As you grow in your career and take on more responsibility, it inevitably becomes clear that you can’t handle every task on your own. Not only will taking on too much work cause burnout in just about any manager, it can also impede your career development. If you have any aspirations to reach the executive level, you’ll need to free yourself up to think strategically and take on a broader business perspective. That’s why the ability to delegate is such a vital skill.
Unfortunately, I see emerging leaders resist or dismiss the importance of delegation all the time. High-performers who are promoted to leadership positions often struggle to give up responsibility out of fear that any mistakes or failures will fall on them. Others feel guilty asking other team members to take on tasks. And ironically, some “don’t have the time to delegate.”
The reality is effective managers have to trust and respect the talents and abilities of others and delegate and distribute tasks, decisions and responsibilities appropriately. And they need to do it according to each individual’s skill sets, interests, developmental needs and areas of responsibility. Equipping your team with the skills and resources needed to be successful is critical to being able to drive accountability and direct work.
Set Clear and Visible Goals
Whether you’re delegating a small project or a major undertaking, you have to set clear goals and expectations for the task at-hand. That means not only setting an easy-to-understand end-goal to work toward, but also communicating the process needed to get to that finish line. For certain employees who may need more support, let them develop their own timeline and report to you for updates based on a schedule they set in advance.
The goals you and your employee set can include personal, team or organizational milestones — but regardless of the type of goal you should be clear about the urgency, who is responsible for the tasks and what the desired results are for the project.
Regular Progress Reviews
While leaders should avoid micromanaging projects they delegate, it’s still important to establish regular check-ins that allow your team to discuss the progress of tasks and responsibilities. These work best if you ask open-ended questions, offer feedback and provide appropriate guidance and follow-up to make sure work gets done correctly and on-time.
Rather than imposing these reviews or randomly asking for an update, I encourage leaders to let the employee handling the project manage up and establish a schedule for the updates themselves. This helps give them more ownership over the project.
Communicate the Big Picture
When delegating work, don’t simply assign the task and move on. Communicating the context for the project will help the employee understand what’s at stake for them and the organization — which increases the likelihood for success.
Start by informing them of the visibility of the project and the overall impact it will have on the company. It’s also key to explain where the initiative came from — whether it was prompted by a relatively new idea or the result of an intensive organizational effort, for example — and what’s going to be expected moving forward. If it’s an opportunity for them to demonstrate their value to upper management, don’t be afraid to communicate that to the employee. When delegating, more information is almost always better.
Use a Project Management Tool
In order to keep your projects on track and stakeholders accountable so everybody knows their role, you’ll need to implement some sort of project management system. This doesn’t necessarily mean integrating a complicated software tool — in fact, many times team members don’t fully adopt these types of applications, which can lead to confusion and inefficiency.
What’s most important when selecting a tool or framework to manage your project is that it at least allows your team to effectively track and communicate the progress of the task. This could be a simple shared document via Google Docs or just regularly scheduled meetings during which everybody involved in the project can give updates and the timeline can be adjusted as needed.
Encourage Problem Solving and Self-Reliance
When delegating, ask direct reports to propose solutions to their own questions on the project to improve their critical thinking skills and capabilities. This allows people to develop responsibility and autonomy to overcome obstacles on their own, which will help them develop into more effective problem-solvers.
That doesn’t mean you should hang people out to dry. As a leader, it’s still your responsibility to understand when your employee is struggling and help them develop a solution when they can’t figure one out on their own. I encourage leaders to approach these difficult situations as a development opportunity rather than merely fire that needs to be put out immediately. By giving them space to think critically and possibly take risks, you allow employees to learn and grow in a space that they don’t often encounter. This can be a valuable experience.
Remember that delegating and directing work is an indispensable skill for any leader and important for the health and development of any team.
Success Labs is a leadership development and management consulting firm in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. For more than 25 years, our expert team of consultants has worked with hundreds of companies to explore their business potential and improve their company and cultural performance.Contact us to get proactive about your people strategy.