So you’ve decided to delegate some of your responsibilities. Great!
I’d love to tell you that this is the end of your issues, but that really isn’t the case. HOW you delegate matters at least as much as WHAT you delegate.
Let’s look at an example from my own experience:
I worked with a manager who had delegated the responsibility of writing the company newsletter to one of my colleagues.
With every newsletter, they would inevitably rewrite the whole thing, because they didn’t like it. BUT, and this is crucial, they almost never explained why they changed certain parts. The result is that it took my colleague a very long time to understand what, exactly, was considered a good newsletter.
Here’s another one. I worked with a manager who delegated large parts of an important investor deck to their team. After the initial briefing, the team got to work. Feedback on early versions was always that it “looks good”. Then, when the team handed in the final presentation, the manager provided a flood of critical feedback. Suddenly, the team had to rush to implement the feedback before the presentation was due.
Situations like these are actually pretty common. But they don’t have to be! As a manager, you can make a choice to become better at delegation.
Three steps to better delegation
Here are three simple things you can do to improve your delegation game, adapted from advice by leadership coach David Kline:
1. Accept that they’ll do it differently
This first step is crucial. People can’t read your mind, and they bring a different set of experience and skills to the table. As a result, they’ll do things differently. With a bit of communication, you can turn this into “different, but better”.
Let’s say you’re a community manager and you want to delegate part of the community communication to your junior colleague. Chances are, they won’t have the exact same communication style that you do. But as long as you agree on the core guidelines, that really doesn’t have to be an issue. Instead of debating the preferred amount of exclamation marks and emoji usage, focus on empowering them to make the job their own. Different, but better.
2. Set explicit expectations
People can’t help you if they don’t know what you expect from them. So make it easy for them to know. Make sure that you share your expectations in a way that is 1) goal-oriented, and 2) written down. Goal-oriented, because you want to be aligned on the WHY before getting into action steps, and you want to write down as much as you can to provide appropriate context for the WHAT and HOW.
So what do you write down? Consider this framework from 360delegation, who encourage you to write down the following in detail:
Vision: What needs to happen and why?
Resources: What will they need to successfully execute on the task?
Definition of done: What do you need to sign off on the task?
By sharing all of this, you’re taking the guesswork out of the transaction. So let’s consider another example. Let’s say you are a Lead Artist, and you’re delegating character art to a colleague. You could just say “make some cool characters and show me”. Or, you could provide the appropriate context and better set them and yourself up for success. What would happen if you could share answers to (some of) the following questions up front:
- What is the role of the characters?
- What is their role in the game?
- When is the deadline?
- Is there documentation to provide more context for these characters?
- Are there finished designs that can serve as an example?
- Do they need input from any colleagues?
Definition of done
- How do you want to receive the final files?
- How many variations do you want to see?
- Are there elements they absolutely need to have?
- What level of detail do you need?
Making your expectations explicit and sharing them upfront makes everyone’s work a lot easier.
3. Trust, but verify
Don’t turn your back once you’ve delegated. Verify that things are being done according to the specs you provided. Give feedback early, and plenty of it. Share what you like and what you’d change and — this is crucial — share WHY that is. This is the number one thing that lets you develop a shared understanding of what’s important, and will help them get better over time.
Let’s circle back to the investor presentation for this one. It would have been much better if the manager had provided critical but positive feedback in earlier phases, rather than waiting until the very last moment. Even if you think they’ll probably fix errors and omissions in the process, tell them what you see and what you’re thinking. Having these types of conversations is critical to getting and staying on the same page with your team.
And that’s it!
Delegation can be tricky to get right, but following these steps will save you loads of time and headaches. Now get out there and unload your responsibilities on others, responsibly.
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