In my last Do Something! post, I talked about why you should delegate, what do delegate, and to whom. Once you've made those decisions, it's time to get down to the nitty-gritty of delegation.
Give clear, comprehensive instructions
This may be the single most crucial component of effective delegation. It's harder than it sounds, and may require some trial and error.
Try creating checklists or other written instructions, particularly for tasks that will be performed repeatedly, for jobs where turnover is likely, or for tasks that are performed by more than one person.
Be specific about the scope of the project – how long, how much time, how many, etc. Giving an estimate of time and/or length will provide a guideline. If the employee finds themselves spending more time on it than you anticipate, they can check back with you to determine whether they should keep going, cut the project short, or go in another direction.
Communicate why this assignment is important and how it fits into the overall work of the firm:
- How does it affect clients?
- How does it help the firm function?
- How does it fit into the overall strategy of a particular case?
When an employee knows that their role is important and how it fits into the work that you do for your clients, they are more ‘invested’ in the project – and more likely to get it right.
Ensure that you’ve been understood
Miscommunication is inevitable. ‘Memo’ to one lawyer might mean a short, one page, bulleted document setting forth the current state of the law. ‘Memo’ to the newly minted associate may mean a legal brief complete with case citations, discussions of individual case facts, etc.
Encourage questions, even when using written instructions and checklists.
Ask the person you’re delegating to repeat back to you their understanding of the project. Don’t just ask, “Do you understand?” The answer will invariably be, “Yes,” whether they understand or not. Let them tell you what they think you want them to do. This is your opportunity to ensure that your instructions were clear and that you’ve properly defined the scope of the project. Let the delegatee tell you their understanding of the project before they begin.
Set a definite deadline and establish priority
Much delegation fails because no deadlines are set for completing the project or the delegatee has no idea whether this project is a priority.
Set a deadline and write it on your calendar or put it into your tickler or reminder system, PDA, etc.
Communicate the deadline to the delegatee so that they know when the project must be completed. That way, if they receive another assignment and they’re not sure what should be done first, they can ask you, or decline the other assignment. Human nature dictates that work that is urgent gets attended to first. If you have no deadlines, there is no urgency.
Don't wait until the deadline to determine whether your delegatee is on track, particularly if you're new to delegation or to working with this particular delegatee.
Schedule a time to check in with the employee or delegatee when you think enough time has passed to have uncovered some questions, but not so far that you can’t reign them in if they’re completely off-track. Even when you encourage questions, some will still be afraid to ask, or they want to ask questions at a time that is inconvenient for you.
Don't micromanage Checking in does not mean micromanaging your delegatee, although when you're first delegating to someone, you'll probably want to be a bit more vigilant. You must develop confidence in your employees/delegatees, particularly professionals, and allow them to do their jobs.
The necessity for checking in depends upon the nature of the project and how well you know the delegatee’s work. If you’ve been delegating to a someone for a while and they are meeting your expectations, the necessity for checking in should be reduced drastically, and perhaps eliminated, particularly once you’re satisfied that the employee will ask questions if necessary.
Evaluate and share the outcome
Completion of the task by the delegatee or return of the work to you isn't the end of the delegation process.
Feedback is an important part of good delegation. A major complaint of lawyers who have to delegate but insist that it doesn’t work is that their tasks are never completed properly, and they end up having to do it over themselves. But when asked whether the lawyer shared their complaints, disappointments or the deficiencies with the individual to whom the task was given, many lawyers say they never bothered. If you can’t take the time to teach your delegatees and let them know where they’ve gone wrong, you can’t expect them to grow and improve.
Praise your employees/delegatees for a job well done. Positive feedback is often more important than negative feedback. It fosters loyalty, both to you and your clients. Let your employees know what you think of their work. Let your delegatees know what they've done right.
Share the outcome of the overall case or project with thse that worked on it. Sharing the outcome signals to your employees that their work is an important part of what you do, and that they are an integral part of your success.
Follow the steps to effective delegation and you may be surprised at what you can accomplish.
Have any delegation tips or horror stories you'd like to share? Please leave a comment!
Need help deciding what to delegate or setting up your delegation scheme? Contact me to see how I can help.