Years ago, when I was the CIO at a growing tech company, I had a talented manager working for me who I could always count on to deliver what I wanted--always on time and always on budget. That obviously made him a tremendous asset.
The problem, unfortunately, was that he was known as a micromanager, which made life difficult for the teams working for him. We needed to do everything to alleviate this as it ignited major issues--people didn't want to work with him. We got him coaching to help him develop his "effective delegation" muscle.
Not long after, we had a major project--one that would make or break the company--and this manager (and his teams) played a major role in executing it. One day, I stopped by his office to ask him how it was going.
"I don't know, I've delegated it to the team," he said. "Aren't you happy with me?"
No, I was not happy.
Delegation is not abdication. Delegation is not about getting work off your plate and onto someone else's and then forgetting about it. Delegation, when done right, is about putting pieces in place so that a task or project will get done with the results that you expect. That's not a "set it and forget it" activity. Delegation requires active management.
We were able to correct this manager's Goldilocks delegation dilemma and have him go from micro manager to absent manager to a manager who was able to delegate just right. Over years of management I've learned how to distill delegation into five steps.
1. Assess the capability and willingness of the team to do the task.
Often, people will volunteer for a challenging assignment, but you have to take an honest look and decide: Can they, and will they, really do it effectively? Always put the best team in place. And, make sure everyone is on board. Often when I had a critical technology project, I requested a top executive and required him or her to be fully dedicated to the project in order to minimize distractions (and excuses).
2. Communicate what success looks like to the people you are delegating to.
Be crystal clear on all of the expectations: What is the timeline, quality, budget? Share what will happen if success is achieved: articulate what will be possible in terms of career progression.
3. Make it clear that if they encounter problems, you are there to guide them.
You must ensure that they are comfortable coming to you when issues arise. Overall, you are still accountable for the results. It's easier to fix problems when you hear about them early. The best way to achieve this is to build a culture of trust where people are permitted to learn from mistakes instead of being fearful about losing their jobs.
4. Establish checkpoints to monitor progress.
This prevents you from receiving nasty surprises at the end--a time when there is little you can do to efficiently course correct. I ask my teams to identify issues that are holding them back, at least weekly. If the issue is urgent, I want to know in almost real time about them. When I was at eBay, CEO Meg Whitman asked me to wake her up on any serious issue. Unfortunately, I had to do that a lot in my early days at eBay. It is not fun it is to call a CEO with bad news in the middle of the night, but it certainly provides motivation to make things better--fast.
5. When the team delivers, celebrate their success.
Even though you are the one who is ultimately responsible, let the team have the roles of the heroes. A leader must spread credit and praise liberally and take more of the criticism personally. No one likes working for a boss willing to throw someone under the bus--don't do it.
Delegation, when done right, means that what you have on your plate will get done well, and you'll have more time and freedom to delve into other projects. In that way, delegation is the foundation for innovation.