Impact Insights Blog

Delegating is Hard to Do and You Need to Do It Right!

February 13, 2020


As I’ve blogged about previously, marketing PR leaders can’t  counsel the C-Suite while they’re busy running events. Agency owners can’t generate new business while up to their eyeballs running the business they currently have, and communications leaders (whether at a  travel destination, non-profit organization or marketer) can’t focus on strategy while mired in tactics.

Since you can’t create more hours in the day, your only possible choice is effective delegation.

I’m still surprised by the numbers of professionals who report having trouble doing this, or worse, don’t realize that this is a skill they sorely need but lack.

In full transparency, during my consumer marketing PR agency days, delegating was an issue for me. You may suspect it’s one for you as well.  A great way to confirm this is to find someone who reports to you, stare them right in the face, and ask: “Do you think I could delegate more effectively?”

Their eyes will tell you all you need to know.  If you don’t like what you see, here are a dozen tips that I believe you’ll find helpful, and I sure wish someone had shared with me, back in the day:

  1. Don’t Wait For Responsibility to Be Taken.Many leaders and senior executives with whom I speak mention their frustration that staff members don’t ask for more responsibility. I tell them if they’re waiting for this, it’s going to be a long, lonely wait, and their delegation plan is doomed to fail.

Many team members don’t ask for more responsibility because they think they’re too busy, have fear of failure or, based on previous experience or observation, don’t truly believe you’ll give them what they want: ownership.

Have a plan to overcome these by a) giving them added support from those who report to them, or perhaps more realistically, the tools they need to become better time managers; b) encourage them to take educated risks and let them know you’ll be their safety net; and c) demonstrate your lack of interest in owning the assignment or role.

So don’t wait for responsibility to be taken. Instead, as the Red Hot Chili Peppers once sang “Give it away/give it away/give it away/give it away now!”

  1. Ban “I’ll Just Do It Myself”When we start to delegate, we often find the work isn’t up to our standards. If we take a sub-part assignment back and re-work it, we’ve missed an important learning opportunity, for both the staffer and the leader. So fight the urge to do the work yourself, and instead invest that time in coaching the pro into how they can turn their first draft into a piece of work that does the job. You may be surprised at how well the second draft comes out. More important, you’ve increased both your comfort levels in that staffer taking on more of work that you thought only you could do.
  2. Focus on the “What,” Not the “How.”Real development can only occur when the staffer has true ownership of an assignment. It’s always tempting to lay out exactly how the team member should complete a assignment, run an account, or do any of the jobs we used to do.  And that, my friends, is what’s known as “Delegation Fail.”

So fight that urge!

Instead, articulate discuss what the end result must be, and let them determine how to get there. You’ll not only be encouraging enhanced assignment ownership but laying the foundation for the employee to contribute on a higher level going forward. Common sense dictates that someone will complete a job better if they feel a sense of ownership, and that can only occur when they figure out the “how.” So let them!

  1.  Articulate Your Vision. This is not time for guessing games. Whenever you delegate, be it an assignment or your entire former job, it’s critical to make clear how the person will be judged, what success looks like, and the task’s goals and stretch goals.
  2. Go For Completion, Not Perfection.Of course, I mean effective, quality completion, that meets your organization’s standards for excellence.

That said, unless you’re Michelangelo creating the statue of David, perfection is impossible to achieve. So how is asking your staffer to achieve the impossible motivating or setting them up for success?

For many, that push towards perfection is simply an excuse to not allow someone else to own a task or project. Be satisfied with the fact that the person to whom you’ve delegated the assignment won’t do as good a job as you would have. And remember that in the big picture, their “Very Good” job on the task is actually better than your “Excellent” job, because you’re now doing your real job, whether that’s setting the long-term vision for your organization or department, counseling the CEO, building the business, or other critical tasks that are the most important part of your job.

  1. Observe How They Do It Better Than You.You can’t give away ownership and expect the “delegatee” to use all of your existing methods. Know they’ll do it differently, and know that’s a good thing:

One of the benefits of delegating–a task, a entire project, or leading a sub-group of employees–is that the person to whom you’ve delegated to will bring a new set of eyes, skills and experience.  While they might not do it as you would do it, they’ll most likely improve it in some way. Be on the lookout for this. It will make you feel comfortable delegating even more to that staffer, and may open your eyes to other assignments in which they’ll be particularly successful and bring even greater value to your organization, your prospects, and stakeholders.

And here’s something else: Many of the professionals who work for you will actually do things better than you. That both strengthens your organization and allows you to focus on your most critical roles: Setting the vision, creating the strategy, giving senior counsel and, as appropriate, growing the business.

  1. Get in the Delegation Mindset.Decide that you have no other choice but to delegate. On your calendar, enter specific time to think about which roles, responsibilities and assignments can be done by your next-in-command or others. And commit in writing to giving those assignments away, because when we write something done we’ve increased exponentially, the chance that we’ll actually take action.
  2. Never ask “Is this clear?” or “Do you understand?,”as the answer will inevitably be “yes.”  That’s because they understand what they understand.  It doesn’t mean they understand everything they must to satisfactorily complete the assignment.  So get the person talking by asking open-ended  questions.  Have them describe their vision of success for the project or assignment and make sure that what they articulate is in sync with your overall view.
  3. Provide the Safety Net:People won’t take risks, explore new ways of doing things and look for added efficiencies unless we eliminate their fear of failure. Let them know that you not only have faith in their ability to complete the task and succeed in their new role, but that you’re there to assure that they won’t fail. Equally important, let them know that if they do fail, you fail together. Mostimportant, let them know that failure is a critical detour on the road to success.
  4. Know It Will Be Uncomfortable:Delegating can be a little uncomfortable for the person getting the new responsibility, and veryuncomfortable for you, the person giving it away. Accepting this upfront will make it easier to accept.
  5. Fight The Urge!: When things get rocky, when they take longer than expected, when you can’t stand the first result, you’ll be tempted to take back the work, with the words “I’ll just do it myself.” Fight that urge!  While doing so might get this one assignment done more quickly, it can harm both your staffer’s confidence and your relationship, but more important, it will prevent you from doing your most critical jobs. So do take the long-term view, don’t take back work you’ve delegated, and you’ll both succeed.
  6. If It’s Not Working:If this happens it’s tempting to blame the staffers to whom you’re delegating. Stop it.  Delegation frequently hits a roadblock because you’renot doing it well. So instead of falling into the trap of doing everything yourself, spend time candidly assessing what’s not working and in particular, your role in the process.  Accept the fact that you may have delegation roadblocks. Take a long hard look at what they are, create a specific plan to overcome them and take action.

I hope these tips provide value you and encourage you to start to delegate and to do so more effectively. Please reach out if you believe you or others on your team need more help in effective delegation.

Ken Jacobs is the principal of Jacobs Consulting & Executive Coaching, which empowers PR and communications leaders and executives to breakthrough results via executive coaching, and helps communications agencies achieve their business development, profitability, and client service goals via consulting and training. You can find him at @KensViews, or on LinkedIn.