The Art of Delegating


It used to be that when you joined the army you could do anything from cook to build missiles. Today, you can buy Starbucks coffee on a major US Navy aircraft carrier.

That’s delegation in action. We all remember the term ‘core competency’ from the economic rationalisation of the 1990s. It means doing what you’re good at and getting the experts to do what you’re not. If you’re an accountant, you may not get a very good result designing your own company logo. If you’re a delivery driver you probably won’t want to service your own vehicle. Even the US Navy recognised it’s in the business of defending American interests on the water, not making coffee.

As we mentioned in the article about procrastination, maybe you’re putting something off that you just don’t want to do. Maybe you’re not much good at it and know there are experts out there – or even within your organisation – who can get it done better and cheaper (by the time you factor in all the time you’d spend doing it to a lower standard than they would).

A proxy you

One of the opportunities of delegating is that no job is too big to complete because you can assign parts of it all over, leaving you to spend far less time managing them than you would doing them yourself. Doing that’s a two-step process – understand the job, and find the right person or company.

When it comes to the job, the needs are probably quite obvious to you. How well a third party does it, in that case, rises and falls on how well you communicate it to them.

If it’s in your wheelhouse and you indeed know exactly the way it has to be done, great – it’ll make it easy for you to describe and manage as your delegate takes it forward.

Alternately, it might be something you know very little about. If that’s the case, don’t be scared by the gaps in your knowledge. You know the outcome you want, and the best person or company for the job will understand that and be able to outline what they can do, when, and for how much. If they don’t, ask. If they still can’t put it in terms you’re comfortable with, move on.

Variables and constants

No matter what the size or scope of the job, delegate it with a clear schedule or milestones to be reached. The more you both agree on the scope and needs at the outset, the more confidence you’ll have leaving it in their hands. In an ideal world you’ll brief the task and forget it, telling your employee or external provider to report back to you only if they have a problem or question, or are finished.

But keep on top of the dates and deliverables yourself, because managing a project flung to the four corners of the organisation or marketplace is like cooking a complicated meal. Sautéing the chicken while the leeks come to boil and not letting the white sauce burn is all about the timing of disparate elements.

Delegating also has an added effect on your productivity that might not be immediately apparent, letting you tailor your business to the ups and downs of your cash flow. If things pick up in a hurry or you get a large job you weren’t expecting, handing pieces of it to the appropriate experts is like having your own flexible workforce that grows or slows down with you.

If you have a workforce, giving pieces of a task to different staff also helps break down the divisive strictures of ‘my job’ and ‘yours’. You’ll be able to develop their skills and keep the work interesting – and morale up.

The best fit

It’s often hard choosing a good external provider for a delegated task, especially when it’s in an area you have little experience in.

If so, ask for customer testimonials or examples of work they’ve done in similar fields to what you’re after – a quality operator will have nothing to hide.

And remember, the best strategy is often just to go with your gut about someone. No matter what your industry we’re all in the business of relationships, and how you feel dealing with someone is the best possible gauge about how the work they do for you will turn out.

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