One of the most powerful aspects of delegating outcomes is that it creates accountability. By entrusting team members with achieving objectives that impact the greater organization, leaders create a sense of ownership. Teams and their leaders should collaborate to define their missions, outcomes, and metrics that measure progress toward the desired result. In order to establish sustained growth for any organization, one of the most important skills needed is the ability to delegate work effectively.
At its core, delegation is the assignment of responsibility from one person to another. While some micromanagers are great at delegating tasks, they don’t see the benefits of effective delegation. Most leaders ironically don’t delegate well because they are simply overwhelmed.
To alleviate this burden and maximize productivity, delegation becomes not just necessary, but an essential skill. The common way of thinking about managing people is assigning them tasks. A more effective way to manage people is to make them responsible for outcomes.
There are three critical principles of effective delegation that all leaders should keep in mind. Understanding these will help set the foundation for increased collaboration, improved productivity, and ultimately, growth.
Principle 1: Manage Outcomes, Not Work
Delegation should focus on outcomes rather than divvying up tasks. Leaders should clearly define the desired results and trust their teams to determine the best way to achieve them. This approach promotes creativity, collaboration, and ownership within the team. By trusting their teams to self-organize, leaders foster a culture of trust that not only helps build morale and employee engagement, but also frees the leader to focus on obstacles to growth.
We recently worked with a leader whose OKRs included increasing revenue from existing customers. There are myriad ways of potentially accomplishing this; you can imagine these customers have their own value stream.
There are many possibilities for accomplishing the goal within the leader’s purview, so with the team, they brainstormed ideas and settled on increasing user engagement as a path to increasing customer spend. At first, it was difficult for our leader not to go to the next level and start brainstorming and assigning tasks for implementing “solutions” to the challenge. This often feels like the quickest path to getting going. “Just do it!”
The very nature of delegation infers giving up control, which can be difficult for some leaders.
The problem is that it also makes the leader a project manager. Is that really what they want? It also means that the team’s metrics end up being very tactical and doesn’t necessarily lead to the desired outcome.
Instead, our leader delegated the outcome of increasing user engagement x% and left the team to determine the way of getting there. The leader made themself available for helping them think through the how, but the responsibility for getting there was left to the team. The team ended up finding several “quick fixes” that improved onboarding time marginally, while also scheduling empathy interviews to learn what might drive more pronounced increases.
Principle 2: Setting Guardrails
Without dictating solutions or tasks, leaders can and should establish guardrails that define the boundaries within which their teams work. These guardrails might be based on the leader’s experience and expertise, as well as strategy and values. By setting clear parameters, leaders enable their teams to make decisions aligned with the rest of the organization.
A major new feature release might be out of scope. Increasing engagement by showing customers conspiracy videos might run counter to the company’s mission of creating community.
Principle 3: Coach and Mentor
Effective leaders act as coaches, mentors, and protectors. They offer support and guidance when requested. They remove organizational obstacles and “protect” the teams’ work. Leaders have their teams’ backs. They intervene if issues within a team arise that require their authority.
A leader acting in this capacity is readily available to their teams through various channels such as phone, text, or email. By providing this type of ad hoc coaching, leaders can address challenges, answer questions, and provide timely feedback, without calling a bunch of meetings. This approach cultivates a culture of learning and growth within the team.
Finally, it is crucial to communicate the “why” behind these goals and highlight how they integrate and align with the greater objectives within their departments, as well as the larger organization.
Ultimately, all of this requires clear communication in both directions, which fosters stronger working relationships and promotes a culture of trust. Perhaps the most important byproduct of this is the fact employees feel aligned and impactful, leading to a happier, more engaged worker.
The very nature of delegation infers giving up control, which is difficult for some leaders. Building trust takes time and is often earned rather than given freely. To overcome this obstacle, start with smaller, “safer” challenges to delegate. Increase the frequency of check-ins. Periodically observe behavior like agile ceremonies, without taking over. Offer training, additional coaching, or external expertise to help teams head in the right direction. This is also a useful way to nip early teams drifting from the desired outcomes.
Embracing Leadership, Not Project Management
Delegation is not about becoming a project manager. By delegating outcomes, leaders should leverage their newfound time to be proactive and strategic in achieving the outcomes they are responsible for. Their role transforms into leading teams to discovery, efficiently allocating resources, and prioritizing initiatives.
Metrics: Measuring Outcomes, Not Tasks
Metrics play a crucial role in delegation. Teams will naturally optimize what’s measured. If you measure “on time and under budget,” that’s where the focus will be regardless of whether the desired outcome of the project is achieved. The goal is to measure progress toward impact, not whether tasks have been completed. This requires an understanding of the desired outcomes, and a clear definition of what success looks like. By quantifying the desired outcome and breaking it down into progress metrics, leaders can effectively track the team’s progress. Instead of directing a team to “send 10 emails,” for example, have them track the number of leads generated, or conversations held with potential customers.
Ceremonies for Effective Delegation
Implementing ceremonies can enhance the effectiveness of delegation. Sprints, stand-ups, retrospectives, and demos that come from the agile world facilitate communication, collaboration, and learning within the team. Stand-ups should not merely be laundry lists of work done, but rather focus on sharing important information, milestones, obstacles, deadlines, and the status of significant contributions. Retrospectives enable team members to discuss successes and ways of improving work, while demos showcase the results of their work to stakeholders and beneficiaries.
Delegation is not about becoming a project manager.
Embracing delegating outcomes is the key to effective management and unleashing the true potential of both leaders and their teams. It requires trust, communication, and an understanding of the desired outcomes. By offering support and guidance while still allowing teams to make autonomous decisions, leaders foster a culture of ownership and responsibility. In addition, through effective delegation, leaders focus on their role as coaches and mentors while reaping the benefits of increased time on their hands. The result is a stronger team with higher levels of engagement, productivity, and growth.
I am hoping these principles will help you accomplish more with less, and if you need help getting there email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.