delegating Effective Delegation: Are You Delegating or Dumping?

Skilled and effective delegation is an art that most managers I’ve known, including myself, haven’t mastered yet.  In the harried rush to meet deadlines, respond to email, return phone calls, and handle crises, we try to communicate the best we can, cross our fingers, and then rush off to the next thing.  But is this most effective tactic in the long run?  Probably not — not with our paid staff and certainly not with our volunteers.

I’ve just brought aboard two fabulous new people to my team and have been considering how to work together in the most efficient way possible.  So, I’ve been watching how I communicate the tasks they will be responsible for.  We’ve been quite rushed because we are under pressing deadlines, so I’m certain I haven’t done my best in sharing what needs doing at our shop.

As I’ve distributed work to my team (all working in their home offices remotely), they’ve received minor instructions, some sample documents to emulate, and some links to sources.  I’ve also sent emails from time to time with more ideas and things to consider.  This is all well and good, but what results is additional time spent understanding the task in subsequent conversations, versus working on the task itself.

My team is talented, so it certainly isn’t their fault.  We can also all expect to need additional info from time to time.  It’s just how it is when you are collaborating.  Still, I’m left wondering how I can do better at delegating, so we can all save time and increase our productivity.

When working with volunteers, saving time isn’t the only issue at stake when poor delegation occurs.  Paid staff may be more resilient and able to accommodate a dysfunctional delegation style.  They are getting paid and have come to expect it in many workplaces.

Volunteers?  Not so much.  It doesn’t take to long for volunteers to become frustrated with the lack of information.  They may feel “dumped on” if they are assigned tasks they didn’t really agree to, or take more time than they have on hand to give.   They may become discouraged when they are asked to re-do a task multiple times because they weren’t given clear guidelines in the first place or the process for approval keeps changing on them.

Poor delegation hurts not only your productivity.  It also erodes your team morale and, ultimately your volunteer retention.  So, it bears taking a good, hard look at.  Certainly, some volunteers are able to “go with the flow” more than others.  But, by improving your delegations skills you can meet everyone’s need to have clear information and a chance to make a big difference at your organization.

Steps to More Effective Delegation

In the spirit of sharing, here’s how I’m going to try to improve my own delegation.  Maybe these ideas will help you, too.

1) Ask my staff directly how I can do better —  Different people need different information, in different ways.  So, the first step is knowing their preferences, so that I am sure to deliver info in a way that suits their needs.

2) Gather all the necessary info needed for the project BEFORE I assign it —  For example, if it’s a document, what are the graphic standards (i.e. font, layout, 508 compliance, etc.)?  What are my expectations around layout (page numbers, graphic design, etc.)  When is the interim draft due?  When is the final due?

3) Have a list handy of good examples to live up to, from the start — If there are other products or projects that have been successful, I need to share them (or links to them) upfront, before they get started; it will help folks visualize what the end result might look like.

4) Explain the concept and context around the project more fully — People need to know how the task fits into the larger picture.  Why is it important?  How does the product or project interface with others?  I want my team to know how each task makes a difference and adds to the whole.

5) Be clear about the review process from the beginning — Who will review the drafts, and how will it be decided when the final result has been achieved?  This isn’t always easy to do because some projects take more tinkering with than others.  But, if I can at least lay out a general process, it will help my team feel more in control, confident they are on track, and aware if they are not.

6) Explain how to get help, specifically — I encourage my team to contact me at any time if they have a question, but I think people really need something more concrete.  I’m a busy person, like many of you.  When can they count on my undivided attention, if they have a question?  Is it first thing in the day via email?  Is it during a 15-minute meeting they’ve requested through my calendar software?  Is it a verbal check-in at the end of the day?  I’m going to consider what works best for both myself and the other person, and then stick to it.

In the end, I’m hoping that by becoming more effective in delegation, we will all save time in the long run.  It feels like a lot to do upfront, but I’m willing to give it a try.  I’m hoping that by adjusting my style, everyone will reap rewards down the line, as we become the well-oiled machine we aspire to be.

Do you have any other delegation tips for me?  I’d love to hear them!