Leaders accomplish things through other people’s efforts. In order for others to accomplish a task or project, the leader needs to know what the project will accomplish when complete, understand why the task important and should be completed by someone else, establish dates for progress checks and project completion, establish authority and responsibility, agree with the person doing the task what success looks like, have the person back brief her understanding of the task, and write down the details of the project. That is a long sentence and sounds like lots of work. Both statements are accurate. Delegating a project to another requires the leader to think through lots of issues so he can effectively communicate certain details to the person receiving the work. Leaders fail at delegation because they do not think about what is involved in accomplishing the project. It is easy to acknowledge something is not working the way you want it to work. It is harder to tell someone what it would look like if it was working better. As a result, MANAGERS pick at the problem instead of delegating and the problem persists. Leaders make the time to think about these issues, identify someone who has the potential to complete the task, communicates that vision to the other and turns them loose to do great things.
Start with a clear understanding of what you want the end state to look like. I regularly report program information to my Board of Directors. We serve several communities. I was looking for a way to more effectively show which communities received the most services from us other than the table containing the names of the town and the number of services provided. I was looking at an annual report for another organization and noticed they used a map. The light bulb went off over my head. The next day I sat down with one of my people and explained to them I wanted them to develop a map the would allow us to present data about services provided by town that is easy to change for each board meeting. Once I understood what I wanted, it was easy to tell someone else.
Understand why you entrust someone else to do this task. Face it, you can do it better and faster than anyone else; or can you? In the map case, I could easily do it. I have some background in that kind of geographical work but I am not good at it. I also have other responsibilities that only I can do. This task can be accomplished by someone else. That gives me time to do other things that benefit the organization. That is why it is important for someone else to do it. It was an important task because the program report would be easier to understand by both members of the Board of Directors and our supporters. When I sat down and gave this task to the other person I explained both of these issues to him. As a result, he understood why he was selected and why the task was important. and communicate both with that person.
I picked the individual because he was new to the organization. Working on this project allowed him to develop a better understanding of our customers and what communities we serve. He also possessed a level of technical expertise he learned in college but had not had an opportunity to use those skills on a real world project. When this project was complete, this person had the opportunity to transfer classroom learning into real world skills and understood our service area better.
It is important to set time limits. Time limits are necessary for any real goal. Some projects can be completed quickly and only need an end date. Other projects last weeks or months. In the case of those longer projects establish dates to meet with your employee for progress reports. This provides you an opportunity to make adjustments to the time line, understand resource requirements, and provide input and guidance. It provides the worker with the opportunity to make sure the work is meeting your expectations, ask questions, and keeps them focused by determining what parts of the project need to be done by certain dates to meet the overall deadline.
When you delegate a task to someone, you also delegate authority and responsibility necessary to accomplish that task. That delegation may include authorization to spend money, use certain company resources to include people, and connect with others who may help move the project along. For a new person, this creates risk for the organization. However, you can place limits on the employee’s authority which allows them to grow and make mistakes without sinking the organization.
An example of this is selecting a new supervisor to plan and annual company party. You give him the authority to establish a ticket price, select a venue and menu, the date and time for the party and things like that. You provide limits by setting a desired price per person and an absolute upper limit, a window of dates that work best, and limit how far the venue is from the workplace.
As you work through the delegation process both you and your selected agree on what success looks like for this task. In this way you both understand what is to be done. You both agree on the limits of authority and responsibility. You establish what support you will provide as the employee works on the task and other relevant details. Do not place so many details that the person tasked becomes overwhelmed.
I was once tasked to develop a leadership development trip. My boss provided a date range, transportation requirements, target audience to include the maximum number of people who could attend, and a menu of activities to complete and venues to visit. Our company had written limits on lodging and feeding during such business related travel. The boss gave me the task about nine months before we made the trip. In this way he gave me the authority to make reservations, connect with other departments in the company, and the limitations of my power. We agreed on what a successful trip looked like which kept me focused on the important things and allowed me to ignore fluff stuff.
Once you give everything to the employee stop talking. Allow her to absorb what she just heard for a minute or two. Then ask her to repeat back what the task was, why it is important and why they were selected, what authority and limitations they have been given, the time line, and a summary of what success looks like. As she talks, write down the plan. The written plan is record of what you both agreed to do and what a successful project looks like. It forms the road map for the employee to follow and becomes the report card you can use to judge their progress.
Delegation is a critical leadership skill. Leaders who fail to learn this skill fail to develop others and end up doing too much work themselves. Following the simple process of identifying what the project will accomplish when complete, understanding why the task important and should be completed by someone else, establishing dates for progress checks and project completion, establishing authority and responsibility, agreeing with the person doing the task what success looks like, having the person back brief her understanding of the task while writing down the details of the project. When you follow these steps you have a better idea of the work that needs to be done. You know why someone else should do it to include understanding how the project helps develop that person professionally. You have more time to focus on those things that only you can do. You become a leader instead of a manager. Delegating is not easy but with some thought and reflection it can be effective.