I’ll share with you one of my top five most valuable lessons from grad school. Whenever you delegate a task [to anyone–be it a peer, subordinate or superior] the transaction should consist of the following structure: how much, of what, by when and follow up. Those four things–properly and consistently followed–will make you an effective executive. It’s amazing how simple it is, but I’m here to tell you how powerful it is, and how surprisingly few follow it. A little more detail:
- How much: provide expected quantity or depth of the completed task. do you want detailed or summary review? Two pages of written comments? Five minutes of review? An hour of their time? You get the idea.
- Of what: clearly specify the object of the delegation. what is the output or the outcome of the delegation? Equally important in some cases is to specify what’s *not* included.
- By when: perhaps the most often overlooked component of a delegation is specifying when you need it completed. Specifying a due date is what converts a positive intention into a committed agreement. Successful executive create very clear agreements and they focus on keeping them as well.
- Follow up: by accepting the obligation to follow up, we remind ourselves that delegating does *not* change the responsible party. The person who *gives* the delegation remains responsible, not the person who’s received it. In my experience, this point is lost on many managers and they adopt the fallacy of blaming the delegated-to party for not performing. This pattern is probably responsible for more ineffective organizations than any other. So if the delegator retains responsibility, they need to “follow up” meaning, at some reasonable interval prior to the agreed due date, they touch base with the delegatee to ask “how’s it going?” So that any snags can be discussed / resolved or if the delegatee is struggling to meet the due date, etc. By accepting this step as an integral part of delegation, it makes the delegator more conscious of the relationship and its dynamics [as in I’m still responsible for getting this done, so I better follow up] which all by itself makes delegation more effective.
So to review, the essential four steps of effective delegation are “how much, of what, by when, and follow up.”