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What most bosses do
Most bosses will attempt to “delegate”a task by telling a subordinate what to do once and then throwing them into the fire, hoping they’ll survive.
A common justification I hear from managers is, “I had to learn the hard way, so why can’t they?”
I have 2 responses for you:
1. Your goal as a manager is to help the people around you to do awesome work. If they suck, you suck!
2. Remember… THEY’RE NOT YOU (yes, I’m yelling here). Don’t compare where they are now with what you know after 5 or 10 years in the industry.
Delegation is a process
I remember learning about the 4 levels of delegation in university. It was eye opening for me and it helped me clarify a lot of issues.
I'd already been running a business for a few years before this and sometimes I have difficulty understanding why some people would be able to understand my delegation and others wouldn’t. With some people, I’d have to constantly repeat myself and they never seemed to catch on to being delegated. I was completely frustrated.
Looking at delegation as a process allowed me to approach every employee differently and it helped me jump light years ahead in how I managed others.
As I was writing this post, I tried to find the name of the person who originally wrote this, but couldn’t. Anyway, here are the 4 stages of delegation as defined by me.
Stage 1: Direction
In a nutshell, direction is you telling your subordinates exactly what to do.
Employees who have relatively limited experience in a particular area will often need direction.
The hardest part with using a directed approach to delegation is that it seems painstakingly slow. Most bosses have been around for a long time and sometimes forget how hard it can be to learn something new.
It's not a bad thing to need direction, and in some cases it’s your experienced people who need the step-by-step direction. It comes down to the employees expertise and confidence in that particular area.
If there are five steps to a process, you'll tell them exactly what to do step by step by step. In most cases where direction is required, it’s best to put the instructions in writing so that the subordinate can refer back to them during the task.
An employee may tell you they understand what they`re supposed to be doing (They may in the beginning), but after a few hours or days, that employee may need a refresher on what the original instructions were.
This should in no way be looked at as a failure on their part, but rather a natural step in their progression from novice to expert.
Stage 2: Limited Direction
Stage 2 moves away from Direction and starts the progression towards what I call Pure Delegation (
Stage 2 is all about you getting the employee to help put together the pieces of the puzzle. As the manager, you’ll be tempted to fall back into Stage 1 thinking, but you have to force yourself to take the time to let the answers come out of them.
Build on what they already know from previous and current projects, as well as “common sense,” answers to come up with a plan that they’ve had a hand in creating.
Start the Limited Direction Delegation session with a few open ended questions or phrasing like:
- Using what you’ve learned so far in this role…
- How would you approach this?
- What do you think is the best solution?
- “Wow, that’s interesting. Give me more details…”
- What’s a good first step?
- Do you remember project X? Could we use any of that here?
- “Hmmm. So, how would you do that?”
- What kind of time-frame are we looking at?
Caution: Be careful to stop the knee-jerk reaction of instantly shooting down any of their suggestions that don't line up with your way of doing things. Thinking weird ideas usually means something innovative is about to come out. What I love most about new blood into an organization are the fresh ideas that these people bring.
By the end of your meeting, you can come up with a plan of action together, with a reasonable set of tasks and an accurate time line. You’ve guided the direction, but they feel like they have more control over the actions.
This will take a lot more time at first, but it’s well worth it. Good coaches teach people how to be more effective by asking good questions. By learning how to prompt your subordinates to come up with good ideas, you’re effectively coaching them on how to come up with good outcomes every time.
Once they know how to ask good questions themselves, they’re then ready to move onto Stage 3.
Stage 3: Guided Delegation
I call Stage 3 Guided Delegation.
This is where the bulk of the work is now in the hands of the subordinate.
It might seem like there’s a blur between Stage 2 and Stage 3 and that`s fine. As you work your way through the process with someone, you can pull in elements from the different stages to fit the needs of your specific situation.
At this point, you can start handing off responsibilities and choices, but still be involved with the final decisions involved with the project.
The goal is to have the employee do virtually all the work on the project, just like in a pure delegation case, except that you are still approving the process before any work begins, and you are monitoring completed tasks from time to time.
A typical Stage 3 scenario might play out like this:
- You say, “Here’s what needs to be done. Please bring me a summary of how you’ll do it and how long it will take.”
- The subordinate goes off and prepares the plan.
- You review the plan and either approve it, or ask probing questions similar to Stage 2 to flesh out the project until it’s ready.
- The subordinate does the work, and provides periodic updates on progress
- You approve the work and provide feedback on where they can improve AND what they did well.
- Repeat until you’re seeing consistent results. then move on to Stage 4.
Stage 4: Pure Delegation
Stage 4 is the holy grail for most managers. This is where you call someone into your office for 30 seconds saying, “Take care of the Johnson report,” and it gets done.
Having employees who are able to handle Stage 4 Delegation is very powerful, but using Pure Delegation can open up the door for massive problems as well. Giving someone a huge task and not following up on it can leave you in a bad situation, so rather that close your eyes and hope for the best, just take things slowly and gradually ease into Pure Delegation.
I highly recommend using a checkpoint system as you transition into Pure Delegation Mode. The checkpoints can be as involved as reviewing the actual work completed, or as simple as saying, “Send me a quick email when you’ve finished tasks A, B, and C.”
It’s not a race… seriously…no I mean it…don’t rush
I know you’ll probably want to rush to Stage 4, but please take your time.
In the beginning I would always push people up to Stage 4 too soon. My excuse was that I was too busy to do the first 3 stages. Sometimes things would work out OK, and sometimes I’d get burned because work wasn’t done (Or wasn’t done right).
Luckily, I’ve seen first hand what can happen when you take your time and work on an individual delegation plan with each employee.
Getting to Pure Delegation usually takes a lot of time and effort, but if you and your subordinates can progress up to this level, the success you experience on a daily basis will be like nothing you've ever see.