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Delegation: from D'oh! To OOHH!

By Marty Stanley

Marty Stanley"D'oh!" It's what Homer Simpson says when something goes wrong.

Why is delegation one big "D'oh!" for a lot of people?

There can be some fear about delegating tasks or projects because without proper planning, a lot of things can go wrong. How often have you said something like this:

"I can do it faster."

"I can do it better"

"It will take too long to tell someone how to do it."

But what often happens is you feel swamped or overwhelmed with too much to do, and at the last minute, you might delegate a task to someone just so you can meet a deadline. If things go wrong you think, "I'll never do that again!" But remember, a key to a person's success is the ability to develop other people and delegation is one way to do it.

Here are 4 tips on how to turn "D'oh! I'll never do that again!" to "OOHH! – That's how to do it!"

Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail

Plan the delegation process well in advance of the due date. Unless you're very skilled at delegation, it's not a good idea to shoot from the hip. Some questions to guide you in this process can be:

What are the outcomes you want to achieve?What potential problems can arise?What skills does the person who will do the project need?What are appropriate checkpoints to see how things are going?

Looking for Mr. or Ms. Right
Pick a person who has the essential skills to do the task. For example, if the project or task is detailed and requires accuracy, choose a person who excels at attention to detail. Or if a project needs creative thinking, match the project to the person who shows the ability to think outside-of-the-box or has creative problem solving skills.

Delegating projects or tasks can be a good way to develop people in their careers. A lot depends on the experience of the person and the level of trust and communication that you've established, as well. One way to look at delegation in terms of development is to think about delegating for skill development or for professional development. Generally speaking, a person who has just started their career will benefit from delegated tasks related to their immediate work performed. People who are looking to climb the corporate ladder will benefit from tasks or projects that are outside of their immediate scope of responsibility and will help them go to the next level.

If you have confidence in the person, and they have an established track record of successful performance, it may be easier to delegate more complex projects that are outside of a person's skill set. These types of situations are good for delegating projects to expand a person's depth or range of skills. However, if the other person is relatively new to the job, avoid making assumptions that they're able to take on a complex project or task. Closer supervision may be required.

Communication is Key
After selecting the right person to do the work, set expectations. For example, what's the expected level of quality or quantity? What is expected regarding the completion times that are needed to be successful? Discuss how you will monitor the new process or task. It's important to be available for questions and guidance.

Another way to assure success is to make sure the person has the appropriate tools, information and /or resources. Are they available or how do they find them? When possible, walk through a few examples. For example, if you have asked someone to do an important presentation, do a thorough walk-through with him or her a couple days in advance. Make sure the room set up is correctly, audio visual aids and handouts are ready, and practice the content and flow of the material to be presented. Having a dry run of the presentation can prevent a lot of problems and provides a great coaching opportunity.

Keep the lines of communication open, so any glitches can be detected early.

Depending on the scope of the project or task being delegated, it can be a good idea to do a post-task debriefing with the person to whom you delegated the task. Good questions to ask are:

What went well in the process?What could have been done differently?What can we do in the future to improve the process?

It's important to start with the things that went well. Ask the person to describe all the things that went well first. Most people have a tendency to gloss over this and start on what didn't work, so take the time to acknowledge and give praise for work well done. Even in the most disappointing of circumstances, finding the good points and discussing them first will help the person's morale.

When discussing things that could have been done differently, again, ask the person for their input before providing your own. This will provide additional coaching opportunities, particularly if the person is overly self-critical or if they tend to blame others for their mistakes.

Finally, if the person will be doing similar tasks or projects in the future, make a list of ways to improve the process. Are there additional resources needed? Are all the materials or information available to make it smoother next time? Is more advance time needed? The debriefing process will help build skills for everyone involved as well as build relationships if done well.

Empowerment, not Abdication
Effective delegation empowers people. It empowers the person to take on more responsibility and it empowers the manager to a higher level of management finesse. Unfortunately, some managers walk away after delegating and for the other person, it's sink or swim. Abdication of responsibility is a quick ticket to failure: D'Oh! The more you coach and train others, the easier it is to delegate and it will lead to everyone's success.

About the Author

Marty Stanley, Dynamic Dialog Inc., is a national speaker, trainer, executive coach and facilitator for planning and teambuilding sessions. Contact Marty to speak at your next conference, in your organization and to facilitate your visioning, planning and team building sessions at (816) 822-4047 or


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