The Delecate Art of Delegating

Throwing that ball up and passing it to your people to catch is tough. Delegation is a thorny issue for many bosses who prefer to do the job themselves. But a good leader gets more satisfaction when able to get others to do tasks at expected high standards.The worst thing a boss can say is "It's going to take me two hours longer to explain this to my employee than if I just do it myself." Then you justify this to yourself: The quality and standard is better, plus the job is done.
But what about the employee? Where is their challenge, their opportunity to grow?The owner of a teen computer camp shared with me his frustration over his staff and their botched efforts at doing the job. How could he motivate his team to work at, or close to, his level? If the boss had used a little bit of emotional savvy, he would have seen the employee physically deflate, her spirits sinking faster than when the judge told Paris Hilton she had to do time, again.
What this approach to delegating misses is that a few hours of rigorous coaching will save hundreds of hours over the next year, freeing up time for revenue- generating tasks and for taking more responsibility yourself. A reputation for teaching is gold. Star performers gravitate toward companies that train skills and push them to embrace scary tasks that challenge. Bill Gates, despite his questionable haircuts, set an outstanding performance level for programmers; this itself attracted talent. But Gates was able to balance the creative tension of setting the standard by encouraging the programmers to meet – and overshoot – expectations.
As the boss, your role is to instill the highest standards of performance and adherence to a shared vision of excellence. Only then can you up the ante and really let go. If you are having problems delegating, mull over these three questions:
1. Am I recruiting in the same old places, in the same old way? I read a business plan for a nail manicure franchise and was astounded by the suggestion to hire university students part time. That's when it hit me that many more people are going to university and ending up in low end jobs. To help their graduates, universities have terrific job posting internet services. The teen tech camp owner hired students from Waterloo's co-op program who were thrilled to work in a tech environment rather than flip burgers (or paint nails).Make it a rule to hire people who are smarter than you. In the interview, talk about the high level of work expected until their eyes pop. The stars will be excited by the expectations, and you don't want the ones who say "no" anyway.
2. Have I really defined my standards?The process of delegating is as fragile and complex as weaving a spider's web. How are you going to teach your skills and level of expectations? How can you illustrate how the end result should look? How can you make sure employees get the job done – building a web to catch the flies – even if it's not quite how you would have done it yourself?With an early-stage business, such as the teen tech camp, there may not be enough in place to show how to do the job. Asking employees to come up with their role and the end result that they think is expected is one way to build up a training culture. Another tactic: Don't underestimate the role of storytelling and myths in building the results you expect. For centuries, little children have been told fairytales to prepare them for "real" life. It works. Business magazines are full of tales of how an employee ran through a burning building for their client. Get one of these stories in your culture too.
3. Am I prepared to let go?Ask yourself this: Do I really step away when I delegate? Once I've set the standards, do I really let go? Alarm bells should go off if you hear your employees saying, "We know you are just going to change everything we do anyway."
Working with managers and being one myself, my experience is that disasters happen when I have not been clear about the end result and I keep popping my head in randomly, interfering with the process.

1 comment:

Ingrid M said...

Delegation is truly an art. You have to be secure in your own abilities and willing to let go. I think you hit the nail on the head when you suggest hiring someone smarter than yourself. Finding a person who is enthusiastic and willing to do what it takes to help you succeed (whatever their age) is the first step.