Tech Manager—Practical Tips for Delegating

Last month I discussed getting things done and how a book helped me tame the tangle of tasks that I had coming my way. In that book, the author reminded everyone to of his methods… Do it. Delegate it. Defer it. Delete it. Take a few minutes to go back and read last month’s article before you plough through this one. And when you do, review your list of items you have completed or delegated to others. You are delegating – right?

Delegation Tips

When you pass on work to others, always have a conversation about what you are giving them. Frame the task. Like a relay race, the riskiest thing is a botched baton pass. There are several things that might get you into troubles and they might be avoided. I have failed once or twice (or more) at each of these in the past and offer areas where you need to dial it in.

Define expectation:  Every task needs to have a defined goal. Even small ones. Do not assume that others know what you expect. Let them know exactly what a positive outcome is. Define what a completed task looks like. Be as specific as you can. If you expect a report, outline the number of pages and depth of information to include. If you want them to let you know when they are done, tell them that. If you want status reports along the way, mention when and how (just an email). If you want them to get approval at some milestone, tell them what that is and not to move on before they get approval (and in writing if that is needed).

Provide the resources: When a task requires things to get it done, provide that. If they need access to something, provide it. If they need finding, define the framework of what they can spend. If they need introductions to vendors or other staff, make sure you offer that. If they need time and relief from other deadlines, clear the way for them.

Suggest Methods: If you have an idea on how to get something done, tell them what that is. Some quick advice on what is needed, who to contact, what might help in making progress, don’t keep it to yourself. But you can also let them figure it out themselves even if you give them an idea.

Give Flexibility: Don’t handcuff them to the way you would do something. Let them use their heads in defining how something is done. If you define the outcome and they deliver that, then let them structure how they get there. You might learn new tricks as others take a different path than you would. If there is some method that they cannot do apart from you as they move along, like buying tech, changing a standard or the like, make sure they know that.

Give them authority (or limit it): When you give someone a job, make sure they are given authority to get it done. Notify others that they are working on it and will make decisions and lead along the way. Don’t keep having them come back to you for needless approvals. And make sure others know that they can make the calls needed to drive to completion. But while you grant them authority, make sure they know what they are not authorized to do, like changing the targeted outcome or due dates or whatever. Let them know they can do what they like, but not “that”.

Don’t assume they know anything: Sorry to sound negative, but do not assume that anything I mentioned above is obviously known to them. I am amazed at how often I am caught thinking that the what is obvious to me, is obvious to everyone. If you think of it, state it out loud or write it down. Some suggest that you have them parrot back everything you have said, but I find that kind of insulting. I have not been burned so bad that I have to go down that road. Respect others but try to make sure things are understood. If you get perplexed looks, ask if they understand. If you get short answers and a desire to stop talking as you are outlining the task, ask them what they understand.

You should monitor their progress: When you task others and delegate, it does not remove you from the flow of progress. You need to keep an eye on things. Check in from time to time to see what is going on and how they are getting along. Just ask a few questions… “How’s it going?” “Do you need anything from me to get this done?” “Is there anything giving you trouble?” “Are we on target to meet the deadline?” Questions like this give them an opportunity to update you or ask for help.

Don’t get Scared

Some folks do not delegate much because they are fearful of outcomes, dropped balls or others failing. So first, what happens if things go south on something you have delegated?

You can always help them

Even if you are a champion at delegating, things don’t always go as planned. Do not shrink back because you fear troubles. You still need to pass things on. Sometimes others have competing priorities, or they do not understand your timeline. Sometimes you give a task to the wrong person, and they have not yet developed the skills that you thought they had. You can always work alongside others to get things done. They still do the work, but you assist with advice, suggestions and maybe some shared workload. As you work with someone, step away or step back more and more as the get the knack of the task. As they progress forward, you step back.

You can always take it back

You really do not want to do this very often, or at all. Working alongside someone that is not running with the ball is the best way to make progress. But, if it is a total failure and the person just is not stepping up, then I suggest refocusing their efforts back to their task list or maybe swap out one task for another. Couch the conversation in gentleness. Give the person a face saving out. Using terms like “priorities changed” or “something came up that needs your talents” and give them another task that better fits their skills.

Delegating can be risky, but it is also rewarding, for others and for you. Others get to take on challenges and grow and you are freed up to focus on larger issues. Do it well and everyone succeeds.

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