Recently I gave a talk to our team at Paladin about how to delegate effectively. In preparing for this talk, I found there are a lot of articles about delegating, most of which were recycled from some ancient listicle patient-zero. I also found few resources reflecting what I’ve found to be important lessons learned first-hand from managing teams locally and internationally. So I wrote down the abridged versions.
Delegate what needs delegating, not your bullshit.
The purpose of delegating is to reap benefits from focus and efficiency. Not so you can literally interpret the title of “The 4-Hour Work Week.” Don’t simply shove a task you don’t want to deal with onto someone else’s plate.
Here is when you should delegate:
- When you know your employee is the best person for the job.
- When delegating creates a learning opportunity for your employee, creating future efficiencies.
- When you’re expanding team capacity for a certain functions and you’re assigning employees their share of the work.
- When you have other critical work that takes priority, and only you can do it.
Context can change everything.
Always make sure whomever you delegate a task to knows why they are doing it. If the person responsible for a delegated task understands the team or company’s end goals, both short and long term, they can better act as a check point to ensure the team is moving toward those goals, or to suggest better paths toward those goals.
There are many ways to skin a cat, and context is critical information to ensure your employees skin it the right way right meow. Remember that a task can be accomplished as instructed without serving wider goals, or in detriment to them. You don’t want that.
The success of delegation is conditional.
There are a number of questions that should be asked before delegating a task to ensure the best chance of success. If the answer to any of these questions is no, it is likely whomever you’ve delegated the task to will fail.
- Are the right resources for the job being activated?
- Is there enough time to achieve the task?
- Is it technically possible to complete the task?
- Is delegating this task creating any resource conflicts with other projects?
- Do the resources being activated have enough capacity?
- Will the resources being activated be hijacked?
Delegation is negotiation.
If everything was purely top down, our business would have failed many times over. Make sure your employees understand that just because someone is asking them to do something, it doesn’t mean they do not have a voice to flag important considerations, set expectations, and ask further questions. Such conversations can materially change the scope, objectives, and timelines associated with a delegated task.
When you empower others, they become smarter.
When given extreme ownership of a project/product/whatever, people shift their mindset from requesting solutions to solving problems. When one’s own success or failure is hinged to the success or failure of things they are made responsible for, they are motivated to figure it out. Over time this is especially beneficial, as the individuals closest to products/clients/problems/etc are the ones crafting solutions.
Don’t get in the way.
There are many paths to a destination. Make sure that the goal of the task being delegated is clearly defined, but allow for independent thought and for employees to find their own way to the end objective. This will bring you an incredible amount of ideas that you never would have otherwise considered. That said, keeping an open mind with regard to pathways doesn’t mean abandoning your role in providing guidance — you may have learned an efficient path the hard way, and be able to save your employees a lot of time and headaches with course corrections. That said, learning the difference between subjectivity and substance in this regard is critical.
Rome wasn’t built in a day.
It takes time to dial in a delegation process that’s successful for you, and that subordinates respond to. Consider failure as an opportunity to improve how you delegate. Don’t use failure to re-absorb responsibility, negating the benefits of delegating.
Make noise when the team wins.
Give credit to those responsible, don’t take it for yourself.
Make yourself available to inform or to teach, but not to do what has been delegated.
Blame. If a delegated task ends in failure, you did not properly account for conditions, did not properly fulfill negotiation, did not provide context, or you empowered the wrong person. If you set an example of accountability, you empower a culture of accountability.
Set arbitrary deadlines. How long will a task take with respect to the conditions and the resources available? Ask the person responsible for delivering, and let that be the deadline. Deadlines can move for a lot of reasons. Check in on delivery estimations, but don’t nag.
Interrupt (unless you have to).
Thomas Kramer is Paladin’s COO. Over the past several years he has managed teams in diverse areas, from technology developers and content optimization strategists to operations and marketing staff.
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