How to delegate and (hopefully) evade meltdowns

Even on your very best day, there’s a limit as to how much you can do. You have an absolute capacity. This capacity is a natural ringfence on your – and your business's – ability to grow, to explore, to experiment. Is it worth delegating a specific task? Ask yourself these three questions and then get delegating! 

Ask yourself: Is it likely that this event, task or project will happen again?

If so, training them to do the task this time means they can handle it next time, the time after and the time after that.

Ask yourself: Is there anyone who wants to upskill?

Cheaper than hiring an expert! Better for your team all round.

Ask yourself: How much time is there to complete the task?

Remember that they will probably take longer than you to complete the task. Factor in time to check the work properly to, well, check but also to provide feedback. 

Do a quick draft first

It’s so much easier to revise or rework something than create it from scratch. When asking for help or indeed trying to power through yourself, doing a rough and ready hack could be the most efficient thing you ever do. Asking someone to fix something is so much easier than to ask them to create it from scratch. 

Don't be a brick wall

There’s nothing worse than asking for to stretch your professional legs a little being told that you’re not ready. Don’t be that boss. If someone isn’t ready, explain – clearly! – what they need to do or achieve in their current role first. Give them a point on the horizon – not a bloody great big brick wall – to aim for. 

Do trust they'll remember to order the loo roll

Make sure you’re clear about core responsibilities – ordering loo paper, answering phones, cold-calling clients – and that they get done no matter what. We all know how important the boring things are, and we probably all leave them until last or roll or eyes when we have to do them but – of course – we do them. 

Don't micromanage

If you know that you have a safety net, you’re going to take more risks, right? Take that net away and you’ll be double-checking the safety equipment. With the best will in the world, if someone is looking over your shoulder at the time when you’re absolutely under the cosh, it can be tempting to send something that’s nearly there, knowing full well the next set of eyes will fix it. Make it clear that THEY are responsible for the final draft and don't look at anything until the final result. An occasional “hey, how’s that thing going, need any help?” is fine, but then leave them alone. If you sit on people, they will naturally feel panicked and focus on delivering answers to your constant questions instead of working through the task.

Do be officially available 

Game-changer. There’s no point in delegating a task if you’re going to be asked every five minutes how to do something, phrase an email, write a headline. Set regular catch-ups – ideally make them responsible for putting the time in your calendar. It’s amazing how many things can wait for that catch-up, and also how empowered people feel when they know that they have time to bring you up to speed and ask questions. 

Don't let a problem cross your desk without a solution

You want to be approachable when a problem arises but only if they've taken the initiative to think of a way around it. Encourage problem solving and give feedback on their solutions. In time, the solutions will become increasingly viable to the point where you'll either trust them to handle problems as they arise or where you only need to give it a once-over before signing it off.

Do ring-fence work

Create a really specific and overly detailed to-do list, and cluster the tasks together in different ways, say by projects or clients, similar skills or abilities, perhaps by deadline. By looking at your to-do list and tasks in a different way, you’ll be able to more easily break the work down in to discrete pieces of work to delegate.

Don't forget pull the deadline forward

Knowing you have breathing space to fix anything makes you less panicked. 

Do make clear what success looks like

A horrible, cliched phrase but everything is subjective and relative. Asking someone to create a brochure for clients is probably the most vague thing you could ask. Be as specific as possible – what, why, when, where, how? – and then put that in writing. If you're giving verbal instructions, ask your colleague to write them up and email to you for confirmation. 

Don't forget the KPIs

By agreeing the KPIs (key performance indicators) – and “looks lovely” or “that’s fine” are not KPIs – you have crystal clear goalposts. 

Do think of early warning signals

Instead of churning yourself up over whether the project is on track, agree opportunities to check. What could go wrong? How might the task be done incorrectly or badly? What markers or red flags could be put in place so you know when it’s going off piste before it's too late? 

Don't forget: Results not progress

People work in their own way and in their own time. Give them the task, give them KPIs, then get out of their way.

Do remember: Share the big picture

Isolated tasks won't make sense and are harder to get fired up about, so put any delegation into context. Why are you asking them to do the task, why is it important, what's riding on its successful completion?