Delegate with Clarity, Commitment, and Accountability

May 7, 2018

Delegate effectively

When business leaders learn how to delegate, the results can be amazing. Yet most leaders struggle with delegation. Reasons? Although it’s a huge time and energy saver in the long run, effective delegation requires an investment of time and energy in the short run. It also takes a dose of humility. Occupying the corner office doesn’t mean your ideas, talents, energy, and so on are superior to everyone else’s.

Effective delegators take pride and satisfaction in their ability to delegate. As former president Ronald Reagan said, “Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don’t interfere as long as the policy you’ve decided upon is being carried out.”

To delegate effectively, you must do so with clarity, commitment, and accountability. Vagueness about the work being delegated gets you nowhere. Commitment comes from conveying to the “delegatee” a sense of ownership and purpose. And accountability runs in both directions: Are we keeping our respective commitments and are we measuring results?

A 3-step process to delegate effectively

As an executive coach, I recommend three steps in the delegation process:

Identify the things you do and place them in three buckets. Bucket 1 contains the work you own. This means you may delegate tasks but not authority and responsibility for the finished product. Bucket 2 contains assignments the delegatees get to own. Bucket 3 contains work you will share ownership of—you’re willing to let the delegatee run with the assignment provided there’s oversight.

Identify people to whom you can delegate items on your buckets list. Consider a potential delegatee’s position, strengths, and availability as you delegate work. In addition, consider the growth and development potential for employees you want to retain.

Focus on clarity, commitment, and accountability when delegating the work. Use this template to hold the conversation:

  • I’d like your help with… (the “what” to be delegated).
  • If successful… (describe the end result in mind).
  • What do you think?
  • What approach do you recommend?
  • How can I help?
  • Who’ll write the follow-up email confirming steps in the action plan, including who will do what by when and with what expected results?

Key points for delegating

Remember that you don’t just delegate the “what” of an assignment. You must include the “why”—the purpose the delegation serves. Ask open-ended questions about what the person thinks of the assignment, the approach to be taken, and the contents of the action plan. This way, you delegate collaboratively as opposed to delegating down.

Lastly, make sure you have clarity and specificity regarding who’s going to do what by when, scheduled check-ins, expected results, and so forth. At the end of the conversation, do a recap. Within an hour afterward, you or the delegatee should send the other a short, to-the-point email message confirming key takeaways from the conversation.

When you give this approach a try, I predict the following results: You’ll have more time to spend in your professional sweet spot and outside of work, your stress level will decline, and the level of employee engagement, including retention, will improve. Finally, the results produced will be better than if you had toiled alone.

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About The Author

As an organization development (OD) consultant and executive coach, Jathan Janove, principal of Janove Organization Solutions, works with employers to create cultural conditions where both employees and employers thrive. His most recent book is Hard-Won Wisdom: True Stories from the Management Trenches (AMACOM, 2016). Janove was recently named in Inc. magazine’s “Top 100 Leadership Speakers for 2018.”

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