One of the challenges of delegation is that it often gets boiled down to the boilerplate, “Delegate and elevate.” This is one of those management quips that makes complete sense when one hears it, but leaves a new manager wondering, How in the world do I do that?
The difficulty of delegation rests in part on the fact that it takes time. You have to communicate why you’re delegating a task. Then you have to train your report. Then you have to coach him or her. Then, most important, you have to follow up and make sure your report performs the work at the level it needs to be. As Andy Grove said, “Delegation without follow through is abdication.”
For each of these steps, the means for effective delegation shifts with the needs of the employee. Sabina Nawaz, writing on Harvard Business Review, offers a useful tool called the Delegation Dial to help determine what approach is needed to effectively delegate to a team member. The tool is based in part on the hierarchy of competence, a learning model that categorizes the steps one moves through as they become competent with a task or skill. The Delegation Dial can help you identify the means to effectively delegate to an employee based on your report’s expertise in a given area. Here’s how it works:
You might think you can simply tell a report what to do, and you’ve got delegation covered. But in many cases, you must show your report how the work needs to be done. In this case, delegation requires pulling up a chair so the employee can shadow you doing the task so they can learn for next time.
Stop two on the dial is Tell, where you help a report work through a task or project by being explicit about what to do—literally listing the steps to take. However, the report won’t necessarily understand why you’re approaching the task in this way, so Nawaz recommends encouraging self-reflection. “This can help her synthesize learnings in a way that’s meaningful to her,” she says.
With Teach, you dive into why you approach a task or initiative in a certain way. For instance, if you’re delegating process ownership, this provides the context of why the process was set up in the first place. By sharing this perspective, you give the report greater understanding for how they will do the work. In addition, they have greater ownership of the process and can make improvements within this shared context.
Our reports don’t always realize how much they do know about a task or process. At the Ask stop on the Delegation Dial, you strive to cede increasing autonomy to your team member by asking what they have learned. “A few specific questions, such as, ‘What is a key insight from this process that can you carry forward?’ may allow her to realize she knows more than she thought,” Nawaz says.
The final stop on the dial is Support. Here, you continue to check in with your report on the work you’ve delegated to them. “Schedules change, stakeholders create new priorities, and wrinkles develop,” Nawaz says. “Let her know you’re available to support her as needed.” I find 1:1s are helpful for this—a simple, “How is that going?” can reestablish clarity for you and your report on their comfort with the work.
Also published on Medium.