17th October 2023

Is this the worst delegation ever?

17 years ago, I took my son on his first aeroplane flight. He was five.

We bought him and his sister new holiday backpacks. We asked them to fill them with things to occupy them on the plane. We gave lots of great advice – pack things you like doing; that will occupy lots of time; lots of small things, not one big thing…

We asked him if he wanted us to check what he’d packed. He said he didn’t, and that he was excited about what he was bringing.

And so we get on the plane. I say "Open your backpacks – it’s holiday fun time"…

…only to find that the only thing he’d packed were his night-vision goggles!

That’s it. Totally pointless. Totally impractical. Totally useless to occupy a five-year-old for a two hour flight.

Even worse, we were flying during the day, so he didn’t even need night vision!

As I say: Worst. Delegation. Ever.

Fortunately, I’m better at delegation now. In fact, I even teach people how to do it! (Something I couldn’t have done 17 years ago).

Here are my top tips for brilliant delegation…

Everything you do at work will be one of three things:

  1. It needs to be done, and it needs to be done by you
  2. It doesn’t need to be done by anyone
  3. It needs to be done, but it could be done by someone else

And our strategy for each of these three should be:

  1. Keep doing it
  2. Stop doing it
  3. Delegate as much as you can

There’s lots of advice about the best way to delegate. But I find that, to delegate brilliantly, the secret is using the ‘question words’ to prompt you:

  • Why? Any delegation must be a win:win:win. It’s a win for you. It’s a win for the person you delegated to. And it’s a win for your company. This means we should be clear how the other person will benefit by doing what we ask – more experience, profile, kudos, etc.
  • What? Be clear what you’re delegating. What deliverable do you want from them? What outcome do you want that deliverable to achieve?
  • How? Agree how they’ll complete the task. If they’re creating a communication for you, agree what format you want it in, the main topics to cover, approximate length, etc. Ask their views about it. And end by ensuring you’re both agreed on what ‘good’ looks like, before they start their work
  • When? Agree when you’ll have check-ins. If the only thing you tell them is "I need this by Friday", and you get it late Friday, there’s no time to fix it, if it isn’t what you wanted. So agree that you’ll see it 1-2 days before the final deadline, to (1) check everything’s ok or (2) agree any last-minute changes in advance of Deadline Day
  • Who? Ask them what help they need, and who might be able to provide it for them

And if they just pack night vision goggles, you didn’t delegate well enough!

Action Point

As a start, review the things that occupy the most of your time. And, for each – if:

  • It needs to be done, by you – keep doing it
  • It doesn’t need to be done by anyone – stop it. As in, right now
  • It needs to be done, but not by you – consider delegating it

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