It sounds so simple to delegate to your direct reports: tell them to do it, and they will! But as all managers discover, even if you're the boss, it's always more complicated. Learn how to make delegation work in this context.
- Delegating to your direct reports should be the simplest of all, right? You're their boss, so if you say to do something they should do it! Isn't that how the world works? Well, not exactly. (laughs) People have never really responded all that well to just being ordered around. It takes more finesse and understanding of the other person's situation. The goal is to make it a win-win, and something that feels more like an opportunity than a command. Here's what to keep in mind. First of all, you can't fill a cup that's already overflowing.
You have to get a sense of what your employee is already working on and responsible for. You might think you already know; after all, you're their boss, but sometimes without thinking we might add something small to their plate without even stopping to consider it. Oh hey, would you mind writing up the notes for that meeting, or whatever. Those things add up. It's also possible, unbeknownst to you, that your colleagues may have roped your employee into helping some of their efforts. Even if that's not officially permitted, it's possible they're doing it anyway, so it's useful to check.
Before delegating to your employee, have a sit-down with them where you go over everything they're currently working on, and what they understand the timetable to be. This is a useful thing to do with your direct reports anyway, but it's especially important if you're adding any new tasks or responsibilities, so you can get a sense of the overall picture. You can also have a conversation so there are no misunderstandings about prioritization. You can tell them which activities are most critical, and which ones can be pushed to the side temporarily, saving you both a lot of heartache.
Second, map the tasks and projects they're responsible for onto their development plan. Too few bosses do this and it's unfortunate. You want to look at how they're spending their time and see if it's actually helping move them in the direction of the improvement goals you've both set for them. It's easy to let your employee keep doing the things he or she is good at forever, but that way they never grow. Instead, the best managers understand they need to help their charges set some stretch goals. It might be time for them to become responsible for something they don't quite know how to do yet, but the growth is in them figuring it out.
Through this lens, you can look at your own list of potentially delegatable tasks and see which ones would help them advance in the direction they need to grow. Of course, it's baby steps. Maybe if they need to improve their public speaking, they present to a team meeting first, and not the make-or-break client presentation. But you want to be strategic about the new responsibilities you're allocating. Finally, as you soften the times that you've been delegated to, the final piece is shaping the narrative of why you're making the ask. Of course you're overburdened and have too much to do and you need help, but if you can also help your employee understand the benefit to them in the form of new experiences or broadened skillsets or more time in front of the client or exposure to senior leaders, that sweetens the value proposition for them, and ensures they're more likely to view it as a real opportunity and not just a scut work task that you're too good for.
That, in turn, means you're going to receive quality work and genuine effort, rather than someone just going through the motions.