also because do not want to miss out on completing the responsibilities of my job that I love to do. That seems like a reasonable excuse, right? Right, except the way that surfaces in my team is I "can't let things go", "don't trust them to do the work", "hover", and "am not actively helping to build them up". None of those are the way I want to be perceived by my team, but actions speak louder than words. I believe that we could really benefit by treating delegation as a more intentional act. I also believe if we look at delegation as the greatest tool in our "building up the people around us tool box", we may actually get pretty good at it!
Let me first address the assumption that many people do not delegate. I don't believe that's the case. Most people do delegate work but it's often the work they don't have time to get to, or the non-glamourous tasks leftover after they've already picked through the good stuff. When you do this as a “delegator” all you're teaching your team to do is to pick up what falls off your plate. That seems a little self serving. Ultimately, delegation is taking place, it's just taking place poorly. This article is not a step by step process of "how to delegate", you can find many of those with a quick google search. This article is how to delegate to build up other people, and there are 4 steps to help achieve this:
STEP 1: Know Your Team - Part 1
If you're going to take on the task of delegating to build up other people, you must know the "other people". You need to know what makes them tick, where they want to be going with their career, what skills they're looking to obtain, their current strengths and areas of improvement, and what barriers or hurdles are in between them and the next step.
STEP 2: Identify The Work
This is a "planning step". It happens prior to any work being delegated. It's you taking what you learned or know about your team and thinking about "what's the most ideal work I could give to them to help build them up?". This is proactive, as opposed to the typical reactive approach to handing out work to the first available person as it crosses your view. For example, maybe you have a team member that would like to learn your company’s new financial system. It would be beneficial for them to learn when you have time to teach them, or when the project they're inputting into the system is not as complex or time dependent. The alternative approach is usually a quick crash course in the system with maybe a YouTube link, a looming deadline and a "get it done mentality". That is the reality of some tasks that need to be handed out, but that is not delegating to build up other people. The "identifying the work" step is our way to be more intentional about seeking growth opportunities through delegation.
STEP 3: Verify The Level of Autonomy
This is the most important step of delegating! Missing this is what usually leads to someone saying you don't delegate or delegate well. You must both be on the same page of who owns what part of the task being delegated. In other words "What level of autonomy are we working with"? Below is a visual representation I created from a webinar put on through Lynda.com a few years ago. When I see both good and bad delegation fail most often, it usually has its roots in both parties not seeing eye to eye on what level of autonomy they were on. For example, let’s say you found the perfect opportunity for your team member to use the new financial system and you had them setup your new project in the system. You're feeling good about yourself for helping them take their first step down the path of project management. However you did not communicate with them that you were actually on LEVEL 4 of the autonomy diagram below, and they thought you were on LEVEL 8, so of course instead of checking with you before they ACT, they completed the project setup and invoiced the client instead of reaching out to you first! That's on you as the lead, and the person delegating the work. You must make sure you're on the same level. Feel free to show your team the diagram, or at least specifically call out what level you are on. I promise, this will go a long way to reduce communication!
"What level of autonomy are we working with?"
STEP 4: Know Your Team - Part 2
Another common misstep. We go through the entire process, even doing steps 1 through 3 very well, but don't sync back up to recap how the process went. Was the work relevant? Did you stick to your level of autonomy? Did they feel empowered? What could have been done better, or communicated more efficiently? Would they like more or similar opportunities in the future to further develop those skills? Reengage your team members because many people, when they're subjected to opportunities, may change their stance on what they want to be when they grow up and a great leader needs to stay informed!
I ask two things of you this week:
Of course the next time you delegate out a task ensure you're being more intentional about doing so to build up your team members. That's a given. What I'm asking is that you think about the outstanding work you have out to your team right now and match that up with the "8 Levels of Autonomy" diagram above. Be honest with yourself – do you feel you and the person you delegated the work to are on the same level? If you have any doubt, meet with them to discuss. Use the diagram as a stating point, the information it contains is no secret. This will set you both up for success.
The next time you're given a task from your manager be sure the first thing you do is to verify your level of autonomy on the assignment. This will allow you to better own the pieces you're 100% responsible for which will allow you to better build yourself up!
As a manager or team lead you have a greater responsibility to your team than to just keep them busy and ensure the assembly line of work gets executed. You should be building your company’s future leaders. Proper delegation is one of the greatest tools in your toolbox when used correctly. So the next time you're choosing what to delegate, who to delegate it to and how much autonomy to give that person, please….be intentional.
Note: All of the opinions expressed in this article are my own, and are not a reflection of the viewpoint of my employer.