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.
- 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.
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.
When you have other people working for you, the more you can hand off to them, the more you can pay attention to other matters.
This being the case, the right thing to do is put together a team of people you can count on to get things done.
Put effort into nurturing trusting relationships with the team. Once that’s in place, delegating tasks is no problem at all.
Rising stars regularly pass work up to their bosses. They recognise tasks that are better carried out by a higher authority, and delegate upwards.
One nice side-effect of this practice is that it provides the boss with visibility into what is taking place and the issues you’re facing.
When delegating to a higher up, make sure you don’t overstep your bounderies. If the boss senses that you are testing limits, the necessary element of choice disappears.
The interaction becomes a power play and it will be very hard for the boss to integrate the request.
To avoid coming off as somebody trying to pull a fast one, take the time to explain what you’re doing and why you need help from somebody with more authority.
Be specific in what you’re requesting, when you need it, and how it fits into the bigger scheme.
As companies become more diverse, operating in multiple countries, and providing more products and services, it becomes increasingly important to build virtual teams, with members from different organisations where neither they nor you have authority over the other.
Convincing somebody to do something for you in these situations takes real mastery of the art of delegation.
Spend time building a reputation of being trustworthy, and build relationships with others you can count on.
Build up political capital by doing favours whenever possible and getting back to other people quickly when they request something of you.
These things lay the ground work which will make it much easier to call on peers when you need them.
As is the case with delegation in any other direction, you have to provide the reasoning behind your request. Explain why what you’re asking somebody else to do is important for yourself, for them, and for the company overall.
Recognise that their time is valuable and that this might not be something they prefer doing; and above all, make it clear that you are not trying to coerce them into doing it.
Mastering the art of delegation is a worthwhile investment in time. The more you can get others on your side helping you move in the direction you want, the faster you’ll get to where you want to be.
CIOs on delegation
Wales CIO Gwyn Thomas: “If you say you’re going to do something, then do. It helps to create an effective and efficient team culture, which means we all spend less time chasing progress. And it helps to make delegation work much more effectively because it signals that we want to create a culture of accountability, ownership, and responsibility.”
BG Group CIO, Christine Ashton: “You need to develop a laser sharp understanding of who is good at what. Otherwise, if you delegate a task to somebody with mistaken beliefs about what that person does well, work will back up very quickly, just like a blocked sink with water overflowing in all directions. You have to keep the production line going.
Visa Europe CIO, Steve Chambers: “If you try to make every decision yourself, or if you force yourself into the middle of everything, you wind up with terrible bandwidth. Even if you’re the most skilled at doing a particular task, you’re cutting down on your team’s total output if you keep things for yourself.”
Bupa CIO, Yasmin Jetha: “Delegating to competent people and making sure they have the resources to deliver is a good way to manage time. There is only so much you can do by yourself. But a key way of making this work is to have mutual trust”.