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Three ways to improve delegation

by Michael MacNair

CEOs have ideas. A lot of ideas, because we have a higher, and overall vision of what is going on in our organizations. Ideas that can, and do get shared with the great people we have surrounded ourselves with. What happens next with these ideas can make or break the pace of your progress.

We ask an employee to complete a task and, at times, it ends up not delivering on expectations in one of two ways. They either hustle off to do their best to complete it and impress you, but in the end it doesn’t exactly turn out to be what you had hoped for. Or, they stumble around aimlessly because they really aren’t clear on what you wanted them to do. They also don’t know how it compares to all the other action items they have on their desk. You feel a sense of urgency and they don’t.

Let me tell you a story. Once I asked my vacation travel team to clean up our mailing list. They were directed to reach out to a certain amount of people on the list and clean up the contact details. They decided that the approach was to ask each customer if they wanted to continue to receive marketing material from us. I intended that they would make sure we had accurate mailing addresses, phone numbers, email addresses. I hoped that the result would be more and more accurate prospects that would receive our marketing material.

It turns out that when you ask customers if they would like to be marketed to, they say no. So when I asked how the project had gone, they reported with smiles and pride that they had eliminated 35% of the targets from the list. I was shocked. It reminded me of my dog Lucy bringing a dead animal into the house with pride and dropping it on the kitchen floor? My beautiful yellow lab looked at me as if she had successfully contributed to our well being and was expecting pets and admiration as my wife and I shrieked. I didn’t know what to say to my team, but I did learn that my delegation needed more clarity.

If we want to move fast as companies and leverage our best assets, our people, we need to delegate well. Often I do not. Here are three things that I have learned about delegation.

Take a breath. I often force myself to write the idea down before I share it. I give it some time to mature or die. I maintain a weekly planner for my tasks and on it I have three areas. Crucial results that have to happen for the week. Strategic projects I am working on that may or may not get done but have to be in play. Finally, future projects that I am in the process of vetting. If these future projects stick around for a period of time it is likely they should be delegated. I also make sure the people around me take a breath also when I give them a big task. If I suggest they do something significant that isn’t already on their list, they are encouraged to listen and accept it and ask for my time later to define the requirements before they move forward. A checks and balance philosophy is important.

Goal and result. It makes perfect sense but I often forget that the goal and the result are two different items – and both have to be clear. So in my example above if we wrote down that the goal was to clean up the mailing list and the result was more and more accurately defined targets that may have pushed the approach in another direction. We probably would have also sought out more ways to define success including the timeline and other parameters that define the anachronism SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound). So in this case we may have set target goals and we may have come up with other ways to add to the number of marketing targets along with a timeline.

Remove obstacles. Many times my team may come back to me and share that it cannot be done. And some times they are right. Because I have so many ideas it doesn’t bother me when this is true but at times it takes some focus and teamwork to break through. At this point, we will write down all the obstacles in the way and then seek to define strategies which can eliminate these obstacles. Often this process shows that anything is possible and tasks appear that may not have been considered initially.

So what I have learned is that between thinking about an idea and setting up a project plan is a step that ensures the clarity of the SMART goal and the plausibility of completion by the defined timeline. In taking time to vet and break down our delegation at this stage using these ideas, the right systems, and tools, we can have more success with greater speed and less frustration. I credit my life and business coach a great deal for inspiring these thoughts. Dan Sullivan from the Strategic Coach is a master at helping me think about my thinking. I hope I have helped you do the same.

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