The gentle art of delegation

In my seven or so years as a manager, delegation was a skill I developed fairly organically. Like most things I do, I tried to put myself in the shoes of the other person, tried to understand what their questions and concerns might be and tried to make sure I gave them the right mix of freedom to do the job as they saw fit, backed up with instruction and support where needed.

I think my tendency, as a more junior manager, was to learn exactly what needed to be done through doing it myself, then walk the other person through it in detail. This is fine if the person is inexperienced and unsure of their abilities but it doesn't do much to foster self-sufficiency or even to improve what might have been a flawed process.

Over time I've taught myself to step away more and allow the people I'm delegating to the freedom to do things their way - a focus on outcomes over process. There's a very simple graph that illustrates this but the concept of leading an individual or team through the various levels of delegation is actually quite a powerful one.

Done well, delegation can really pay off for both sides. The employee benefits from having the freedom to do a job in a style that suits them and from the chance to develop their skills in a supportive environment. The employer is able to release time for other things and benefits from motivated staff who are continually building their skills and taking on new challenges.

Of course, this could all sound like wishful thinking except for the fact that it actually works. Over the last few weeks Angela has taken on lead responsibility for a major web project, has conducted interviews with case study subjects and is now seeking out two laptops for the new trainees who will start in a couple of weeks. This week she suggested that she'd like to keep volunteering with Poached beyond her 12 week traineeship, which is fantastic news for me.

So, what are my tips for successful delegation?
  • Ask what people want to do and how they want to develop - then find relevant tasks to delegate.
  • Explain why you need something done. Eg, we really need these laptops in two weeks' time and it would be incredibly helpful for me if you could sort it out.
  • Ask for the person's ideas of how to tackle a problem and talk through any differences in approach.
  • Be clear how much responsibility you are delegating. Eg, I'm happy for you to do this however you see fit, or, can you write up a plan and run it past me?
  • Give ample opportunity for questions and clarification.
  • Check that they are comfortable with the task and ask if there's any support they need.
  • Work out together how success will be measured.
  • Check progress.
  • Be sure to give clear feedback using real examples.

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