How to Delegate Effectively

December 6, 2009
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If you have employees, you have certainly face the difficulty of getting them to perform tasks you ask them to do. You may feel that it is easier to just do it yourself. When you do that, you have less time to work with and your employees never learn how to "own" the task.



If you have employees, you have certainly faced the difficulty of getting them to perform tasks you ask them to do. You may feel that it is easier to just do it yourself. When you do that, you have less time to work with and your employees never learn how to “own” the task.

Learning how to delegate effectively helps you maximize the production of both you and your employees. Here are some simple but effective steps that will enhance your delegating skills.  

Teach Them an Organizational System

Most people don’t have an effective organizational system. Help them stay organized with daily checklists, file folders, etc.

Strong Job Descriptions

Have a job description that includes each and every item that an employee is to “own” each day, week, and month. For every task that associated with a job description, there should be a written, step-by-step procedure on how to perform that task. 

Strong Training Systems

In order for your employees to be most effective, you must invest the time in training. Notice I said “invest.” Effective training empowers your employee to do their job without constant supervision. In your training, you also build “value systems” or ways of thinking so that, if a challenge does arise, or things don’t go down just the way it did in training, they have a way of thinking to adopt to make their decision.

Effective training involves three important steps:
  1. Tell
  2. Show
  3. Watch
  First, you obviously must tell them how to do something. Then you show them. Many managers fall short by stopping there. The most effective way of training is by using the third step, which is to watch them do it. They will learn much more by experiencing it.

A more sophisticated way of saying Tell, Show and Watch is Cognitive, Psychomotor and Affective Domain. These are three “domains” of learning.

Cognitive is simply information. It may be a manual, a tape or a lecture, but it is one-way information. This type of teaching builds knowledge, but knowledge alone does not give you skill.

In the psychomotor domain, you show the student what to do. If you want to learn how to fly an airplane, you want an instructor show you how. You wouldn’t just read the manual.

The third way of teaching is the affective domain. This arena calls for providing an “experience.” This is the “watch” phase. Your student has heard through the cognitive. He has seen through the psychomotor, and now he will do in the affective domain.

This is the most vital step. They must learn through “spaced repetition” – doing it over and over again. The cognitive domain needs a teacher. The psychomotor domain needs an instructor. The affective domain needs a facilitator. So be intentional about providing experiences.

I remember talking with one of my students and him relating that he could not get his technicians to clean specialty fabrics.

“Have you told them how to do it?” I asked.

“Yes.” He replied.

“Have you shown them how to do it?”

“Yes.”

“Have you let them do it while you watch?”

“Hmm. No, I haven’t.”

There’s his answer. The next time I saw him, he told me they were cleaning specialty fabrics with no problem.

When I am asked a question about how to do something in my company, my response is, “What is the procedure?” If we have a procedure in place, that means someone has thought through the situation and come up with the best way to handle it.

If this is the first time this has happened, sit down and quickly write out a procedure. Train your staff to follow the procedures. Otherwise, they will always need you to make decisions for them.

You are crippling them – and yourself – if you don’t.

Get Your Employees to Take Ownership

An unpopular, but very effective technique is called “benign neglect.” In other words, you intentionally become unavailable at times.

This trains your staff not to rely on you for every single thing they need. Now you certainly would not do this if they did not have what they needed in the way of procedures, tools, and support.

There needs to be someone in charge in case of an emergency or a breakdown in systems. That does not always have to be you. You can also set it up where only a certain person or persons knows how to contact you and where you are. 

Buying It Back

Another mistake made when delegating is “buying it back.” In other words, you give your employee a task they find difficult, then take it back and say, “I’ll handle it myself.”

Though there may be times this is appropriate, don’t make it a habit because it teaches your employee that if it is hard, they can just give it back to you. It is very healthy to help them work through it, and they will eventually adopt that value system in future difficult tasks.

When they have difficulty, ask them, “What are you going to do about it?”

 At first they may say, “Who, me?!” but then you explain why you want them to work on it instead of you, and that you know they can do it.

There are also cases in which your delegate doesn’t really understand what it is you want. In this case, rephrase and refocus your instructions in different ways until they understand.

I have literally rephrased the same instructions a dozen different ways until an employee understood what I meant. At that point, the employee was off and running with the project. Also, get them to tell you what they understand, then rephrase and refocus again to clarify and clear up any miscommunication.

This is a natural process, due to different communication styles, behavior styles, and personalities. So don’t feel that something is wrong if you have to do this sometimes. 

Daily Reporting and Checklists

Daily reporting and checklists are great ways to keep everyone on track. You may want to keep a running list on a simple Word document, use e-mail or keep a hand written “to-do” list that is checked off and returned to you. Make sure you have a follow-up system like this to make sure your delegations don’t get lost into a black hole.

Having a follow-up system to recap progress also helps you to keep from overloading your employees. Between their job description, which may have a checklist of daily duties, and their to-do list, you can get a clear picture of their load.

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