The three ways to delegate

Gwyn Thomas, Steve Chambers and Yasmin Jetha are members of the CIO UK CIO 100

You don’t have time to do everything yourself and nor do you have the skills to do it all. So, you have to know what to delegate and to whom.

Depending on your situation, you may delegate to subordinates, to peers or to push things up the chain of command.

This is true in work and it’s true in your personal life. When you ask somebody to do something for you, you’re asking them to accept the importance of the task.

How they internalise (personally decide on) the value of the task makes all the difference to how well they perform the task.

In his book Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation, Psychologist professor Edward Deci talks about three things that can happen when you try to get somebody to internalise an idea.

These are:

 - Rejection: They don’t accept the idea at all
 - Introjection: They accept it superficially but not wholeheartedly
 - Integration: They fully accept the idea as if it were their own

Deci’s experiments on getting somebody to do a boring task show that if the three elements are present in the demand, the subject is more likely to integrate the task, as demonstrated by the fact that they perform the activity in their free time.

They will take on the job and show volition if the demand includes these three elements:

 - Providing a rationale
 - Acknowledging that it may be something they do not want to do
 - Granting that they do have a choice about not doing it, while at the same time emphasising that it’s important to you that they do it


In practice it’s not so hard to provide a rationale and to acknowledge that it’s not something they want to do.

However, giving the other person a choice not to perform the task is not always something you want to do when delegating downwards.

You won’t achieve perfection here. Just do the best you can to try to include these three elements when asking somebody in your team to do something for you.

If you can minimise the pressure and thereby give the other person some sense of choice, they will take ownership of the task and will do a better job of it.

Delegating Down
Let’s take a look at some best practices from an expert. Jean-René Bouvier as CEO of Buzzinbees, a telecommunications software provider, has a set of rules he uses for delegating.

He used them to manage a billion-dollar business as vice president at HP, and he uses them now as a CEO. His rules are as follows:

In the beginning, delegate small: When you don’t know your team yet, delegate progressively by giving short deadlines on lesser items. This allows you to determine who you can trust and who you must coach.

Tailor delegation to your resources: Delegate bigger and longer tasks as fast as possible to those you can trust. This will motivate them; and it will free up time for yourself.

Nurture everyone: Coach others and allocate them tasks they are better fit for in order to fully utilise your team. Resist the temptation to work only with the highest performers.

Help the best move on: Constantly monitor the motivation and desire of the top performers and encourage them to move to new jobs and leave you. This will attract other top performers to your team and create a network of former teammates that will help you from the outside.

Delegating downward is one way of setting in motion processes that then run without your attention.