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The Secret to Effective Delegation

No matter how polished your communication skills and competent your team, delegation can end in misunderstanding. The solution: prototyping.
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Do you enjoy your sanity? If so, you need to know how to delegate well.

Getting others to effectively take on some of the tasks of running your business is all that stands between entrepreneurs and a stress-induced meltdown. Yet many business owners struggle to keep their ballooning to-do lists and schedules from eating up their quality of life.

Why is this? Sometimes it's a control freak streak, sometimes it's pride--in our culture busyness is often displayed as a sign of importance--but many times it's simply that a little voice in your head tells you "wouldn't it just be easier if I did this myself?" No matter how skilled your team or well polished your communication skills, asking someone else to do something not only takes time when you explain the task, but also often involves correcting the course of the employee who is gamely trying to fulfill your request but not quite accomplishing what you need.

But don't throw the baby out with the bath water. There is a solution to this nagging suspicion that delegating often takes more time than it's worth, according to Scot Herrick of the blog Cube Rules. What's his secret of efficient delegation? Prototyping. He explains:

Here’s the deal: No matter how clear you think you are in the delegation, you’re not clear. Don’t care who you are, what you have in your head is not the picture in the other person’s head. It won’t match no matter how good you think you communicate. Thus, tell the person to do ONE thing with what was just delegated.

For example, if you want your information back in a spreadsheet, have that person create the spreadsheet with all the row and column labels and fill in two lines with real information. Then review it with that person to insure everyone is on the same track.

Most likely, you will catch different interpretations of what you just delegated. And, most likely, the person taking on the task will have great ideas on how your task could be done better — format, information, or method of delivery. It makes the entire deliverable that much better. So prototype. You’ll be happy you did. And so will the person completing the task.

Check out Herrick's post for several other ideas on effective delegation. Or for more advice, read up on best practices for delegation on the HBR Blog Network.

Do you struggle to delegate effectively? 

 

Last updated: Apr 11, 2013

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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