As wellness business owners and managers, we’re tempted not to delegate authority, which limits our business objectives to just what we can do personally.
But delegation can be powerful if done right. Here’s how to use smart delegation to expand your ability to get business results:
When should I delegate?
Projects on your to-do list are good candidates for delegation if:
- someone else can do this project better than you can
- someone else can do this project faster than you can
- doing this project would be a good development opportunity for someone else
- delegating this project would free you for more important work that only you can do
Some projects are critical to the survival of the business – but many aren’t. So you’ll also need to consider the potential consequences if the project’s deadlines slip or if some work has to be redone.
How do I pick the right person to delegate to?
Consider these factors when delegating a project:
- Whose experience and know-how is best suited to this project?
Red flag: Do you frequently say that you don’t delegate because it’s easier to do it yourself?
Look for a mismatch between the requirements of the project and the skills of the person you’re assigning it to. Employees may excel in a couple of areas but lack the skills in other key areas required to successfully carry out complex projects.
For example, they may have great client skills — but lack financial expertise, project management know-how, and experience in working across multiple departments or with multiple contractors. You’ll set them up for failure if you delegate work that requires ALL of these skills. Instead, look for less complex projects that enable them to progressively develop their skills.
- Whose schedule can handle the additional workload?
Red flag: Don’t delegate your indecision. You’ve got to be realistic about whether ANYONE in your organization has the bandwidth to take on this project. If the answer is no, the hard reality is that you’ve got to make a decision: postpone the project until resources are available, or cancel or delay another project to make room for this one.
- Whose working style is best for this project?
Red flag: See your employees as they are — not as you wish they were. Respect their professional interests and honor their lifestyle choices. For example, avoid delegating a project that requires extensive international travel to an employee who’s made it clear that he doesn’t want to travel continually. Don’t force an employee who prefers solitary work into a team leadership role unless you know that fits with her professional growth priorities.
What makes a delegation successful?
- A good match between the employee and the project
- The transfer of responsibility for the result AND the authority to determine how best to accomplish that result
- A thorough explanation of why this project matters to the business, to provide background and context for decisionmaking
- Specific and detailed description of the desired result or outcome — what exactly are you looking for?
- A shared understanding of resources and constraints — for example, the project budget or lack of availability of a key person for, say, 30 days
- Unambigous deadlines, including due dates for interim milestones that lead up to the final result (this tactic helps avoid surprises)
- Upfront agreement on how you’ll monitor the project — when, what and how you’ll communicate with each other about project progress and hiccups
Have the employee recap all of this information back to you twice: 1) verbally, when you discuss the delegation and 2) in writing, within a day of the delegation. This approach helps avoid early misunderstanding by flagging areas that need more clarification.
What’s the best way to keep tabs on delegated projects?
Once you’ve delegated a project, your role shifts to one of monitoring, coaching, and brush-clearing when necessary.
- When you make the initial delegation, ask open-ended questions about how your employee will approach the project — for example, you might ask “What obstacles do you anticipate?” or “How do you see this developing?”
Red flag: This technique and the recap technique described above are extremely helpful in getting the delegated project off to a strong start.
Agree up front on how you’ll communicate about the project — for example, will you meet weekly?
Red flag: Schedule and keep specific appointments to discuss progress. Being copied on all the minutes of meetings is not a substitute for actual discussion about what’s on track and what’s not.
- Discuss the kinds of red flags you’d want to hear about earlier — for example, do you want to know if a key person from another department misses more than two meetings so that you can intervene with that person’s manager?
Red flag: Discourage upwards delegation. Sometimes employees fall into a pattern of bringing you problems and expecting you to provide an instant solution. Instead, say this:
“Yep, that does sound like a real problem. How do you think you might tackle that?”
They’ll quickly learn to troubleshoot their own issues – and they’ll only come to you when they’ve truly stuck.
What are the most common delegation mistakes?
The sin of micro-management takes two forms:
Delegation of responsibility without authority: Most business challenges have multiple right answers. You absolutely must give people room to find their own solutions. Your way is probably not the only workable solution. In fact, your approach may well have overlooked issues that emerge as the detailed work progresses.
Majoring in the minors: Once you’ve delegated a task, let ’em get on with it! Do not insist on reviewing every action or decision just because you’re afraid of mistakes. Few mistakes are so significant that they’ll jeopardize the future of your business. Give people room to make mistakes, identify them, and figure out how to recover from them.
Early misunderstandings waste time and money and can easily derail projects. Yet it’s easy to avoid them. Have your employee recap the delegated project as described above. And wrap up your delegation discussion with open-ended questions about how your employee is thinking about approaching the project.
Delegating the same project – or parts of it – to two different people just confuses and demoralizes the employees who think they’ve all been tagged as “it”. And it damages your own credibility with other employees who see the confusion.
Cancelling scheduled project updates or regular one-on-one meetings
Live up to your communication commitments. It’s unfair to the business and the employee when you allow a project to continue without monitoring its progress. Put the dates on your calendar and don’t repeatedly reschedule or cancel them. If you could hear the way employees talk about leaders who constantly reschedule planned commitments, you’d never do it again!