Good Delegation Can Happen in Every Conversation

2010 Update: I made the decision to bring Say “Alaka‘i” here to Talking Story in late May of 2010 when the Honolulu Advertiser, where the blog previously appeared, was merged with the Star Bulletin (Read more at Say “Alaka‘i” is Returning to the Mothership).

Therefore, the post appearing below is a copy of the one which had originally appeared there on December 18, 2008, so we will be able to reference it in the future when the original url it had been published on is no more…


Good Delegation Can Happen in Every Conversation

Good management is a situational art. It seems complicated because so many answers are in those couplets of, “if this (fill in the blank), then this (a personalized answer.)”

I’m not going to suggest something different; great managers largely meet their calling one person at a time, and I believe that is how it should be.

  • They discover what strengths each of their people possess,
  • They place their people where they are called on to employ those strengths and capitalize on them, and
  • They give their people the support they need to completely own their responsibilities and perform brilliantly.

That also means they delegate well. They consider delegation to be a gift: It is the opportunity to perform something new or different, to learn additional skills, to gain freshly current knowledge, and to stretch hidden talents into newly activated strengths.

The picture isn’t always that rosy though, is it.

Delegating exciting new work which people line up hopefully for is fairly easy, but what about the more difficult stuff, or that everyday stuff which must be done, and should be done, but is being skipped over or forgotten? Worse, what about the stuff that is getting handled, but isn’t completely done or handled in the best way?

Those are the times that another question begins to nag and whine: “Are you delegating, or are you dumping?” It’s a question that is often incomplete and riddled with assumptions; it makes an accusation about a manager’s motives without really addressing all the expectations within who should be doing what, and why they are the person chosen to do it.

Delegation is a situational art too, and it happens best one person at a time and one scenario at a time.

Delegating well takes two.

Good delegation requires that a manager focus on two things:
1. Just-right Timing and
2. Assumption-free Detail.

Let’s talk about assumption-free detail first: When you delegate you want to set another person up for success, and you can’t leave out any important information. That means you tick off those 5 W’s: What, Why, Who, Where and When until the pertinent detail is covered clearly —there are no assumptions. Then the H —How, leaving enough wiggle room for individual ownership and creativity. In short, you’re giving them all the ingredients they need to both meet your expectations and dazzle you beyond the basics.

My definition of just-right timing may surprise you; it’s actually the easy part. A manager’s just-right timing happens in virtually every single conversation they have, for that is when they can best coach, manage and lead all in one fell swoop, individually and personally. Further, if it happens all the time, it is never a major dumping; you cover issues in smaller, bite-sized pieces, or as pilot projects, delegating specific actions to the right people daily with the timing that is right for them. And managers, delegation is all about them.

One of the biggest mistakes we managers make is that we get short and skimpy in our everyday conversations. We make quick work of them and we do not optimize the opportunity they give us: We do not capitalize on that time we have someone’s individual and captive attention, and we don’t collect their questions. And then we get so surprised when we get accused of not listening well” I wonder why?

Conversations process those issues which are our toughies!

Those other, not-the-easy-kind of delegation situations we spoke of before? They need to be handled every single day as they happen, as the warm-up exercises for delegating the exciting new work which people hope they will receive next. Familiarity with daily delegating is like getting minor league game days before escalating to majors in the big leagues.

You will often find that you aren’t even the one initiating the conversation: People are coming to you with questions, they are asking for help or clarity, or they are prompting you for a decision with the stuff they are dumping on you! In those cases, delegation happens when you handle the conversation well and you don’t let them get away with it; you seize the conversation as the coaching opportunity it is (covering your assumption-free detail), and as a result, good delegation happens in the normal course of the day. It becomes normal.

Great managers work with people through every issue to reveal the opportunities within them (that is, within the issue AND within the person). Great managers don’t do all the work; they share it, and they talk about it one conversation at a time.

Try it. Be deliberate about this in the coming week: Focus on your Just-right Timing by capitalizing on each conversation you have. Use them to talk about your Assumption-free Detail; all of it. Take your time, listen well, answer their questions, but then send them off to do their own work and don’t do it for them because you think it will be faster or easier that way; rush through it, and you’ll both miss out on the gift delegation can be for you.

Like good management, good delegation is a situational art, and you are the artist.