Tool: How To Delegate

Having worked with clients to turn them into the leader of their company, one stumbling block I found was that they didn’t know how to delegate.

Sure they assigned work to their employees and contractors.  That’s delegation, right?

Not really.

They were abdicating.

They handed the work over to their team and then promptly forgot about it.  Then days, weeks or even months go by and they remember the assignment and ask about it.  Or the team member brings back the completed work only for the entrepreneur to be furious at the quality or that it wasn’t anything like what they wanted.

These experiences turn them into micromanagers, which annoys their team and causes extra work for the entrepreneur.

Some founders are micromanagers from the start.  They assign work — right down to the task and how the task should be done, then hound their team frequently as to progress.  Invariably they believe the team isn’t moving fast enough.  Its like that old saying, “A watched pot doesn’t boil.”

Abdication is giving up responsibility.

Delegation retains a verification method.

Micromanaging retains responsibility and verification, but stymies the employee’s progress. It also teaches the employee to not do any work that isn’t directly assigned and to never proceed without explicit permission.

In both cases, the abdicator and the micromanager, the company stagnates.  There are a couple of big reasons for the stagnation: 1) the entrepreneur is a bottleneck, 2) the company needs more people, but the entrepreneur doesn’t have enough time or mental bandwidth to manage more people (see reason #1).

The entrepreneur hates the idea of hiring more people because that equates to more management work in their mind.  Growth equals more people.  More people equals more work.  This equation is happening in the entrepreneur’s mind, whether consciously or not (typically not).

I have my clients start breaking free of their “delegation” bad habits with the following delegation tool.

Trust But Verify

Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of this framework.  It will make tools such as project management and time tracking software more useful to you. If you use the delegation tool consistently, you’ll quickly get good at delegating, and ultimately transform into a good leader:

  1. Define what a successful result looks like.  Then ask, can you achieve this?
  2. Define the timeframe for completion.  Ask, can you meet the deadline?
  3. Define available resources. Ask, can you deliver the result on time with these resources?

If the answer is ‘no’ to any of these questions, then get your team to describe what it would take for them to answer ‘yes.’

They may say, “We can’t get you the result you want, but we can get this other result. Is that acceptable?”

Or “You’ve allotted $1000 budget, but we need $1500 for a contractor and we need an app we don’t have. Can you give us this budget for the contractor and the app?”

Or “You gave us two weeks, but it took us 3 weeks to do a different project that’s similar to this one.  Does it have to be in two weeks? If so, we’ll need more resources.”

Once this negotiation is complete and ‘yes’ can be answered according to the agreed upon new terms, your team goes to work to complete the project.  They are instructed to come back to you if they can’t fulfill the project on those terms.

If their answer to any of your three questions turns to a ‘no’ during the project, they come to you to renegotiate the terms until all three questions can be answered ‘yes’ again.

If ‘no’ is the response to any of the three questions, and it is inevitable or unalterable, then the project gets scrapped or shelved until a time that all three questions can be answered in the affirmative.

The Next Stage of Delegation: Guiding Not Assigning

Once you get comfortable with delegating assignments, it is time to grow into delegating roles.  Instead of telling your team what to do, you delegate to them the entire responsibility of their job and they can determine what tasks to do and when so that they fulfill their responsibilities.

Over time, your team will stop waiting for assignments and define projects themselves. Then they will ask you the three delegation questions.  They’ll ask for a ‘yes’ on project result, timeframe and resources so that they have permission to move forward.

Here’s how you get comfortable with this switch:

  1. When anyone from your team comes to you with a problem, idea, or project, you ask them for their suggestions for resources, timeframe and results.
  2. After they present their solution, ask them if there are any other possible solutions that could be better, faster, and/or cheaper.
  3. Do this consistently and everyone on your team will know not to come to you with a problem without having given it enough thought to answer the delegation questions.

When the trust but verify management systems are ingrained in the culture, your team won’t ask for permission to proceed with projects, they will report to you what they did, how long it took and the resources used.

That might be scary to you right now if you’re an abdicator or a micromanager.  But you’ll have trustworthy, competent managers on your leadership team to help you run the company.

Your management workload and the stress of needing to be on top of all activities in your business will lessen.  I’ve seen this shift happen rapidly with clients — sometimes within two months if they already had a small management team in place.  Without managers in place, it may take a year or so depending on how fast they can profitably hire team members.

Last point…

Make this delegation tool a daily practice.

You need to be consistent if you wish to get consistent results from your team.