The dangers of "drive-by delegation"

Ever wonder why it so hard for people to complete projects or tasks you delegate to them? Do they seem to be confused or off-track? Do they fail to make adequate progress or even seem to be working on a completely different project? Have you ever considered that it might be you? As Pogo said in the comics years ago..."We have met the enemy and it is us". If you would like to have some objective feedback about your delegation skills, feel free to take this quick quiz.

Here are a few of the real dangers to drive-by delegation (a cousin to sea gull management) that can present itself in the form of lower revenues, lower profits, higher staff turnover, and higher client turnover:

  • Poor execution

  • Wasted resources

  • Frustration

  • Lost opportunities

  • Lack of confidence in leadership

  • Loss of discretionary efforts from your team

If you are a master delegator, read no further (or read on and critique!). If you would like a thoughts on being a more effective delegator, read on!

Here are some thoughts on how you can delegate more effectively.

  • Be prepared. Write it down. Don't rely on the delegatee's notes. If this is important enough to delegate, it is important enough for you to write down the expectations. This also mean you will need to set up a meeting to discuss. Delegation is not something that should be done in passing or last minute.

  • Slow down. A sense of urgency can be a good thing but not when delegating. If you take the extra time on the front end, there will be less likelihood of failure and aggravation on the back end. Remember, unlike you, this person has most likely not been thinking about this for days/weeks and it might even be the first time they have heard of the project. Just because you think about it, doesn't mean they know it.

  • Provide clarity. Don't leave out any details because they all count. The devil is in the details did not become a saying by accident. This means you cannot assume they know anything. If this is important, it will bear repeating.

  • Connect the project to the bigger picture. Explain why it is important and how it ties into the overall success of the organization. If you can't do this easily, maybe you shouldn't be taking up someone else's time. People want to know they are contributing and you cannot expect them to connect all the dots. Be explicit as to why what you are delegating is meaningful and they will be more is that simple.

  • Involve others in creating the timeline. Don't dictate the pace at which others will work. Give them some freedom to create their own deadlines because they will have more skin in the game that way. The more of the project they feel like they own, the more likely it will be successful. If you tell them what do to, how to do it, and when to have it done expect less energy and excitement. Remember Daniel Pink's great insights on motivation - autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

  • Set up a series of "check-ins". Create points along the way to ensure everyone is still on the right track. I would suggest more frequent check-ins towards the beginning/middle as that is where projects often get derailed. Once you are sure there is a shared vision of the project and the ultimate goal (through achieved milestones), these meetings can be less frequent.

  • Ask the "delegatees" to give you their version of what you delegated. At the first meeting, set time aside for them to share with you in their words what you have delegated, why it is important, and how they plan to make it happen. This will require intentional listening but if the project is important, you will make it happen. Listening is critical because you want to hear what the delegatees are not saying as much as what they are. Ask lots of questions to ensure they are fully capable and committed to achieving the objective and not just accepting the assignment because they feel they have to.

  • Give them the resources and authority needed (because they are not you). This is the most important piece of the puzzle. They are not you so they do not command the level of responsiveness from others that you do. They may not be able to commandeer resources as easily as you can which can dramatically impact the likelihood of success. This is why preparation is vital. During the turnover meeting, you need to examine all resources needed and determine if your assistance will be needed at any point in the future to secure people or other resources needed. They also need to feel they have the authority to let you know when things are off track.

Like so many other things leaders must do, this list is simple but not easy. Funny thing is that we all know these actions could make a difference of us, our teams, and our organizations, but we still don't do them often enough. That my friends is why there is a chasm between knowing and doing. I challenge us all to jump that chasm from time to time and provide the example for our teams that we are willing to do the hard work of change..that starts at the top!

Only variety overcomes complexity

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