In many companies, “delegating” is a code for deciding who should do the stuff you don’t like doing.
The reality is that delegating is a critical leadership tool that radically increases engagement, development and performance. To get those benefits, though, you may have to re-think delegation from a top-down process where the leader decides what the direct reports should do to a different approach where you learn what others are seeking to do.
And the 3 questions I recommend below will help you do that.
Before I hand over the keys, however, you need to consider these issues – they are critical for succeeding with this method:
- You need to understand “intrinsic” motivation. The questions below relate to Daniel Pink’s work on “intrinsic” motivation — the desire to do something because of the satisfaction we get from the activity itself, as opposed to external rewards for doing it. (You can see more about there here in this Harvard Business Review Ideacast https://hbr.org/2010/02/what-motivates-us or in this TED Talk by Pink: http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation) Intrinsic motivators include autonomy, mastery and purpose. Understanding Pink’s concepts will help you make the most of the information you get from the questions.
- You need an open mind. You must be open to what your direct reports say. If you have a hidden agenda, then asking these questions will be a waste of time. It will also likely affect how willing your staff will be to answer similar questions in the future.
- You must be willing to take action. You don’t have to act on every answer, but you need to be open to tapping into the person’s intrinsic motivation to get the rewards of this style of delegating.
- Be ready for change. When you ask these questions, you are changing the culture of delegation on your team or in your firm. People will be highly motivated to take on new tasks, and that means you have to be prepared for the training, implementation and results that follow. You may need time after asking these questions to thoughtfully plan how to transfer responsibilities in the way people have requested. There’s no rush. Well-planned processes take time and you may need to slow down first to speed up later.
Here are the 3 questions.
You don’t necessarily need to ask these of everyone on your team, although that will give you the best “catalog” of what can potentially be delegated and to whom across the whole team.
Ask them in advance and then meet face to face (when possible) with each person to hear the answers. People will need time to think before they talk.
- What are you not doing now that you would like to do? Leave the question open-ended. Encourage them to list anything and everything they are not currently doing. You might frame it a little differently if you want to know, of the things you are doing, they would like to take on. That’s a fair alternative if that’s what you truly want to find out. If you are feeling nervous right about now, this thought should calm you down: You are going to learn what the person has been already thinking but hasn’t yet shared. You are not promising to deliver all they ask for. You are promising to listen and, when their goals align well with team or company goals, to find a way to get them what they seek.
- What are you doing now that you do not like doing? As with the question above, this gives them a chance to catalog what they do not like about their current job. You are not promising to change their job. You are promising to re-evaluate what they’re doing and change what they don’t like if you can. Prepare to be surprised. Often leaders mistakenly assume that because someone is doing a task – even doing it quite well – that they love it. Often, they don’t. Giving people more of the work they love and less of what they don’t is a way of switching your company from low-octane gas to rocket fuel.
- What do you think we should do with the things you don’t like doing? As with the other questions, leave this one open-ended. They may have a way of eliminating that task or deliverable in a way that makes your company more efficient. They may know someone else in the company who would love to do it. They may not have any idea at all, but it’s important to ask the question.
I encourage you to take notes during this meeting. You are asking important questions. And the data you are gathering is extremely valuable. It’s possible that no one has ever asked your employees these questions before. You want to be clear as part of the preparation for this that learning this information is the beginning of a process. You can’t guarantee or promise a specific outcome, but it is important to think critically about how to match what people are passionate and excited about doing with real responsibilities and deliverables that need to be done within your team or company.
Leaders often take responsibility for managing the delegation process. The problem with that approach is that it disengages the employee to whom you’re delegating, and tends to result in one style or method of delegation.
For example, if the leader likes to teach by demonstrating, they tend to use that method with every direct report. However, people have different learning styles, so it is important to ask them how they would like to take on the tasks and responsibilities you have targeted for delegation.
Letting them plan the process not only ensures it’s a better fit for their learning style, but it’s likely to be more efficient as well.
Another bad practice is attempting to delegate the item all at once. Delegating in stages that take place over a considerable period of time helping sure that each step of the task responsibility is well-learned before adding more to the person’s plate. Additionally, it gives them the chance to master small parts of the responsibility, which gives them greater confidence going forward.
You can delegate at different “levels,” a process covered concisely by Michael Hyatt in this blog post: http://michaelhyatt.com/the-five-levels-of-delegation.html
Using these 3 questions and an intelligent method of taking the delegation process forward can help radically change an organization. As people begin taking on tasks they are highly motivated to do, the organization grows in many ways and becomes a happier and more efficient engine for achieving your goals.
Question: What successful methods are you using to delegate in your organization? Leave a comment below!