The Control Freak's Guide to Delegating
If you’re new to managing, it’s probably safe to say you’ve struggled with delegation. Since your team’s performance reflects directly on you, you need to make sure you handle everything yourself, right?
I’m guessing you don’t have that kind of time. Plus, that team of people you’re managing? Well, you have them for a reason.
I know, I know—it’s hard to let go of control. But by delegating tasks to those around you, you can help them be more productive, provide them with opportunities to grow, and allow them to be an integral part of your company’s accomplishments—all part of your job as a manager. Plus, as a bonus, you’ll free up some time to actually be the boss.
If you’re a control freak, it’s time to step back and get some of those nagging tasks off your plate. Here’s how to set yourself up for successful delegation.
Put Your Excuses to Rest
If you’re hesitant to delegate because you don’t think anyone else can do the task “right,” you haven’t done your job as a boss. Part of your job description is to teach, guide, and train your employees, so they gain the skills necessary to complete tasks as well as (or better than) you.
Or, maybe you’re afraid that passing off too many tasks will make your position irrelevant—what are you supposed to do with a blank to-do list?
Don’t worry about that situation, either. It’s essential that you have time for the big-picture stuff: guiding your team’s projects, helping accomplish bigger goals, hiring the right people, and keeping processes flowing smoothly. Plus, when you do have some spare time, you’ll be able to spend it coaching your team members one-on-one, which will make everyone more effective in the long run. Remember, even if you’re not completing tasks and projects yourself, you’re crucial to the end result.
Pick the Right Person for the Job
This is the #1 rule when it comes to delegating: Assign tasks based on each person’s best skills, or—if appropriate—based on the skills people are trying to develop. For example, if you’re delegating decisions about a conference event coming up, pick a person who consistently nails logistics and who’s good with vendors, or assign it to the person who has asked for the opportunity to take on a larger events planning role.
It’s also important to consider your employees’ current workloads. Perhaps someone hasn’t been handed a big task in a while and hasn’t seemed fully engaged. Putting her in charge of the next important project will fill her time with meaningful work and give her a chance to shine, which may provide a much needed boost in productivity. On the other hand, if someone is overloaded with projects, she’s not going to do her best work, no matter how great she is.
When the employee you choose has the skills (and time) for the delegated task, she’s more likely to succeed—and you’ll feel much more confident about letting her take over.
Show Them the Big Picture
Before you start handing out tasks, it’s important to understand exactly what you’re assigning. Now, that doesn’t mean you need to decide how a given task will get done (that’s what you’re delegating!), but you should answer the following questions: What, specifically, are you asking for? Why does this need to be done? What is the best outcome? What is the deadline for the finished product?
Then, provide that information to the person you’ve selected. Employees are much more successful when they can see the big picture, because they understand exactly how their part will fit into the overall goal. From there, they can decide how to tackle the task in order to fully meet your (and the company’s) expectations.
Provide Just Enough Guidance
Once you hand a task off, resist the urge to micromanage. I know it’s tempting, especially when you notice something you’d do differently, but remember: You’re not the one doing it.
There’s a fine line here. While you should answer questions and make sure the job is getting done, you shouldn’t weigh in on the small stuff (at least not yet)—especially if you aren’t being asked. For example, if you’ve asked someone to write up a report, stop by and see how it’s going. If she asks you where you usually pull the sales numbers from, that’s information you can share that will be helpful, as it points her in the right direction. But don’t pore over her numbers when you’re “just walking by,” or start discussing the second sentence in the fourth paragraph of the third page.
Also, once you’ve delegated, it’s up to you to make sure that your employee isn’t using your guidance as a crutch. Sometimes employees get nervous about making decisions and check in with you at every turn, but remind them (and yourself) why you assigned them the projects in the first place: Because you knew they’d do a great job. It will convey that you have full confidence in your team, and that feeling of trust will boost their motivation to succeed.
Follow Up With Feedback
When all is said and done, it’s important to provide feedback about your employees’ finished product. Did they listen to your instructions? Did they meet the deadlines? Did the project blow you away and make you wonder why you didn’t delegate it sooner? Or, maybe you had someone who fell short and could use some constructive criticism. Whatever the outcome, you need to check in after each project to explain your thoughts.
You should also take the opportunity to ask for feedback on your delegation skills. Did you provide enough guidance? Did you actually let your employees tackle the job on their own? What can you do differently next time? The only way the delegation process can get easier is to openly communicate what went right, and what could have been done better.
Delegating can open up hours of extra time, allowing you and your team to become exponentially more productive. So, as much as you’d like to maintain control over every last task, give your team the chance to step up to the plate. Hey, they just might surprise you! And remember: When they succeed, you’ve done your job right.
About The Author
Cameron Smith is a Washington, DC based policy nerd, currently managing a small think tank. When she can spare a moment, she enjoys live music, delicious food, and the great outdoors. Shoot her a tweet with your favorite recipe or economic data release @smithcameron.