How do you help leaders understand they need to delegate? I often hear this question, and it was the focus of this recent letter:
Hello Jesse: What have you found are the most effective ways to engage business owners in the need to delegate? Are there particular pain points that make them consider learning how to delegate? Or instead does an appeal to the upside such as employee development and engagement get more of a response? I am working with business owners with 5-50 employees. Michael.
Instead of responding privately, I decided to publish my response in my blog, as it might be of interest to others as well.
Hi Michael, This is an excellent question. And I’d like to offer a few additional questions for you (and the leaders) to consider: Is lack of delegating currently causing any problems? Why are they not delegating? Is it a matter of their personal style or due to organizational structure, practices and culture? Are organization structures and practices supportive of delegation? Delegating and collaborating go hand in hand. Silos create sharp boundaries and make it difficult to find someone to delegate to. Is there enough emphasis on developing people? You can’t delegate if there’s no one capable to delegate to. This can especially be an issue in small business where everyone is specialized and there is no cross-training. It might be necessary to take a good look at organizational structure. But it’s always a mistake to change structure without also addressing people’s attitudes and practices. I have found that when people don’t delegate naturally (and many of us don’t), they need both pain and an appeal. They also need information on how to delegate effectively so they can be successful when they do decide to delegate.
Start with an appeal to logic. You might want to start with a discussion about the upside and downside of delegating. Do they understand the problems with not delegating?
- It hurts YOU. It’s not possible to do it all alone. Eventually you will get overloaded, stressed, and will drown in the details.
- It hurts your TEAM. If you are doing their work, you are denying them the opportunity to grow and develop new skills and experiences.
- It hurts your ORGANIZATION. If you are spending your time mucky around in the details, then who’s looking at the horizon and ensuring you’re heading in the right direction?
Do they understand the benefits of delegating?
- Strengthening your team.
- Your team is not dependent on you.
- Increasing team commitment.
- New ideas and the possibility of better solutions emerge.
- Team members have an opportunity to stretch and grow.
- You’re not the only one staying awake at night thinking of solutions.
But sometimes you just have to wait until the pain is great enough. When one’s personal style is DIY (do it yourself), it’s difficult to shift, even when you agree it’s a good idea. If an appeal to logic doesn’t make a difference, you might have to wait until they are truly feeling the pain. Timing is important. Hopefully a little pain will be enough to get them unstuck, but sometimes people have to wait until they are so overloaded and stressed that they have no choice. What are the pain points – signs that it’s time to have a serious conversation about delegating? Pain points come in many forms. Some people recognize “process signs,” such as a morale dip, turnover increase and missed deadlines, as pain points. Others wait for the more severe pain of “outcome signs” such as a dip in profits or losing a big account. Meanwhile, provide training. Even if the leaders are not ready to seriously engage in delegating, I would encourage them to provide training in how to delegate effectively, so if/when people decide to delegate, they will be successful. Often when people try delegating and it is not successful, they think it proves delegating doesn’t work and return to their old habits. I would share guidelines on how to delegate so the gain outweighs the pain.
Before you delegate, make sure you are delegating to the right person. Do they have the ability to do the work? Are they motivated to do it? Do they have access to the resources they need?
- Ensure expectations are clear. Be specific, clear, and complete about the task, goals, responsibilities, constraints, what a good job looks like and how performance will be evaluated. Clarify at the beginning the amount and type of supervision you will provide and how the progress will be monitored.
- Grant authority. Grant the authority needed to do the job. And make sure everyone who will be affected knows about the delegation.
- Get out of the way. Do not interfere or take the delegation back unless it is clear that corrective action is necessary. Do not supervise too closely. “Post-delegation hovering” is demoralizing and will interfere with their commitment and effectiveness.
- Provide feedback as needed. Give public credit when they succeed, but deal with mistakes discretely.
- Avoid “upward delegation.” Don’t solve all their problems or they will delegate the work back to you. Make it a policy that if someone brings a problem to you, they must also bring proposed solutions.
- Maintain accountability. It should be clear that your direct report has the responsibility for seeing the job well done. But remember that the ultimate accountability remains with you.
- Delegate consistently. Make delegation a regular practice, not just when you are overloaded or when tasks are unpleasant.
A few things to keep in mind as you proceed. Delegating requires risk and courage – so have compassion for those who are hesitant to delegate. There’s no point in pushing them before they’re ready. If you are tempted to push anyway, take a look at the complete list of everything you can do to change someone who is not interested in changing. In order to delegate, you need to be willing to let go of control. It’s likely that things will not be done exactly the way you had in mind. And it’s possible the project will fail, which can be extremely difficult when you care deeply about the outcome. Yes, there is great risk in delegating. But there is also the opportunity for great learning and great reward. You will learn that even though things might not go exactly the way you planned, usually they go well enough, and sometimes they go better than if you had done it alone. You will learn that failure is not the worst thing. Everyone will survive. You will learn that the idea of control is an illusion. The only thing you are really controlling is yourself. And as you release control, life becomes much more fun and interesting. So hang in there and keep encouraging them explore the possibilities of delegating more. It’s worth the risk and effort because the gain does eventually outweigh the pain.