How do I learn how to delegate, against all my instincts?
February 11, 2018 9:50 AM   Subscribe

I'm terrible at delegating work, but I need to start doing it more. How can I overcome my hesitation and fears and learn to delegate in a professional and effective way? I'm looking for helpful books or maybe a class I could take in NYC.

I have always been terrible at delegating. In school, I hated group projects and would always end up just doing everything myself. It's just so much easier to know exactly what needs to be done and how I will be doing it. Having to rely on other people and then maybe they slack off....AHH it drove me crazy!

In work now, many years later, it's the same thing. Rather than hand off something to someone else and then worry that they'll mess up or not do it at all, it's easier in the long run to just do it myself. Plus I feel weird asking or telling people to do things because I always feel they will resent me for it (even when it's their job to assist me!) I'm always afraid they will get pissed off or I will seem mean or bossy to them. I see other people in my office delegate work to others and I cringe, thinking wow they're treating them like servants - how could the other person not get mad! But instead, no one gets mad and the work gets done. So this is clearly my own hangup/insecurity.

To complicate the issue, I also manage a staff outside my office and I have no problem laying out their duties and then supervising them. It's just when it's a task GIVEN TO ME and then I have to in turn pass it to someone else that I feel weird and hesitant.

Now as a result of my increased work load, we are adding some people to officially work under me and I'm SUPPOSED to delegate to them. My job load is so intense that there is no possible way that I could handle all of it myself. I need to get better at this! I have discussed this in therapy and my therapist suggested I look for a course that teaches skills in delegation, leadership, etc. Can anyone suggest a class or workshop like that in the NYC area? If not, maybe an effective book I could read?

Note, I have no problem asking for and accepting help in my personal life. This seems to be solely a work issue :)
posted by silverstatue to Work & Money (15 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
My mid-size company has some astonishingly good stuff in their online training system, lots of it about management and communication, which isn't very well-publicized. They also have actual classes which I haven't tried out myself but have heard good things about. As a first step, maybe take a look at what you have access to through your employer.
posted by bunderful at 10:47 AM on February 11, 2018

Best answer: If you are able to delegate and supervise work in another location the problem is not that you don’t know how to delegate. So I’m inclined to disagree with your therapist, you know how to delegate, you just can’t wrap your head round why it is ok not to do a job yourself if it is theoretically possible for you to do so. It may help to work out why that is not a concern with the other team?

You might want to think about framing. A task is given to you, yes. That does not mean you have to perform every aspect yourself. ‚Given to you’ here means given to your team under your supervision and responsibility. It means you ensure it gets done by assigning it appropriately, by supervising your team and it means you take the blame if it doesn’t get done (on time, to required standard) and if your team do the task well they get the credit.

Also, to be able to delegate well, you have to make time to plan your and your teams work. So that time you seem to find to assign and supervise work for your team in the other location, you also need to find it for the people in your location. And you need to check in with them and have time for quality control much in the same way you do for the other team. And sometimes it will work better than other times so you work the buffer into your master plan and deal with the problems as they arise.
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:51 AM on February 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I should add, we are a small, casual company. No HR department, no employee handbook, no annual reviews, etc. Definitely no training program or other resources like that, alas.
posted by silverstatue at 10:53 AM on February 11, 2018

Based on your update, there is a lot of management theory out there on the internet. You could do worse than google, if you really feel a bit of guidance would help, for example
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:57 AM on February 11, 2018

Best answer: It sounds like in the work place you're worried about being perceived as bossy and worried about making sure the work gets done properly. I think it's understandable to have a mental divide between work and other arenas because the context is so different.

These things might help:
* Delegating smaller tasks with a quick turnaround to different people so that you can get an idea of their strengths and weaknesses - who's crunched all the numbers 3 times but hands it to you in an unpolished format, who's very responsive but makes the assumption that you're looking for a draft that you'll ask her to revise multiple times, etc., who obviously didn't "get it" but didn't ask the questions they should have asked, etc. Over time this allows you to get an idea of who you can rely on for what.
* There are multiple ways to communicate delegation. There's "have this to me by noon" and there's "I have a project that will take about 2 hours and requires foo skills and is due Wednesday, do you have bandwidth for that" and there's "I need your help, let's sit down and walk through the details ... [after walkthrough] Are you with me? Can you do this by 5?" It sounds like you want relationships of mutual respect in the workplace, so think about ways to delegate that you are comfortable with and convey that respect.
* Make sure you give deadlines with time built-in for you to review and give feedback on and review again
* Get to know the people you need to delegate to - what are they interested in? What directions do they want to grow? What kinds of projects will they jump at?
* You can reframe your approach to this - you are not foisting "your" work onto others, you're mentoring and training and growing the team.

Back when I was in a role where I had multiple people delegating to me I didn't mind it as long as they were respectful of my primary responsibilities. I enjoyed getting small projects/tasks that allowed me to try new things, see different parts of the company, solve problems and build relationships. So keep in mind that by not delegating you may be withholding opportunities.
posted by bunderful at 12:32 PM on February 11, 2018 [6 favorites]

Koahiatamadl is right about framing. I'd add that you'll need to embrace the part where it isn't always faster or easier to first. If your team is learning, it can be more work than doing it yourself. Delegation isn't just giving it over to someone else and hoping it comes back perfectly with no help. In the beginning, delegation is training!

However, if you don't delegate, you'll never see your workload reduced and your staff will not get a chance to practice and won't grow. Think of times in your career where you didn't know what you were doing and someone gave you an opportunity to shadow or assigned you to something outside of your comfort zone and was available to help you if you got stumped. This was how you grew to have your skillset. Maybe you weren't perfect the first couple of times, but eventually you figured it out and you didn't need to ask questions anymore. Now, as a manager, it's your turn to do that for other people. It's keeping that connection with your reports that ensures the receiver of the work doesn't feel dumped on and bossed around. The best managers aren't task masters who just ensure deadlines are met like an assembly line. They teach and empower others to do great work.

There's also a dark side to not delegating. For the people below you, it can feel like hoarding. It can also make it harder for them to do their jobs. Asking people to poke in and out without the full picture can make it really challenging to grasp the goal of the work. I just had a new department lead start at my job and me and my direct reports are experiencing this right now. It's absolutely awful - it reads as patronizing to other people, disengages them from feelings of ownership and autonomy, and ultimately becomes a huge barrier to productivity and morale.
posted by amycup at 12:34 PM on February 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

I took a training in house and we did an exercise you could easily duplicate:

Make 4 columns
1: a task you do, broken into parts (e.g., run report, review report, send report)
2: time each part takes you
3: skills needed to do each part
4: identify at least one staffer with those skills or who could learn them
posted by kapers at 12:56 PM on February 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

Also, if this is helpful, in my company, a manager who doesn’t delegate is not seen as effective and they’re not considered for promotions. (Like they can’t see the person who wastes their time on admin stuff like standard reports as a big idea person.)
posted by kapers at 12:59 PM on February 11, 2018

When I was a new manager and struggled hard with delegating, another manager I work with walked me through the levels of delegation. I found (and still find!) it super useful for 2 reasons:

1. It helps me decide how much of a task I'm delegating, allowing me to feel less like I'm totally giving up control and responsibility on those tasks I do still need to have a hand in--and also allowing me to understand which tasks I can indeed fully delegate

2. It helps me be a much more effective delegator, meaning I set clearer expectations and the people I delegate to have a clear understanding of their responsibilities, which means they do a better job, which means I feel better about continuing to delegate to them
posted by rhiannonstone at 2:26 PM on February 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It sounds like it's not that you don't trust your people. It's the feeling of guilt. You're seeing it as YOUR work, that you're pawning off on someone else.

No. That's what you're supposed to do. Here's why: If you did it yourself, it gets done. Drawback #1) But during that time, nothing else does. Drawback #2) There is no second-check. Drawback #3) Nobody else learned part of what it means to be in your position*. By delegating it, you amplify your output, get to be the QA check (everyone makes mistakes; you'll catch them), and train your replacement little by little.

Your job is: do the things ONLY YOU can do - performance management, confidential issues, important decisions (after they make the proposed plans for you), and be a dispatcher/QA/tracker for your group's work. If you find yourself with some free time, that doesn't mean you should take something off their plate and do it yourself. That means you should spend some time QA checking, making longer-range plans, doing a self-assessment of your group's performance, or take something off of your *boss's* plate.

It's what you do. There's no feeling bad about it. It's your job.

* this becomes a reinforcing loop that eventually ties your hands at really inconvenient times: they don't know how, so you don't give it to them, you don't give it to them, so they don't learn how, next time you can't give it to them, etc.
posted by ctmf at 3:34 PM on February 11, 2018 [8 favorites]

And 2nd rhiannonstone that not everyone calls for the same delegation level, and even the same person in different situations might call for different styles. "Do it yourself" is not any of the options, but you might assign small tasks and short timelines for someone just learning vs. the whole thing hands-off, objective and final due date only at the other extreme. Most people are in the middle - objective, due date, tell me your plan and task breakdown by X, I'll give feedback, we'll set more or less frequent status check-ins, always available for advice, etc.
posted by ctmf at 3:42 PM on February 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

Another good reason, even if there were no others: to practice delegation. When the day comes where it's critical to delegate something you simply cannot do yourself, that's when you're going to be happy you're good at it and have people that are good at accepting it and running with it. That's a totally legit reason.
posted by ctmf at 3:45 PM on February 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Listen to as many of the Manager Tools delegation podcasts as you can. For me, the most important point is to focus on the outcome, not the method. People can take a lot of different paths and end up in the same place. If you focus on the path, you risk micromanaging.

Also, make sure you talk about when you need the work done. It's hard to reprimand someone when you didn't tell them what was expected of them.
posted by Crankatator at 4:59 PM on February 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: This is all great stuff. Thank you everyone thus far, especially those that posted links for me to read/listen to further. CTMF, you got it exactly - I do feel guilty about it, even though I know I shouldn't.
posted by silverstatue at 5:53 PM on February 11, 2018

It sounds like the problem is not how to delegate but how to over rule the voice in your head that it is urgently telling not to delegate. Just saying "Don't feel guilty" isn't working. So I would get curious about the voice, try to understand where it came from and what it trying to accomplish and then you might be able to come up with a better strategy to quiet it down. This should be very familiar territory for your therapist so he/she should be able to help you figure this out.
posted by metahawk at 3:23 PM on February 12, 2018

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