Everyone knows that to grow a business you have to delegate. But it’s hard. Here’s why. Most of what you do (and want to delegate) is knowledge work. Peter Drucker coined the term Knowledge Worker to mean someone who works in information or who develops knowledge in the work place. This makes it distinct from physical work.
Physical work is easy to quantify qualify and thus easy to delegate. If I delegate the task of painting a room to you, your only question would be “what color”? It will be obvious when you started, how far along you are by the end of the day and if you did a good job or not. Without me having to spell out the details.
If you ask me to negotiate a contract with one of our suppliers, or develop a marketing plan, or research the competition, none of those things are obvious. What level of detail is required? When am I finished? How do we determine when I’m missing something critical and when I’m missing something that doesn’t matter? What constitutes a good job?
So here’s what usually happens.
Scenario 1. You give me the task of negotiating the contract. I spend so much time getting your input on this, that, and the other thing, that between the two of us we spend twice as much time as we should. Next time you just do it yourself.
Scenario 2. You give me the task of negotiating the contract. You’re too busy to give me any input, or I want to show you how good a job I can do so I figure it out all by myself. If I luck out, and do it to your liking, you think I’m wonderful and lament that you can’t find other employees like me. You give me all the contracts to negotiate and I can’t ever move up in the firm because you can’t replace me.
Scenario 2a. Perhaps I don’t do it to your liking. Perhaps I negotiate a really bad contract and you spend more time fixing it or solving the problems the bad deal has caused. Next time you just do it yourself.
Scenario 3. You give me the task of negotiating the contract. But you check in with me so often and ask about every little detail that I can’t get any work done. You are frustrated by lack of progress. Between the two of us we spend three times as much time as we should. Next time you just do it yourself.
Is it any wonder that Entrepreneurs find employees the most frustrating part of running their companies? (Customers are in second place.)
What’s the underlying cause of this problem?
The real cause is communication. With the task “Paint the room” that simple sentence communicates very clearly what is to be done. The phrase “Negotiate the contract” is not nearly as clear. So the delegator (that’s you) has to figure out what exactly you want done. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart defined hard core pornography by saying in a judicial opinion “I know it when I see it” While that may have been good enough for the Supreme Court, it’ doesn’t cut it when you try to delegate knowledge work.
Here’s a solution. Assume you are delegating some task to me. You have to commit it to paper (OK electrons – but you have to write it down). Writing makes your thought much clearer or at least makes it obvious when they’re imprecise or contradictory. You can write it down – or you can explain yourself and ask me to write down what I thought you said. Yes it will take more time to assign a task that way. But you’ll save so much more time in the execution it will be worth it. If it’s not worth that little bit of extra time, then the task it probably not worth doing at all.
Write it down in the following format.
[Note: the process doesn't have to be autocratic. We can discuss any of these points, you can defer to my opinion or insist on your or we can meet half way. The point is the delegation is not complete until these points are well defined.]
The first two questions will almost always cause you to refine what you’re really delegating. The third question will make you clarify what you mean by success. It will make it easier for me to know if I’m doing the right thing without your constant involvement. The forth question will free me up to work at my own pace and still meet your deadlines. But you must play fair and not follow up before you said you would. That’s micro-management.
If I’m unfamiliar with a task, or you’re unfamiliar with my ability to do that task, I recommend a 10-50-90 follow up schedule. That means schedule the first follow up when you expect 10% of the job to be finished. For a task you expect to be finished in a day, the first follow up would be in an hour. If the task is expected to take a week, follow up in half a day. The purpose of this first follow up is to see if I understood the assignment (or if you communicated it clearly). If 10% of the job is not done by then, youâ€™ve caught the trouble in plenty of time.
Schedule the 2nd follow up when you expect 50% of the job to be done. The purpose of this follow up is to see if the pace of the job is appropriate. Sometimes people take too long because they are working to too deep a level of detail, or perhaps they didnâ€™t give it a high enough priority. A check at this point will alert you to any problems of speed.
The third follow up â€“ at 90% completion is to catch any last minute snafus while there is still a bit of time left to help.
[tags] small business, management, CEO skills, delegation, how to delegate [/tags]