How often do you find yourself complaining about how busy you are? Stop to think about it. Contrary to popular belief, work overload is not necessarily a badge of honor. It’s a sign that your team is potentially mismanaged — that you’re hoarding work while your direct reports are hungry to learn and grow into new responsibilities.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a CEO, middle manager, director, or team leader. You need to get comfortable with delegating. In addition to delegating work, it’s equally valuable that you delegate leadership responsibilities and strategic vision.
It sounds scary, but you know what? Your team is more than capable of making great judgment calls. That’s why you hired them. If they make mistakes, they’ll bounce right back. Plus, they’ll love you for the encouragement and for pushing them forward.
Utilize Your Resources Optimally
Teams are powerful — there’s strength in numbers, but there’s also power in diversity. Don’t be afraid to use the four magic words in management — “What do you think?”
What you’ll quickly learn is that your employees can make you a better manager. Sometimes, there are more efficient, more creative and more powerful ways of accomplishing a goal than you may realize. If you don’t ask questions and support your employees, you will never learn.
Just because a team member does things differently doesn’t mean he or she won’t do the job right or just as well (if not better). You need to be open and give your employees permission to use their talents accordingly.
That’s rule number 1 of management and delegation: Your team will be better than you alone. Get comfortable with this fact. Embrace it.
Pick the Right Person
Picking the wrong person for a key task is a major reason for delegation failure. Unfortunately, mismanagement is a common problem in business; we set idealistic expectations for what we want our teams to achieve. And then when things hit the fan? We place blame on the employee — the engineer who was surprised with sudden sales responsibilities or the marketer who had no clue that she needed technical skills to pull the data she needs.
As a manager, you need to hire for success, not failure. And as easy as it is to play the blame game, don’t — especially if you put an entry-level marketing candidate in front of a senior-level programming job. Instead, on any given project, look for an employee that has 3 of the following 5 attributes in the amount required: experience, flexibility, energy, passion, tenacity and technical know-how.
Provide Thorough Instructions and Expectations
People aren’t born with business skills. And as much as you want your employees to read your mind when it’s convenient, it’s just not happening.
If you’re going to delegate, you need to make sure that you have scalable, repeatable instructions and expectations for delivery. Write one set of instructions that six people can use, and you have an instant way of scaling your team to bring more employees on board. But don’t rely on written instructions alone. Talk to your team members to make sure that everyone is on the same page.
One important caveat:
Don’t confuse clear instruction with micromanagement. If you lay out details step-by-step and oversee every single part of the process, you might as well be managing an assembly line. Micromanaging squashes creativity and will instantly make you the world’s most annoying boss.
Instead, delegate clear outcomes. Make them measurable. (If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.) Explain what is to be done, how you think it could be done, and the reasons for doing this job in the first place. And make expectations clear by explaining the bigger picture behind the work, the objective and goal as it fits within a larger context.
Delegate the Entire Job
One hundred percent responsibility for a task, even a major responsibility, is also a big performance motivator. The more often you assign big responsibilities to the right people, the more competent and confident they become. If it is a newer employee, you can ask to be notified before major actions are taken so as to avoid the possibility of a catastrophe. Weekly feedback provides a great cadence for balancing freedom to accomplish work while keeping your finger on the pulse of progress.
And when things go wrong?
Let mistakes happen, and back off. Encourage your team to work through the situation to figure it out. Be a supportive mentor. Your team will come out stronger than ever before.
Focus on the Learning Experience
This topic is far too important to leave behind. When delegating, make sure to prioritize learning — as much as you do the successes of your project. As you hand over greater responsibility through delegation, it’s important to realize and fully understand that learning new skills often includes making mistakes. Don’t punish employees who make a good-faith effort to do things right. Mistakes are often the source of one’s greatest lessons. At the same time, an employee that is making the same mistakes over and over requires guidance, as he is clearly not learning the lesson at hand.
Host group meetings to encourage constant learning, collaboration, and dialogue. Make sure that team members feel comfortable to share their perspectives and suggest room for improvement.
Strive For the Best, but Be Realistic About Perfection
Establish a consistent standard of quality and give your employees a fair deadline or time frame for reaching it. Once you establish the expectations clearly, let your employees decide how to carry out the project effectively.
Perfection just adds unnecessary pressure. Don’t let important details fall through the cracks, but make sure to maintain a stress-free environment where team members can go home and get a good night’s rest at the end of the day.
Keep Tabs on Progress and Follow Up
Delegation does not give managers the right to disappear, however. Periodic follow-ups are crucial. Approach these meetings as checkpoints to see if they have any questions or concerns that need to be addressed immediately.
I developed the tool 15Five in part to help business leaders maintain the right balance of distance and personal connection. Be there, and be present. Show that you care, but don’t be overbearing. Keep the feedback channel open so honest insight can flow both ways.
Recognize and Appreciate Effort
When your project is a success, give credit where credit is due. Treat employees as true partners. Listen to their feedback and respect their ideas and opinions.
Give lots of praise, and do it publicly. Feedback and praise will boost morale, but it will also reassure your team that they are going about their business the right way.
Position your star performers as role models to your fellow employees.
Delegation is crucial to your success as a leader, and your business’s bottom line. Get used to it, even if the process feels awkward at first. Take a step back, count to 10 and restrain yourself from getting too involved. Better yet, focus on your own independent ventures. You’ll be too busy to meddle with your employees.
If you’re not sure where to get started, just ask your employees. What initiatives would you like to see them tackle? Delegate your delegation!
David Hassell is Founder and CEO of 15Five, a SaaS company with a powerful and simple solution that gathers critical insights from employees in minutes each week, enabling informed management to get the visibility they need to boost engagement and drive alignment across their entire team. Follow David on Twitter @dhassell and @15Five.