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Delegation – Up-Leveling Your Game (2of2)

February 03, 2015

Ok, in the first blog on delegation, we looked at the importance of reversing how we think about and approach delegation, starting with focusing on the person to whom we are delegating.  In this second half of the series on improving your results when you delegate, I’d like to get into the specifics about what to do, e.g. the good stuff.  It all hinges on a better understanding of the psychology of the delegate.  And the best part, is that you’ll get better results and less frustration, and will be less likely to drift back into “I’ll just do it all myself” when you run into mixed results the next time you check in on someone’s follow-through on what you delegated. Ready?  Here we go.

#1 First a quick review of the core concept in the previous blog, which is the realization that a big part of the success of your delegation activities is dependent upon the conversation going on in the head of the person to whom you are delegating.  The more you move that conversation to an exchange between you and the recipient, especially on critical stuff, the more you’re going to have the opportunity to influence the answers, and you’ll certainly like the results better as you both operate from “the same page.”  Getting involved with their conversation is one of two important steps to get the delegation process out of the “black box”.

You can get that conversation out of their head and into a dialogue between the two of you by asking anticipated “What?” and “Why?” questions.  Take a look at this graphic to demonstrate some of the questions that can be going on in the head of the person to whom you are delegating a task questions to which you’ll want to be able to respond.












Here’s a couple of tips to addressing the “What” and “Why” questions when you are delegating:

  • Build a list you can prompt yourself to use as a place to start the conversation
  • Realize that everyone has a different set of “what” and “why” questions, so be adaptive and put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself “What might I be wondering if I had this delegated to me?”
  • Remember the questions increase as the complexity and risk of the task being delegated increases, and so do the importance of the “answers”
  • Remember, most people aren’t use to sharing their internal conversation, so when you delegate and ask follow-up questions, don’t expect all the questions to surface the first time; circle back and ask what other thoughts or questions they had later.  You’ll find out it can be quite revealing!

Ok, so you’ve got this, right?  Ask questions and get the conversation out on the table, just don’t issue delegations and run.

#2  Now here’s a second reversal I’d like you to consider in your approach to delegationIt all has to do with the effect of being observed and importance.  Think of the standard way delegations are processed.  In our meeting-based world at work, they are usually verbally dispatched.  We’re fond of saying the word.  Unfortunately, they are usually unaccompanied by any consistent feedback loop, other than lagging indicators like numbers in some distant report, or the informal meeting or hallway conversation of “How’s that going?”  Let me ask you, do you think that’s the best approach?

You’re right.  No it isn’t.  In fact we have a number of psychology studies that shed light on this.  In fact let’s go back all the way to the 1920s Hawthorne studies for an insight.  No pun intended, but the Hawthorne studies found that when an adult entered the room of workers and turn the lights on, performance improved.  Then they found it also worked if the lights were turned off.  It turns out is isn’t the light, it’s the experience of being observed that generates the benefit.

     In fact, “Researchers concluded that the employees worked harder because they thought they were being monitored individually.”

Here’s a bit more if you’re not familiar with the study: “The studies originally looked into whether workers were more responsive and worked more efficiently under certain environmental conditions, such as improved lighting. The results were surprising, as Mayo and Roethlisberger found that workers were more responsive to social factors—such as the people they worked with on a team and the amount of interest their manager had in their work—than the factors (lighting, etc.) the researchers had gone in to inspect.

The Hawthorne studies helped conclude that workers were highly responsive to additional attention from their managers and the feeling that their managers actually cared about, and were interested in, their work. The studies also concluded that although financial motives are important, social factors are equally important in defining the worker productivity.

Ok, so let me apply that directly to delegation.  If I delegate something to you, and don’t check back for 90 days, how “observed” do you feel?  How important is it to your boss? Not much right?  What if I never check back?  What if I check back, but I just take your verbal on it, as I don’t have any validation process in place?  How observed do you feel then?  Not a lot right?

Businessman observing something closely

But we know that performance, and in this case follow-through, is going to improve up if people feel observed in completing what’s been delegated to them.  We know performance is going to improve if we feel that the person delegating is taking an interest in what our results are, and shows that by being involved.  So how do you create the sense of being observed… without actually being there?  I’m going to answer that in the next paragraph, but do you see how the typical way we do delegation isn’t optimal… frankly for most of us it sucks.

Ok, so the second tip for breaking free of the “black box” is all about creating visibility and virtual observation.  It’s the type of observation that doesn’t feel like “big brother,” but does convey value and importance as contrasted with being ignored.  Think of completing this second delegation tip to get better results in two simple steps, and remember they become more significant, the more what’s being delegated is critical:


     Step 1: Anything delegated that has import get’s written down in a list or platform that both parties have access to. We want it visible.  That adds to the observed effect, plus makes it a lot easier to follow-up, which among other things demonstrates the delegator cares.  And it conveys value by just being written and displayed.  But #2 is even more important.

     Step 2: Anything that’s delegated get’s regular updates until it’s completed. In ManagePro we get that through time-stamped updates on Todos, and regular progress updates containing a summary todate, issues encountered and next steps.. The process of writing in updates creates the virtual sense of being observed (especially if the delegator reads the updates and comments from time to time).  We use ManagePro as our delegation power tool to accomplish both, and  fundamentally to do a lot with a minimum of effort and resources.

Bottom Line: Delegation, as practiced leaves a lot on the table when it comes to performance.  In fact we think it badly needs reinventing in line with the psychology of the delegatee and what we know from the psychology of performance dating all the way back to the 1920s.  So bottom line, you’ll improve the results, the follow-through, the outcomes you get from delegating, if you’ll simply a) Surface and address the questions of “What?” and “Why?” that emerge  in the recipients mind in any delegation process, and b) Use technology to leverage the experience of being observed and that the results matter to the delegator.  Contact us if you would like to know more about how to use ManagePro to improve your results when delegating, or leave your questions in the comments box below.


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