Tools for Effective Delegation

Imagine the following scenario: Jane asks Dan to design a poster that showcases a new product. Dan goes away, makes the poster, and then comes back to show the result, proud of delivering ahead of schedule and under budget. 

Instead of congratulating him, Jane says that he should have checked with another department before deciding on the colour palette and that now the poster has to be redone. The project goes over time and over budget.

Delegation is one of the skills with the broadest range of applications, yet we rarely practice it consciously. Too often, we blame problems on the other person not listening or failing to follow the instructions. Seldom, we take into account the steps we could have taken to prevent the miscommunication from happening in the first place.

Below are 2 simple, yet powerful, mental tools that you can use to improve outcomes. The first, one addresses the structure of the communication. The second one, all the elements that need to be discussed, the content.

The three steps communication process:

In any conversation, it is hard to judge when your counterpart is actively listening. They might be giving an automated response or suffer from self-confirmation bias (a mechanism through which we privileged information that confirms our current world-views and ignore what contradicts it). What is more, we can often attribute different meanings and connotations to the same words.

The three step process bypasses both problems by constantly bringing the attention of your counterpart back to the conversation and using multiple wordings. When executed with confidence, it shows professionalism and saves a considerable amount of time and pain.

As the name implies, it has 3 simple steps:

1. Person A explains ‘the thing’ to person B and asks for them to rephrase
“I would like you to [do X]. Could you explain to me how you see that happening pls?”

2. Person B rephrases and summarizes their understanding to person A  
“yes, I will [rephrase], correct?”

3. Person A confirms* what person B just said
“yes, I’m glad that we are on the same page with [rephrase again]”

Of Course, if A doesn’t agree with the summary made by B, it is essential to restart the process.

The 4 elements of any task:

Now that you are communicating effectively, thanks to a robust structure, you need to make sure that no part of the content is left unaddressed.
For that, we divide content into 4 categories (each with the most common questions) that you can use as a mental or physical checklist:

The Objective:
What is the objective?
Why is this important for the user/supervisor?
Why is ‘the thing’ important to the person who will do it?

The Method:
Is there a defined process to archive ‘the thing’? or is the person doing it (completely) free to choose his/her own?

The Constraints:
Deadlines? Budget? Risks?
Dependencies (who/what else needs to be involved).
Any other constraints?

The Reporting:
When should the topic be discussed again? Upon choosing the method / upon achieving a milestone / upon completion / only if there is a problem / never
Who, when and how needs to be informed?

By combining the set of questions with the 3 step communication process, you get the best chance of success from the start. Just make sure the answers to the questions are not forgotten!

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