In Time Management Tip #5, we talked about creating a "Don't Do" list. Your don't do list may include tasks that need to be accomplished in your practice, but that don't require your specific knowledge, expertise or personal touch. You'll need to delegate some of those tasks to others.
While it may take longer in the short run to explain a task or project to someone else (and then fix it later) than it does to just do it yourself, if the task is one that truly should be delegated, the overall return on your time is well worth it. Not only will you free up more of your own time to focus on your priorities, but you'll be building up and empowering your employees.
Steps to effective delegation
In my experience, there are five main steps to effective delegation. These steps are all crucial when starting out, whether you're new to delegation or you're delegating to a new person. Some of those steps can be curtailed or eliminated entirely as you and your team progress in your working relationship and get to know one another's expectations, but until you're both comforable, you'll want to go through all 5 steps each time.
Step 1: Give clear, comprehensive instructionsThis may be the single most crucial component of effective delegation, and it is harder than it sounds.
Try creating checklists or other written instructions, particularly for tasks that will be performed repeatedly, 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. 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 or fit into the overall strategy of the case? How does it help the firm function?
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.
Step 2: Ensure that you’ve been understood
Miscommunication is inevitable. ‘Memo’ to one lawyer might mean one page of bullet points outlining the current state of the law. ‘Memo’ to the newly minted associate may mean a legal brief complete with a full recitation of the facts, case citations and extended legal analysis.
Ask the person to whom you are delegating to repeat back to you their understanding of the project – in their own words. Don’t just ask, “Do you understand?” (Most people, particularly if they are your subordinates, are not going to admit that they didn't understand your instructions) 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. Encourage questions, even when using written instructions and checklists.
Step 3: Set a definite deadline and establish priority
Delegation often fails due to lack of deadlines or failure to set priorities. Employees need to know when the project must be completed and how important it is in the context of all of the other work they must do. Human nature dictates that work that is urgent gets attended to first. If you have no deadlines or priorities, there is no urgency.
Remember that you may not be the only one delegating to this particular employee. Make sure you both understand waht takes precedence so conflicts can be resolved early or alternate plans can be made.
Step 4: Check in
Don't wait until the deadline to determine whether your employee is on track, particularly if you're new to delegation or to working with this particular individual.
Schedule a specific time to check in with the employee when you think enough time has passed to have uncovered some questions, but not so far that you can’t rein them in if they’re off-track.
Beware of micromanaging. If you’ve been working with someone for a while and they are meeting your expectations, the necessity to check in should be reduced drastically, and perhaps eliminated. You must develop confidence in your employees, particularly professionals, and allow them to do their jobs.
Step 5: Evaluate and share the outcome
Completion of the task is not the end of the delegation process. Feedback is an important part of good delegation. Take the time to teach and correct your employees so that they can grow and improve. Give praise for a job well done.
Sharing the outcome with your employees signals that their contribution is important and that they are an integral part of your success. And it will make them work harder for you in the future. Most employees want to do a good job. Don't miss this opportunity to help them do it.