As a manager, one of the best ways to prepare your staff for future assignments is to delegate tasks that will (kindly) force them to stretch outside of their comfort zones. These stretch assignments often produce at least as much learning and growth as a training class or seminar would. In fact, author Cynthia McCauley says, “When managers and executives are asked to describe their careers, 50-75% of the experiences they describe are challenges encountered in their assignments at work.”
However, delegating can be difficult when you’d like an employee to take on an assignment that falls outside his “normal” set of responsibilities. When this happens, you run the risk of hearing the dreaded, “That’s not my job.”
For employees to accept these additional responsibilities, managers must take steps to frame the new project effectively. There’s no foolproof solution to giving assignments without pushback; however, you can minimize the frequency (and severity) of resistance by practicing these three simple techniques.
1. Appeal to the Employee’s Interests
In the book All In by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elston, the authors say that to get people to care, managers must create a “WIIFM,” or What’s in it For Me, for each employee. When giving an assignment that’s outside of normal job responsibilities, you need to frame it in a way that will interest the employee.
Frankly, it doesn’t matter why you want the job done. If your employee can’t find a reason to want to do it, he or she may say no. So, if the employee has expressed an interest in being promoted, discuss how this project will prove valuable in achieving that goal. Or if he’s complained about too little work or asked for more opportunities to build skills, explain how this project serves the employee’s individual needs and goals—as well as those of the company.
2. Sell the Benefits, Hard
Make no mistake: Delegating a stretch assignment is often a sales job. Even if the benefits are obvious to you—and you think that they should be just as obvious to your employee. Successful salespeople will tell you that the easiest path to a sale is by tapping into the emotions of the buyer. The same is true when selling your employee on a new (ostensibly irrelevant or undesirable) project.
So, when discussing the assignment, lead with the benefits of taking the assignment on (rather than the specifics of the task and how you would like it to be completed). If this assignment gives the employee increased freedom to make decisions or the opportunity to network with influential people outside the office, be sure to let him know—and don’t bury your lede.
It’s not enough to discuss what the employee has to gain (per point one). How you have the discussion is equally important, because you risk losing the sale if you discuss the mechanics of the new project before you get to the benefits.
3. Show Your Support
Sometimes employees will resist extra assignments because they’re concerned about bandwidth. They’re wondering how a new project—that’s not even in their wheelhouse—will fit it into their already busy schedule (without cutting in to other activities, such as family time).
So, as you assign the new project, inquire about the employee’s overall workload, and ask how you can provide assistance. For example, if this project takes priority over other items on his plate, let him know that you’ll be flexible with other deadlines.
Additionally, be sure to outline the tools and resources that you can provide to help with task completion. Whether it’s training to complete a portion of the task, or access to someone in your network who can be a resource, these offers of support will go a long way.
Regardless of which tasks you are delegating—or how far they are from the day-to-day responsibilities of your staff—remember that the act of delegating can be even more important than any given task. You are assigning tasks that will prepare your employees to take on bigger and better responsibilities in the future. So, use the techniques above to present the opportunity, and you will have a much better chance of getting an enthusiastic “yes!” from the employee receiving the assignment.