Getting Serious About Delegation

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You can’t do it all. Repeat after me: "I cannot do everything myself." We all know this, and yet it’s so hard to delegate. Why is this? And how do we change our ways?

A piece from SystemsRock called Why You’ve Got To Get Addicted To Delegation makes some great points on the question. And while I’m not a fan of making the word “addict” a positive thing, one quote from the article sticks out:
     • The problem is that we don’t look at delegation from an investment point of view.

     • We often say “no” to it because we mistakenly believe delegating has to be an expensive (almost a luxury), time-consuming, and possibly unmanageable situation.

This phenomenon happens all the time. I wrote a post a while back asking how much would you spend to save one minute a day? That post was about investing in technology, to help you be more efficient. I’ve also argued for getting additional screens as well as buying a newer, faster computer.

Why We Stink at Delegating

It’s really, really hard to hand off work to somebody else. The reason is basic human psychology. Here are three of the biggest factors:

     • Illusory superiority – The phenomenon that we tend to think we’re better at things than we actually are.
     • Planning fallacy – The idea that we often underestimate how long it will take to complete a task.
     • Endowment effect – Our sense of inflated value over that which we think we own.

In short, we are bad at delegating because we think we know best, we are too optimistic about how long it will take us, and we find our own work to be more special. This is a bad, bad combination.

Signs We Need to Delegate

I’ll include the original list from SystemRock:

     • All you do is work.
     • You’ve become a slave to your business.
     • Things are falling through the cracks despite your best efforts.
     • You have little to no time to yourself.

What else is there to add to that? Maybe a few things about attitude:

     • People call you a “control freak.”
     • You feel the need to re-do work that was done by others.
     • You find it hard to work with colleagues or employees.
     • You are generally tired and frustrated.

How To Delegate Successfully

It’s not easy to hand off work to other people, but there are some strategies that can be effective. For example, its good to specify the results you seek rather than the method to be used. If you are telling people how to do the work, they may have trouble meeting your expectations. But if you state what it is you want done by describing the finished product, they can find their own tools and techniques.

Another element of delegation is to expect failure to be part of the process. It’s not going to go right every time, and that’s okay. People need to make mistakes on their own to learn. Communicate up front that you know there will be ups and downs. And maybe don’t hand out tasks that are mission-critical to first timers.

Also: don’t confuse training with delegation. When you train someone, you’re showing them how to do to something in a specific way. When you delegate, you’re giving someone responsibility. Compare the difference between teaching someone how to cook a specific recipe, and asking them if they will make sure there is dinner ready for everyone by 6pm.

Finally, remember that it’s not easy being a delegate. When someone gives you the power and responsibility to complete certain tasks, it can be pretty scary! You want to do well and impress them, but also put your own stamp on the work. Have some sympathy for this person.

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