When was the last time you or your nonprofit board delegated something? Better yet, when was the last time you should have delegated something but didn’t? Effective delegation is an art and often lacking, but by following a few simple steps it becomes easier and can spur growth and sustainability in an organization.
In the grand scheme, there is no lack of tasks to delegate, and yet few people can do it effectively. Communication and leadership is the foundation of this art of delegating effectively, with some psychology thrown in for good measure. It’s no surprise that for some, the mere mention of the word may conjure up anxious feelings. Let’s face it, Elsa may have been able to "Let it Go" in Disney’s “Frozen,” but many leaders struggle with that action.
So how does one overcome the negative lens through which they see delegation? Psychologically, it’s beneficial to provide a more positive connotation and create energy around the project by focusing on the potential it holds. It helps to adopt a mindset where a task is being "transferred," not "gotten rid of" or to recognize that you can give “an opportunity for growth" to someone else. In the big picture, delegation is certain to advance an individual and the organization since it broadens the base of engagement.
Delegation, as we like to remind clients, is a process. The three steps in this new-found skill require you to delegate some of your pet projects in addition to the mundane ones, through identification, letting go and reviewing the process.
First, be certain that the task you choose to delegate is appropriate for delegation. Once you’ve decided you can let go of the task (which may be the most important hurdle) then seek out someone to nurture it. Select the person(s) to whom you will delegate with care and provide them with the reason why they were selected. Ideally, you have someone in the ranks, paid or volunteer, that will cherish the opportunity and want to grow in their career. Recognize they may not be equipped to take on the task without additional training or resources. Yes, quite often you could do it faster yourself, but what does that do in the long run for the organization or the delegate? It’s time to suffer some short-term pain for the long-term gain that awaits. Spend the extra time required in communicating expectations and come to an agreement that they have the tools and resources they need to succeed.
Be certain you can define the measurement, expected outcome, and timeline when you start the delegation process. Be realistic in those expectations. Communicate them and solicit input to ensure success. Be specific in what you want done, but not necessarily how to do it. There may be times the “how” is required, but nothing stifles creativity more than putting boundaries around a task. In fact, some of the best solutions and next-level ideas have never seen the light of day due to micromanagement of the process by the delegator. Having been on the receiving end of that type of delegation over my career, my advice is… don’t do it. Jointly determine the level of delegation expected to avoid any confusion or disenchantment.
Nonprofits can be the worst offenders. Boards and individuals could almost always be more effective and efficient if they were able to delegate better. In consulting, I often find that their problem is not with "how" they can delegate as much as it is with control. Boards will often state "We can’t find a volunteer that will…" or "We need more volunteers." While in rare cases that’s true, I’m often surprised at how frequently the problem is with the individual or board doing the delegating. They simply don’t spend enough time investigating the options or are not willing to give up enough control. Ultimately, they want to retain a hold on their personal vision, however limiting that may be for the organization.
Delegation requires professional review which can take on a variety of forms. It may be as simple as a regular, follow-up email or a more formal face-to-face meeting that covers progress and questions. Guard against disconnect, which sits opposite micromanagement, at the other end of the delegation continuum. The delegate needs to have a feel for how they are doing and what their efforts may mean in the big picture. Return to the agreed-upon, expected outcomes for the final review, and celebrate success. Encouragement and gratitude go a long way in ensuring the delegate feels appreciated and heard. While recognition can come at the time of evaluation, remember that it is more effective if done throughout.
In the end, delegation takes time and commitment but is always a valuable process. Most importantly, you and your organization can realize a significant return on investment and it will resonate across the organization when done well.
David J. Fry is president/CEO of Effective Advancement Strategies in Greensburg.