Advice / Succeeding at Work / Management

7 Steps to Take When Your Attempts to Delegate Fail—Miserably

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It’s not always easy to work up the nerve to delegate work.

You might have to battle your own micromanaging, perfectionist tendencies, resisting the urge to give your employees a 17-step outline or painfully detailed instructions. You’ll have to make peace with the fact that just because someone does something differently doesn’t mean he or she’s doing it wrong.

But what happens when the final draft comes across your desk and it’s just bad?

What if it’s full of typos? What if the layout is all wrong or your guidelines have been flagrantly ignored? What if your employee followed your guidelines but the result is still underwhelming?

It’s really tempting to snatch back those responsibilities and view this as confirmation that you were right all along—nobody can be trusted, and if you want something done right you need to do it yourself!

Slow your roll, friend. Before you throw in the delegation towel, work your way through these seven steps.

1. Talk in Person (or at Least on the Phone)

Telling someone she needs to redo her work is always a little difficult, and it can be hard to express patience, empathy, warmth, or humor via email.

If you can’t meet in person, aim for a video chat or a phone call. That way you can temper the awkward conversation with a warm, friendly voice.

2. Start With Something You Appreciate

If possible, compliment something really specific, such as the font he chose, his perfect grammar, or the fact that he turned this in ahead of time, so he can replicate that success in the future.

When you start the conversation on a positive note, you’re creating a safe space so you can deliver the other, less-positive news without triggering defensiveness. (Just make sure you’re being genuine, and not making up something nice as part of a “compliment sandwich.”)

3. Reiterate What You Were Looking for and Why

Then, describe how the work doesn’t match your expectations, being as specific as possible. “I’d like to see some changes” isn’t nearly as constructive as, “I’m looking for a funnier, more engaging tone, a more enticing introduction, and more succinct sentences.”

So, instead of saying the marketing presentation “missed the mark” and leaving it at that, remind your employee how important it is to focus on the target audience. If the message doesn’t reach them—then it’s all the hard work is for nothing. Then, share some shifts you'd like to see, such as additional slides on impact.

4. Ask for Ideas for Changes

Does your employee also see areas for improvement? Or is he unsure how and where he’d do things differently?

While you want to give specific feedback, resist the urge to point out every single place you’d like to see changes. Instead, share some specific suggestions, then ask him to describe what opportunities he sees for improving the project. This will help you check if you’re on the same page—and it will help him learn to spot potential missteps for himself in the future.

5. Ask What Feels the Most Challenging

Of the changes you’ve asked her to make, which feels the most daunting or confusing? Does she struggle with copy editing? Does she understand the software she needs to use?

Give her another opportunity to ask for clarification and help.

6. Give it Another Go

The first few times you delegate, you might just kick yourself and think, “It’s faster if I do this myself!” And yes, the first time you train—and correct—someone it may take more time than if you’d done the work on your own.

However, once the other person understands what you want and how to do it, you’ll be able to hand off more and more projects, freeing up time to do the work you really love.

7. Check Out the Second Draft and Praise, Guide, or Reassign

How do you feel about your delegate’s second attempt? If she’s 80% of the way there (and this project is one she’ll need to replicate) repeat steps one through six. Otherwise, remind yourself of the 80/20 rule, praise her improvements, mention the additional shifts you’ll add, and complete the work yourself.

If the result is 50 to 80% of the way there, share that opinion. Together, you and your delegate can decide if it’s worth another attempt and then work through steps one through six again.

If the result is still less than 50%? Bail. Your time is better spent finding someone else to reassign this project to or revisiting if this is really a task worth delegating.

With this plan, you should be able get the results you want the second time around. And hopefully, these conversations will help you get better results from here on out—the first time.

Photo of upset man courtesy of Shutterstock.