Make it so: 5 Steps to Delegate Work and Get it Right

At face value, delegating work seems simple. Ask someone to do something, and it gets done. In reality, it’s not that simple. There’s more to delegating work than saying “Make it so.” 

When leaders get it right, they engage and empower employees. They stretch their capabilities, challenge and enable them to learn and develop new skills. Getting it wrong produces the exact opposite effect.

Delegation is a perfect example where the old adage “five minutes of planning saves ten minutes in execution” holds true.

5 steps that will help leaders get it right when delegating work.

1.         Choose the right people.

Ensure they have the skills, experience and/or potential to succeed. In teams with differing levels of capability, ensure informal mentoring opportunities exist for those with less experience. Choosing the wrong people sets everyone on a path to conflict, frustration and failure.

2.         Share a clear vision of the end result.

This seems obvious, but it’s often the step with the least attention paid to it. We assume that employees will just “know what I’m looking for.” Granted, not everything is going to be clear cut when kicking off a project, but the more clarity provided at the onset, the greater the likelihood the work will move in the right direction with fewer crashes and restarts.

3.         Communicate clear standards of performance.

What does a good job look like? If your team can’t answer that question, they’re not ready to begin. Whether the standards are quality, service, speed, cost, or any combination thereof, how the work is expected to be completed is just as important as the work itself.

4.         Be available and follow up regularly.

Delegating doesn’t mean washing our hands of a project and waiting for the end product to roll in. Leaders must steward the project along – gathering regular updates, identifying roadblocks and removing barriers. Regular, timely course corrections prevent employees from heading too far down the wrong road, and wasting time.

Remember what we said about leaders staying above the weeds with eyes on the full picture? Here’s where they work to prevent something from another part of that big picture from surprising and pulling the rug out from under the team.

5.         Provide ongoing clear and constructive feedback.

Like any other element of leadership, giving feedback is key.

When work is moving along well, feedback motivates and builds confidence. It validates an employee’s skills, reaffirms key learnings and acknowledges their hard work.

Where constructive feedback is required, it needs to be carefully considered and specific. Be clear and direct. Seek understanding around the thought process that led the employee to complete the work the way they did. This pseudo root cause analysis turns this opportunity for feedback into a learning moment. Done properly, constructive feedback can be motivating and build confidence.

The type of project or work you’re delegating, along with the capabilities of the individuals you’re working with will determine both the way you delegate the work, and how hands-on you’ll need to be as the work is being completed.

There’s a lot of great thinking around delegation. One of my favorites is called The Seven Levels of Delegation by Jurgen Appelo. Check it out.

What other suggestions do you have around delegating successfully?

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