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The Secret to Delegating Effectively as a Busy Executive

Are you bogged down in the relentless grind of running your business?  Feeling there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done?  Wondering how any CEO gets time to look at the bigger picture?  Let alone plan for the future? You’re not alone.

We’re all busy.  That’s the nature of life.  But are you busy doing the right things?  This is what you need to ask yourself. You should be spending most of your time on the things that add value and give you joy.  The things that only you can do.  And all the rest of it needs to be delegated.

You may tell me this is impossible – you’re overwhelmed and haven’t time to delegate.  But be honest.  Is there a part of you that enjoys feeling needed?  Maybe you get a dopamine hit from putting on your Superman pants and saving the day?  Do you realise this behaviour misses the fundamental purpose of being a leader – developing your people?  Nothing is more important than this.

Serial entrepreneur Sherry Coutu wrote the Scale Up Report for government. The report offers findings and suggestions emphasising the importance of concentrating on ‘scale-ups’ to achieve substantial increases in employment, tax revenue, and overall wealth. This focus is vital for maintaining the UK’s competitive edge for future generations. She identified several gaps between the USA and the UK; a key area is the UK’s need for systematically developing scale-up leadership.

If your business is snowballing, access to talent is always a pinch point.  So your task has to be to develop your people.  Then, the organisation will have a plethora of possibilities for promotion.  And that means you HAVE to delegate. 

So, what is the secret to delegating effectively as a busy executive?

Do some diary analysis.

Start by looking at your diary. Work out where you’re spending your time.  Are you doing things that you’re not best placed to do?  And are you doing them because you feel no one else can do them? This won’t get any better unless you give it deliberate focus. You need to work on your delegation skills!

In my life, people do millions of things better than me. And there are other things they don’t, but I know I can’t get all of them done. So, I have to accept that 60% as good as me on some tasks is better than them not being done at all.  And this frees me up to do the more essential things I do better than anyone else. 

Overwhelm is a recurrent theme in the vast majority of CEOs that we coach.  Only the other day, I was speaking to a CEO who told me he didn’t have time to look after his health. That’s bad! We analysed his diary, looking at where he spent his time. It didn’t take long to see that he was spending only 20% of his time on things that only he could do.  The rest of it could be managed by someone else.

One of the saddest things I see in businesses is people who were there at the beginning getting left behind. And why is this? They haven’t grown with the organisation.  As businesses scale, people need to adapt and grow.  Some can do this.  Others can’t.  And it’s no one’s fault but theirs.  Your growth is your responsibility.  And you’re not going to grow if you’re constantly overwhelmed.

Focus on outcomes rather than tasks. 

Too often, in leadership delegation, managers will tell their teams exactly what they want them to do.  There’s an expectation that things will be done a certain way with no allowance for difference. This is why we like using personality profiling tools like Gallup Strengths, Working Genius and Kolbe.  They demonstrate to the whole team that people bring different approaches to work.  Avoid focusing on tasks and start thinking about the outcome that needs to be achieved. 

OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) work well in executive delegation. They help focus you on what you want to achieve.  By working back from the key results, you can map out the milestones that show progress and the initiatives that might drive the key results. In this context, it doesn’t matter what the tasks are as long as they end up with the same outcome.  

The person you are delegating to can make their own educated decisions on the path to follow.  This is much more rewarding and will develop skills and knowledge quickly.  And you won’t be drawn back into the work by someone saying, ‘I went to do X as you told me, and it didn’t work’.  It’s these situations where managers think, ‘F*ck me, it would have been easier to do it myself!’   

Provide clear expectations and context.

Every OKR should have context linked to the Purpose and BHAG of your business. If that’s in place, people will understand how the work they’re doing contributes to the overall mission of the business.  Clear expectations are the key results.  Agree together on what these things should be.

In last week’s blog, I discussed how clarity of expectation is vital in effective performance management.  It’s also crucial in executive delegation.  Every person in your business needs to know what’s expected of them, and if this is clear, it should be straightforward to delegate any work.  If someone has the context and knows the outcomes, they can go away feeling they understand enough to make course corrections.  

Choose the right people for the job.

You need to know your people inside out to have practical delegation skills. Every member of your team will have strengths, weaknesses, and preferences that will ultimately dictate what they can take on, as well as how effectively they can complete them. Personal preferences are also worth considering – you may find that some employees hate doing certain things but enjoy the challenge of others. Use this to your advantage to keep morale and productivity high.

Use Working Genius, Gallup Strengths or Kolbe to inform you about who is suited to what.  If you’re delegating to a team, ensure it has enough diversity to complete the outcome.  Using Working Genius as a framework, you’re going to need someone with ‘Ideation’ to come up with ideas, someone with ‘Discernment’ to work out if the ideas are good, ‘Galvanise’ to unlock change, and someone with ‘Tenacity’ to get it all finished. 

Trust your team and avoid micromanaging.

Henry Stewart wrote the ‘Happiness Manifesto’, and I’ve heard him speak several times. He asks his audience to think about the work they’re most proud of. He pauses as the audience thinks. Then he asks them to put their hand up if this work resulted from being told to do something by their manager. No hands go up. Was it because they were solving a problem independently within a structure?  All the hands go up.

Micromanagers will never get the best result in executive delegation.  There may be a narrow success, but breathing down people’s necks is suffocating for initiative and motivation.  As mentioned earlier, they’re obsessed with how they would have done things and expect everyone else to do things the same way. This presupposes that they’re the best person to do the job; more often, they’re not.  

Effective delegation is based on trust.  And a culture with a foundation of trust will always flourish.  This is how you get the best out of people – by allowing them to use their initiative.  Micromanaging is depressing and deprives people of ownership.  We know from research if staff are invested in a project, they will believe they own it and will make five times the effort.  

Offer support and feedback.

So, if you’re not going to micromanage, what do you do instead? Our recommendation is a reasonable cadence of review. 

I’ve always held this view, but my recent podcast conversation with Jim Harter, Chief Scientific Officer at Gallup, has confirmed it to me. What he told me was revelatory – so much so that I’m talking about it daily with clients.  Jim said if there’s one thing managers should do religiously every week, it’s to check in with every team member.  And then make a point of always giving praise during that meeting.  Regular support and feedback are how you get engaged, productive staff.

But praise presupposes that expectations are clear between manager and employee. This is where job scorecards become essential, along with unambiguous OKRs.  What’s the objective?  Set the key results.  What are you planning to do this week and next week? And then check in to make sure they’re making progress.  This is the secret to delegating effectively as a busy executive.

Written by business growth coach Dominic Monkhouse. Find out more about his work here. Read his new book, ‘Mind Your F**king Business’ here.

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