(Image courtesy Shutterstock)
In my last blog, I looked at how to prepare for delegating important tasks, so that you’re free to deal with your biggest priorities and developing your team.
My client Sarah was on quite a journey and we had to start with understanding how she pulled back from taking risks because she didn’t calculate them properly. We also had to work on how her intense worry about the outcome blinded her to the need to care for her team as well as the client.
The next stage was to unpick what happened when she delegated. I was not surprised to find that she failed the four tests of whether delegating had even happened. Mostly she was dumping on her people.
The tests are simple. If you are able to say yes to each test, there’s a good chance that you will achieve more than getting something done; you’ll be building your impact, accelerating outcomes and developing a stronger organisation.
And, by the way, we are talking about the important delegating, the big stuff, the tasks that matter, not just the day to day repeated tasks. Of course the same principles apply to any delegating.
1 Do you have a clear contract?
Often bosses hand a file to one of their team and say ‘do this’. At this level, the contract is assumed to exist, yet ‘do this’ is not an adequate description of the task, and there is no quid pro quo. (‘You won’t get fired’ is not an adequate reward.) Where there’s no negotiation and agreement between two people about what the exchange is, there’s no contract. So it’s not going to work over time.
2 It’s a contract for execution, but what does ‘execution’ mean?
When you hand off a task without being clear, you’ll learn later that you had not agreed on some basic terms.
- Do we agree (in our contract) on the timing, resources available and who’s going to provide them?
- Do we agree on the standards to be applied to this particular piece of work?
- Do we have a process, within this contract, for what to do when there are difficulties?
3 Is there an agreement to learn?
Delegating big tasks is crucial to developing your team. In other words it’s a visible event, evidence, that you are leading rather than managing.
- Have you agreed to help the person learn so that the next time it’s done better and eventually they can do your role?
- Have you identified the tough parts of the task and agreed to coach or guide them through to handling them?
- Have you outlined the risks involved in not getting it right, so that the person can pull back from causing a bigger problem in time?
4 Are you using this to help them lead?
Delegating a high-level task is a great opportunity to help build depth in your team. Everyone leads differently and tough tasks bring this out in useful, low-risk ways – so long as you know that’s part of the deal.
Sarah had to completely change her approach. She had to swallow her reflex to roll her eyes and tear her team apart over every error. She shut up and let them explore a problem so that they learnt from it, without her ‘fixing’ it. Holding back was tough (‘oh, I nearly screamed at him, until he finally stumbled on the solution!’), but we flipped her perspective by calling those meetings ‘warm zone’ meetings.
One day, Sarah said ‘Well, that was an interesting moment! I’ve just come from a warm zone meeting – I was nearly going nuts in there until he suddenly got it. I approved his plan immediately and he said, ‘Thanks for that! It was a bit tough but I finally got it thanks to your guidance.”
She looked at me with a smile. ‘You know what?’
‘It was the shortest meeting we’ve had on this issue. And I did not say a word the whole way through. I just nodded or frowned at the right spots, and he got there by himself. So that’s one big thing off my desk forever; he can do all of them now.’
To those who have been through the wringer already on this, it might seem obvious that you use tough tasks to help your people lift their standards, learn new things and learn to lead. But the breakthrough that a high solo performer such as Sarah achieves by becoming good at delegating in this clear, structured way, can be a revelation. For Sarah, though she didn’t know it, it was one key reason why she went from the list of struggling partners to the list of stars within a year.
Taking up a new role is fraught with risk, uncertainty and doubt. Create the CELL – a Contract, for Execution, Learning and Leading – when delegating important tasks to your team and you’ll build depth that supports you in performing to your best.