Delegation... it's relational
(Recently, I wrote about team relationships in a post called "Five reasons your boss might be doing your job" .... this is a follow up to that post.)
There are lots of ideas and resources about delegation available today. Consider FAST COMPANY’S 6 Steps for More Effective Delegation. I have found that many of these processes miss a key component: relationship.
In today’s age of collaboration and teamwork, relationship is king. In order to successfully delegate, I’ve devised a process, where at the start, you address the relational nature of your specific situation.
It is not terribly complicated; you simply need to intentionally and mutually establish three critical pieces of information, and two of them are rooted in relationships.
What are these three pieces?
They are the items that every delegated work assignment will answer—it is just a question of whether they are answered at the start, or end, of the project.
- Piece 1 has to do with Project Details: Questions that describe the project, how it will get done, why, and more. This isn’t a thorough project plan, but rather a brief description to get your conversation started. There will probably be gaps.
Pieces 2 and 3 are Relational: Yup, two “pieces” under one heading. Both are closely linked with your level of confidence in one another.
Who has the job of finding out the answers?
Whose agreement is necessary that the answers are correct, before preceding to the next step?
You might be thinking, “What about getting the actual work done?” Trust me, if you use this process, it will either get done, or you will know much earlier that it is not getting done!
What is fun about this process is that either person—the one assigning the work, or the one being assigned work—can use it.
Let’s get started.
Piece #1: Project Details
First, answer the questions listed below, that you have answers for. You most likely will not be able to answer all from the start. Ready, here you go:
What needs to be done?
Why is it needed?
When must it be completed?
Where will it be located, or operated within, or where is market?
Who will do it, and who is available?
How will we go about doing it: steps, time frame, and cost/budget?
What is at risk if we fail?
Over the course of a project, the answers to all these questions will be revealed. In poorly executed projects, they are answered too late, causing schedule delays, cost overruns, and worse.
So, to start, sketch out the answers to these questions that you have now… and move to Pieces 2 and 3. You might be thinking, “Two steps at once?” Yup, because it is all about the confidence the two people have—one for the other—quite simply, their relationship.
Pieces #2 and #3: Your relationship and level of confidence
Consider this real-life moment. “Bob, we have a problem over there. I have no idea of its extent. Can you go get it fixed and let me know when it’s done?” His reply, “On it.”
I never worried about Bob blowing the budget, misrepresenting the company to the customer, missing his other commitments, etc. In fact, I knew that he knew when to engage me. Our relationship was that thick.
I could talk about “how” my relationship got that “thick”, but that isn’t the point.
The point is, I could delegate that broadly because of my confidence. I knew that when we got to the end of the project, all the questions would be answered, and answered in a way I would agree with (or that Bob would have engaged me.)
What if everyone in your life isn’t “Bob”?
Well, with respect to confidence, we can break project details down to Four Possibilities.
- I have all the answers and can give them to the employee.
I don’t have the all the answers, but I feel like I need to find the answers before delegating because…
The employee may need additional teaching and/or
I’m uncertain of their abilities and/or
The importance of the project makes me believe I need this level of involvement.
I don’t have all the answers, and I need the person I am delegating to to find out the answers, but I want them to check back with me before moving forward.
I don’t have all the answers, and I need the person I am delegating to, to find out the answers, and I have full confidence in their ability to find the answer and move forward without checking back with me.
You could stop reading the Blog right now, and you would have the concept.
Or here’s a crazy thought—let’s list out steps of What, What, When…ask and answer which of the four possibilities applies to each—and see what that would look like!
Here is a simple picture, a way to operationalize delegating.
Simply put an X or a Check Mark, in the box that applies, and you’re ready to have a conversation.
You might have a different list of steps. No problem, just change them.
You might want periodic reports. No problem, identify any key information.
None of this is prescriptive, with one exception: be clear at each step, answer the relational // confidence questions. This might feel hard at first, but you will both grow from the process.
Sometimes a step will require two or more iterations. Cost and schedule are a function of your degree of comfort.
But imagine, imagine you have this simple table sketched out, nothing fancy, and you sit down with the person you are delegating the task to. You would naturally talk through how you are envisioning the project, what you know, what you don’t know, when you want to hear back from them. You will do all of this from your place of relationship.
If you are the person receiving the work, you might find yourself surprised, with either too much runway, or not enough. AND THAT IS PERFECT.
Because you get to have a discussion that will both clarify the project, and ask, “What could I do to demonstrate I have a better handle on that step?” Now your project is intentionally developing your skills and deepening your relationship.
In the END, you will have accomplished more than a properly delegated project. You are on your way to having your own “Bob”.