How to delegate efficiently
Last week, we talked about what to focus on when having too many things to do in your business. One of the essential elements was to delegate efficiently and hand over more work to other people. However, many entrepreneurs struggle with delegating the right way.
What does “delegate” mean?
According to the Oxford dictionary, delegate has 2 major meanings:
- To entrust (a task or responsibility) to another person, typically one who is less senior than oneself
- To send or authorize (someone) to do something as a representative
The key words in this definition are authority and trust. Without these two components, delegation does not work. I would like to add a third word to it which is “training”. Because delegation is a learnable skill and must be master with enough training and exercise.
Some common issues with delegation
We all faced questionable experiences with delegation. Since this is a learning process, we all came across situations where we questioned whether this is really the right thing to do. Here are some very common issues that might sound familiar to you:
Missing information to execute the task.
You have no structured documentation and think that another person can „just do it“. This typically does not work out and causes many misunderstandings, frustration and overwhelm.
Missing trust which results in micro-management
This is super annoying for the delegate who may feel treated like a little child. This comes back to the points of trust and authority mentioned above.
No patience is another common issue
Many people who lack the experience think that they are faster if they just do it themselves. Remember that also your day has only 24 hours and even though another person might be slower than you, still you can focus on other topics in that same time.
Frustration due to miscommunication
This is mainly rooted in different communication and personality types. This is very common when you work with people that are very different from you. One person gives and instruction and the other person understood something totally different. We’ll give you some hints how to handle that below.
Underestimation of workload
Especially when doing a job for the first time this happens often. This is a very typical issue when starting to delegate. Since you are used to doing the job, you have no feeling how long somebody else will need. On top, if you have no documentation and you never tracked your time spent on the task, this even makes your estimations less valid. And an incorrect effort estimation can lead to stress for the delegate when they try to meet the requirements.
Delegate efficiently in 6 steps
To avoid the most common issues and delegate efficiently, follow these steps:
1) Pick the right tasks
Not every task is great for delegation. The best tasks for delegation are not super important but still need to get done. They are repeatable and standardized, so that you can document the way that they are executed. A one-time task may also be a good fit if it is e.g. a research task or data collection, designing a template or other topics that are not urgent.
2) Pick the right person for the task
Not every person is the best fit for every task. Look at the skillset of the person you want to delegate to and try to delegate on best skillset match. However, it can also be a great fit if the task contains some growth opportunity for the delegate. It can be very rewarding to master a new skill as part of a task.
3) Prepare the handover
Summarize what needs to be done, ideally in a written format (to be able to look it up and to avoid misunderstandings). Include information on what you expect as an outcome and what the timeline is in which the task shall be delivered. Also add any important information that the delegate needs to process the task, e.g. access information, storage locations, contact details of other involved stakeholders etc. Put yourself in their shoes: If you had no idea about the topic, would you be able to execute the task with the given information?
4) Execute the handover
Organize a meeting (face-to-face or virtually) to hand over the task. If you don’t know the person yet that well, I would highly recommend video conversations so that you can read their facial expression. Depending on cultural background and upbringing, junior staff members will not always say when they don’t understand something, but usually you can read it in their face if you look closely. Walk them through the handover document, explain them the goal of the task as well as the timelines. Discuss next steps and how you want to handle any upcoming questions (When are you available? How do you prefer receiving questions? etc.). Agree on any review deadlines and catch-up points.
5) Plan check ins and reviews
You need to be available for questions and track progress. You have to expect questions and you should manage your delegated tasks. This means, you need to check-in occasionally to see how the progress is moving forward and whether the delegate is on track. Even though the tasks are not super important or super urgent, you don’t want to make them urgent by not staying on track. Give the delegate some time to get into the details but offer them availability for questions. Additionally, fix review meetings where you track the progress and intervene if necessary.
6) Review and feedback
After the task is finalized, review how it went and collect feedback. Was everything clear? Was any information missing? How did it go? Based on the feedback, adjust and finetune the handover documentation. Because the next time somebody will do this task, it will work immediately better.
I have executed this process hundreds of times and it definitely works. Try it yourself, but don’t quit too early. Very often, when you draft your first handover documentation, you will forget many details that are necessary, but you did not consider them important. Because for you, they are obvious. But for somebody else, they are not. Listen to the feedback and make your adjustments. Learn with each round of delegation, improve and you will become great at delegating!
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