Thursday, November 18, 2010

To DELEGATE is not to DELEte the GATE for the Passage of Excellence

You do what you can do the best, delegate the rest. The secret of success is not in doing everything on your own, but in identifying the right person to do it. Yes I said that good executors must be proficient in multi-tasking. But efficient multi-tasking requires you to master the art of proper time management, proper prioritization of tasks, proper scoping of tasks, and proper delegation of tasks. Delegation is an effective means of developing you and your team, and a key to the organizational prosperity.
Delegation is the assignment of authority (by the delegator) to another person (the delegatee) to carry out a specific job-related activity. Thumb of rule: Not everyone can do everything; and not everything can be delegated. For example, when you decide to get married, you can delegate the process of facilitating finding suitable match for you, you can delegate the process of making arrangements for the wedding, but you do not delegate the process of taking vows or going to your honeymoon.

Delegation doesn’t necessarily need to be a vertical process – it can be both horizontal (peer to peer) and vertical (manager to managee). Your ability to influence and delegate to others (over whom you have no direct control) to attain desired objectives is critical to your success.
Delegation is much more than just a task assignment. To be a smart delegator, you need to follow SMARTER acronym checklist as delegation rule – Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic, Timebound, Ethical/ Exciting, and Recorded. Before delegating you need to assess ability and training needs. It must be accompanied by effective coaching and grooming. As a delegator it is your responsibility to provide the delegatee all necessary information, equip him with all needed tools, and help him develop the skills needed to get the job done. Remember that a good delegator is the one who can get things done (from the delegatee) today and tomorrow. As a commander in charge you must train your soldiers with all military ambush tactics and load them with latest weapons before you send them to the border to serve their duty, so that they all come back alive on their feet with winning flags in their hands.
Effective delegation requires good communication and a high degree of trust between the delegator and the delegatee. The assignment (and the communication) should be such that the delegatee finds it challenging and interesting, and feels special, excited and motivated to apply his 100% to complete it with perfection. On the other hand, however, you should never delegate assignments from your boss that he expects you to do personally. Also once a task delegated, you should avoid the reverse delegation - Offer help and support, take all necessary steps to help the delegatee succeed, be patient, be prepared for the cheap failures, but unless stakes are too high don’t take back the delegated assignment.
Delegation involves passing someone the Responsibility and Authority to do something that otherwise is part of the delegator’s job. The delegated responsibilities need to be clearly defined to avoid any confusion or mismatch between the delegatee’s perspective of the role/assignment and the real expectations from that delegation. The lack of shared understanding can lead to issues in performance and lack of accountability. Define and communicate WHAT and SCOPE of the assigned task – expected outcome, completion criteria, boundaries and other constraints (e.g., budget, timeframe, quality requirements) – but avoid prescribing HOW the assignment should be completed. Always support the decision taken by the delegatee as long as it adheres to the constraints.
Delegation also involves passing some of the Accountability to the delegatee, making him Accountable for the results. But the ultimate Accountability still lies with you (the delegator). That’s why it is important for you to follow the “Trust but verify” model. Establish appropriate controls and checkpoints to monitor progress. Define Completion Criteria for each major task and Exit Criteria for each milestone. Ideally there should be a checklist associated with each delegation to evaluate the results.
There is a wide range of varying freedom that you can confer on the delegatee. The more experienced and reliable the delegatee is, the more freedom you can give. The more critical the task is, the more cautious you need to be about extending a lot of freedom. Take care to choose the most appropriate style for each situation. I love to give analogy of “A Driver and A Passenger” in this context. Consider yourself (the delegator) as a Passenger who must catch 9 AM flight (consider this as your goal/objective). Currently it is 6 AM. You go to your Driver (the delegatee). You explain him the situation, tell him how important it is for you to catch this flight, enquire him about his familiarity of the airport route and whether he has been there before or not, suggest him the shortest/quickest/quietest route, and then take your back seat in the car. Now you may relax and sleep in the back seat (highest level of freedom/ delegation), you may read news paper and periodically check whether he is taking the right route (and whether he is driving at adequate speed) or not and ignore small mistakes/ deviations but correct him if absolutely required, or you may keep instructing him on each signal (micro management or lowest level of freedom/delegation). It all depends upon the Driver’s abilities and performance, current time, and how far you currently are from the airport. If in the worst case you find that the Driver is not capable of driving (or he is drunk) then you should even be willing to (and capable of) driving on your own. In all cases you MUST catch the 9 AM flight.
While delegating critical tasks or when the delegatee is less experienced, set a clear expectation that the delegatee should NOT compromise on Quality to deal with other constraints. He should know that Quality comes first, then Schedules, and then Features. Also instruct him to raise Yellow flags as soon as they are discovered, so that you never need to deal with Red flags. Develop sense of “end to end” ownership in your delegatee, but, at the same time, encourage him NOT to make any assumptions and to seek help/ guidance whenever he is in doubt. Tell him not to wait for his weekly status meeting/ reports to hear about the bottlenecks/ blockers from his team members. Understanding need of the hour and quickly responding to it (flexible and dynamic planning/execution tailored for the situation) is very important. Also encourage him to experiment with non-traditional communication ways if the formal ones seem too tedious and slow (bottleneck) in that context.
It is also essential for you to provide periodic feedback to the delegatee - to let him know how he is doing, and whether he has achieved his aim. If not, you must review with him why things did not go to plan, and deal with the problems. Remember that A Stitch in Time Saves Nine.
After the task is complete, give the appropriate recognition and due credit to the delegatee. Remember that a good leader always looks at mirror when it comes to passing blames, and looks out of window when it comes to sharing the credit. You must absorb the consequences of failure, and pass on the credit for success. If you follow this philosophy, you'd automatically get appreciation not only for the overall success but also for being a great delegator. The old adage goes - History remembers Kings, not Soldiers.  And more than Kings, it remembers Kingmakers.
And finally celebrate the accomplishment of your delegatee - acknowledging small successes as well as large. Such celebrations are a great platform to convey appreciation and value, to build others' confidence, to foster a safe and supportive environment, and to model the behavior for others to emulate.