This article was based on episode 80 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Get the mini-guide here or the full guide when you become a member at mamieks.com/join. Purchase a single full guide at mamieks.com/store.
My father said something recently that caught my attention: There are two ways to extend yourself, allowing you more time to do the things you want or need to do. The first is through automation–our ability to design and use tools and processes do existing tasks faster or with enhanced quality. The second is through delegation–the ability to assign a request to someone else and have them successfully complete it.
The challenge with delegating is that it’s often harder to do than we expect. After many frustrating attempts, it’s easy to revert to doing things yourself. But remember, delegating enables you to free your time. Think of what you could do with those newfound hours! Grow your business, develop new skills, enjoy time with friends or family, exercise, sleep, practice a hobby...the list is endless.
Knowing how to delegate work is a critical skill for any manager. But skill isn’t all that matters. Too often we self-sabotage delegation efforts in part because of our fears. In order to delegate effectively, you must shift the way you think about delegation.
STOP MAKING EXCUSES
Time after time, I hear managers complain about failed delegation efforts. Here are a few of the thoughts I’ve personally had which reflect the sentiments of other managers:
This is important and I don’t trust this other person to do it right. I’m afraid they’re going to mess it up.
Last time I delegated, it took the other person three times longer than it would have taken me if I just did it myself. I’m so much faster.
I delegated, but then what I got back was wrong, and it took me almost as much time to fix their work as if I had just done it myself to begin with.
If I’m being honest, I really like doing this particular work. I don’t want to delegate it.
It would take me way too long to explain to someone else how to do this. It’s so complicated, it’s not worth trying to teach someone else.
I don’t know who I’d delegate this work to. I’m not sure I have the right person on my team.
It can often feel like delegating just isn’t worth it. The risks feel too great while the payoff too minimal. Yet, when done well, everyone wins. The key is to have the right mindset along with a solid process. Before you give up on delegating, consider if your fears can be overcome by shifting your mindset and applying right approach.
GET OVER YOUR FEARS OF DELEGATING
Any time we create an excuse, we should explore the underlying emotions and reasoning. Start by asking why and keep asking why until you arrive at a core explanation. When it comes to delegating, here are some common fears, all of which I’ve personally experienced:
I’m afraid people will think less of me when the other person screws up. I’m worried their mistake will reflect poorly on me.
I’m nervous it will actually cost me more time or energy, and I just don’t have the time or energy to spare.
I’m concerned that when I give up something I enjoy and replace it with something I don’t, I’ll be less satisfied at work and in life.
These fears are reasonable. Therefore the mindset shift is not about disregarding your fears, but rather containing them and following a process to ensure they won’t come true.
DELEGATE THE RIGHT THING
If you’re concerned you’ll lose your job, lose a client, lose the respect of your boss or you team members, you may be looking at tasks that are too important or complex to delegate at first. Before jumping in with a “high profile” ask, try one of these:
Delegate a task, not an outcome.
Tasks are specific action items the other person can complete. For example, book a reservation at this restaurant for the company holiday party, scheduled these posts on social media, or call this customer to check in on the service they received. There’s often a ‘best’ or ‘right’ way to complete a task.
Outcomes, on the other hand, are more like goals in that they are less straightforward. For example, plan the company holiday party, increase our Instagram following by 10%, or secure extended contracts with two current customers. You can provide direction, but the levels of variability, ambiguity and uncertainty are often outside anyone’s control.
To build trust early on, start by delegating tasks. As you and your team member become better at communicating around delegated work, and you both become more confident in their capabilities, you can expand by delegating outcomes. (Note that as you move up in the organization’s structure, it’s more expected and appropriate to delegate outcomes.)
Delegate a portion of a larger piece of work.
It’s OK to want to keep control over the end result until you’ve established trust. In these cases, consider delegating a component of the work rather than the full or final piece. For example, a team member can research vendor options and make a recommendation to you. Or, once you’ve generated the content, a graphic designer can create visuals for your social media posts.
The other approach is to delegate the first draft, giving you a chance to see what they can do while ensuring you’ll have time to weigh in. For example, ask a team member to create the first draft of an article with your role as editor. Or, have your colleague develop the initial strategic analysis with the expectation that you’ll enhance it before presenting to the client.
THINK LONG TERM
It’s true. Delegating well takes more time up front which can make it harder to do. But, for recurring work, that initial cost is generally worth it in the long run.
Calculate the time ROI.
Imagine this: You do a task every week and it takes you 30 minutes to complete. To delegate for success, you estimate it will take you 4 hours (240 minutes) of preparation and support during the first week and 10 minutes every week after. Should you delegate this task?
Probably. In short, you’re spending an extra 210 minutes in week one, but after that, you’re saving 20 minutes per week. That means that by week 12, you’re netting additional 20 minutes of time. Do that with 3 tasks per year and you’ve gained a full hour per week!
The hard part, of course, is finding the time up front when it already feels like you’re stretched too thin. Consider delegating discrete stages one at a time rather than all at once. This simplifies the knowledge transfer and it makes it easier for the other person to slowly take on greater responsibility.
It’s not about you, it’s about them.
Sometimes delegating isn’t actually about you. Instead, it’s about creating an opportunity for a team member to develop their skills and grow in their career. By giving them a chance to take on this work, your creating a situation in which they can spread their wings and see what they’re capable of.
So go ahead and ask them to create the slide deck or write up the report, or speak on a panel, or take the lead on the project. If they’ve shown interest and capability in a specific area, lean into it and let them make mistakes in a safe environment. Take your role as coach and supporter seriously, so even if it does take the same amount of your time, and even if you’re still enhancing their work or correcting their mistakes, they’re learning from you and building new muscles.
FOCUS ON WHAT IS GAINED
There are parts of my job that I really enjoy even though I know that a professional would do it better. It’s hard to let go of what we love.
How might you spend your time?
Rather than focusing on the loss, think about what you’ll gain. What can you add to your plate that you otherwise wouldn’t have time for? Could you leave work early once per week or take a night off from working after your kids go to bed, and spend that extra hour with your family? Could you take on new responsibilities at work and develop your skills for the future?
Do some but not all.
If you really want to do the work, is there a way you can do part but not all of it? How might you divide the work into discrete segments so it’s clear what you’ve delegated and what you’ve held onto? For example, if you love talking with potential clients, maybe you do the initial meeting but have someone else manage the follow up calls. Or if you enjoy finalizing the financials for the quarterly budget review maybe you do Q1 and Q3 and a colleague does the other quarters.
IT’S TIME TO MAKE TIME
What might you be holding onto that it’s really time for you to let go? What unfounded fears have you be letting control you, and by extension, taking up your valuable time that could be spent in more valuable ways?
Delegating gets easier over time. It starts with the mindset and follows with a solid process for planning, communicating and following through with support. You must set the person up for success whether its a small task or large outcome, they’re skilled and experienced or a complete novice, you’re handing over part or all of the work.
To learn more about delegating effectively check out my course Make More Time: Everything a manager needs to know to delegate successfully. Check out prior episode 22: Keys for Successful Delegation with guest Dave Stachowiak.
Get the mini-guide here or the full guide to help you identify and overcome your delegation fears when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at mamieks.com/join. Or, purchase any individual guide at mamieks.com/store to help you implement the learnings and continue to enhance your rockstar manager skills.