In my last blog I talked about practice managers’ workload issues. One of the most effective ways of managing your work is to delegate what you can. The aim is that everyone in the practice, including you, should be working ‘smartly’ – i.e. to the appropriate level for their capabilities and pay. If you’re regularly doing things that could be done by your support staff, something’s wrong. Of course, we all end up doing things occasionally that we really shouldn’t be doing, but it shouldn’t be a feature of your working life. We also need to be clear that delegation should never be dumping!
So why don’t we delegate more? I’ve asked managers this question many times on my training courses and we’ve discussed what delegation is, what the benefits are and what can go wrong. I’ve told my delegates that they’re not allowed to leave the training room until they’ve found at least one thing to delegate! Within a few moments, everyone will have found at least one important piece of work that they currently do which they’ll now delegate. I’ve asked them to write it down (which is an act of commitment) and exactly who they’ll delegate it to. It’s an exercise to prove a point really, and people have often said, “I don’t know why I do this” or “If I delegate this, I’ll have more time for more important things which only I can do.” We’re creatures of habit and sometimes it takes a light-bulb moment to realise that we don’t have to do things in the same old way.
Let’s assume you have enough staff to support you in your role. Think about the tasks you undertake (it’s helpful if you keep a diary for a week, broken down into hours, and note how you’re spending your time). Find something you can delegate. Consider the reasons why you should delegate the task, including of course freeing up some time, but also allowing other people to develop their skills. Have the discussion with an identified employee. Are they able to take over the task? Are they interested in doing it? Do they need training? What do they think the benefits would be for them? Do they need to delegate some of their own work? At this point, you may need to say that you have every confidence in them and it would be a great development opportunity for them. Once you have them on board, make sure the team members know what’s happening, and ask for everyone’s support with a positive message. Start by explaining what’s expected and show them how you’ve carried out the task in the past, but try not to be too prescriptive; providing they get to the right destination, they might carry out the task in a different way to you. Then let go, being available for support when needed. Monitor from a distance (micro management never really works!) and provide feedback which is encouraging and positive. If they’ve found the task difficult or made mistakes, talk it through with them rather than immediately taking back the piece of work. Maybe they weren’t the right person or they didn’t have the appropriate support or enough time. But don’t give up on the idea. Let them try again or find someone else more suitable. There are also benefits to the practice in developing a learning and blame-free culture which encourages people to have a go.
I know that delegation isn’t always easy. We often assume we should do everything – or there might be a bit of a ‘control freak’ in us! We often worry about letting go. Delegation is an art you can develop and when you see the results, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do more of it before!
Ten tips to good delegation:
- Define the task and the desired outcome
- Ensure the person has the necessary skills or potential
- Ensure they have the time by delegating some of their own work if necessary
- Provide any training, information or resources that will help
- Explain the task and get their views
- Inform the team and ask for their support
- Provide support and guidance, but gradually let go
- Monitor performance discreetly
- Provide constructive feedback, praise and encouragement
- Don’t have fixed ideas – allow the other person to do the task in their own way