Delegating is simple, isn’t it? In most cases, yes: Your employee is motivated and knows that new tasks regularly crop up and land on their desk. As the employee is also competent, they will complete the freshly delegated task promptly and with excellent quality. But what do you do when employees for whatever reason feel little or no desire to take on new tasks?
Unfortunately, this happens quite often, but as always there are ways to solve this problem.
Let us consider the most frequent mistakes that even experienced leaders occasionally make.
How can you simply yet effectively delegate in six steps?
In your first sentence, give them the task with concrete facts and figures regarding length of time and intensity as well as the exact responsibility of the employee – in as few words as possible. Then ask “How do you see this?”. In this way you can determine how the employee reacts and how much headwind you will have to deal with.
Reach agreement on the goal and the ACCEPTANCE of the employee to take on this task with their own responsibility. If you feel initial reluctance, then ask first which purpose this task has from the point of view of the employee. Don’t reveal the purpose yourself, that can enter one ear and exit the other because the employee is too involved in their own concerns. Please do NOT ask whether the employee has understood the purpose. In the worst case they will just offer a vague “Yes” while focusing on their concerns. Once the purpose has been agreed upon you can turn to these concerns. These should – if all has gone well – have already been reduced if the employee has themselves expressed the purpose.
In order for the employee to ACCEPT the task, it is now important to deal with his concerns. And please read carefully: Real concerns are fortunately upside-down agreements. If you have a good answer to a concern, then the employee can do nothing but accept and get started. If there are multiple concerns, then you must cover all of these. If you can find a suitable answer to each, then the employee will be raring to go.
However, there will always be less desirable tasks. But these too belong to the job. Should an employee not quite grasp this basic fact, then share it with them and see what their perspective is. If you come across resistance here, then ask the so-called Gretchen question – as Gretchen once asked Faust “How do you feel about religion?” The Gretchen question in the business world is in fact “Do you want this job?” Please ask this question with the appropriate measure of awe and respect. Tell your employee that you want them in this position! Should this not be the case, then please do not consider delegating anything to this employee but rather think about how to separate yourself from them. This requires working on certain tasks – such as this one here.
If the employee has accepted responsibility for the task, then thank them – briefly – for being willing to do so.
Allow the employee to now develop solutions to the task themselves, because they will be the ones implementing these. Thus, it makes sense for them to come up with the solutions. If the solutions come from the boss, then the employee is nothing more than an uncreative, non-responsible marionette that merely implements ideas. Is that what you want?
Exactly. Here we have arrived at the issue of letting go. Here too my tip is to “hunt like a lion”. And if you have read this blog before then you will know that the lion does not hunt himself, but rather hands the responsibility to the faster and thus more capable lionesses.
Such essential tasks like providing the pride with food are not done by the lion. So, hunt like a lion and let your employees develop the solutions. Here too: Really hand over responsibility. Often the employees know the challenges of the task in developing good solutions. Often they know this better than the boss. So hold your tongue when you feel yourself wanting to provide the solution. You can find more advice on getting employees to provide solutions in inspiration 14 of this blog, “Solutions by Employees”.
In the fifth step you define precisely the Who? What? By when? If the answer to one of these questions is unclear or missing, then delegating won’t work. So, ensure there is a summary at the end of the discussion. And who usually summarizes at the end of the discussion – if this happens at all? Yes, exactly – the boss. However, should you be interested in evaluating the understanding of the employee and checking their passion and energy for the task, then that can only be accomplished by having them summarize themselves. If the understanding is right and the passion is too, then all is well. But if the tone of your employee makes you think that they might not be entirely motivated, then clarify which concerns have not yet been positively addressed. These concerns will also need a good answer in order to make sure the employee is completely committed to the task.
And yes! There will be tasks that none of your employees will love – even after the Gretchen question.
Also, if you have a particularly ambitious employee with whom there are never misunderstandings, then there is no need to ask for a summary in future. These are only necessary when there was resistance in the discussion or when have often been misunderstandings between you and an employee in the past.
Finally, of course it depends on you whether to clarify the concerns at the end or, if under time pressure, whether to just hold a short delegation talk. But now you know what can go wrong if you delegate in a monologue and ignore the valuable details of the discussion.
This is the follow-up appointment agreed upon during the delegation discussion. I call it a shoulder glance, whereby the employee informs you about the current status. Any spontaneous question along the lines of “So, how are we doing in the project?” almost always sows mistrust. “Why is the boss asking me that again? Does he think I can’t do it?” However, should you agree upon a weekly shoulder glance, for example, in which your employee can briefly outline where things stand and if necessary request more support, then your employee will understand that and appreciate it. That is, they will understand if you give a good reasoning for this weekly update, for example because your own boss is randomly asking for updates for this very important project or because your employee has not yet had a chance to have a go at such a large project and could make good use of these shoulder glances.
Incidentally, I refer to this asking about employee concerns as peeling the onion. You are asking layer by layer what the employee means with his objections. When you reach the core of the onion, or of the concern, then the solution is not far away.
I wish you the best of success with your delegating – both when there is resistance and when there is a motivated team hungry for more tasks!
Your Markus Jotzo