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Running an online Agency, Spinning the plates, Swydo

Unlock your team’s hidden potential with effective delegation

10 August 2016

Like any company sincere about its growth, even as we grow, we keep looking for new and better ways to do what we do. We seek out ideas and strategies that could help us enhance ourselves and make further advances in customer centricity, quality, productivity and cohesiveness. And as we progress on this pursuit of excellence, we try and share the lessons we’ve learnt in our journey so far so that other seekers can more easily find the answers they need.

One of the many important lessons we learnt comes, unsurprisingly, from a very famous source of leadership wisdom – ‘The 7 Habits of Effective People’ by Stephen Covey. Anyone who has read the book will agree that it contains a wealth of paradigm shifting insights that enrich your outlook on life – personal and professional.
(If you haven’t explored the practical wisdom of this book, I encourage you to do so.)

In his book, Dr. Covey lays down many tools for effective management. The most powerful of these tools is learning how to delegate effectively. It is a skill that can exponentially transform organisations.

Astoundingly though, it is the one skill most overlooked by today’s managers and business leaders, especially in online marketing. Yes, it is a skill. And in this article I’ll show you how you can learn it.

But first, it’s important to understand its significance.

Why successful managers delegate

Inability to delegate effectively is one of the major reasons that hold back the growth of an organisation. This is especially true for the small to medium sized online marketing companies since they must survive exceedingly aggressive competition and demanding clients to succeed.

However, despite their urgent need, they fail to recognize the engines of performance that can be unleashed through effective delegation. Many managers and leaders refuse to delegate; either because they believe training someone takes too long or because they think they can do a better job on their own. Both attitudes are wrong!

Yes, it does take time to train someone and raise their competency to the level you need, but consider this – once you’ve trained such people, they become permanent assets to your team and your organisation. Not to mention, that now they are able to perform at a level higher than before, thus raising the bar of results.

And yes, it might be true that right now you can do a better job than your employee, but this road only leads to a dead end. Because guess what? There are only so many hours in the work week and eventually, no matter how hard you work, you’ll run out. At that point, the growth of your team and your organisation will  become stagnant. You will have too much on your plate to devote time to training other team members. And no matter how resilient you are, eventually you will buckle under the workload and burn yourself out. I think you see where this is going.

So, if you are not sure how to delegate work the right way and you are managing a team – keep reading…. You need to know this!

How you can learn to delegate effectively and unlock your team’s true potential

Stephen Covey, in his seminal work ‘The 7 Habits of Effective People’, provided a set of concrete steps to help people delegate. He called this method – ‘Stewardship Delegation’.

As the name suggests, this method aims to instil a sense of ‘stewardship’ in anyone assigned a task. It encourages and empowers an individual to take personal responsibility for the success or failure of the assigned task. When this happens, efforts are fueled by an intrinsic desire to succeed which propels people to perform to the best of their abilities.

It is the proven recipe for creating a truly remarkable team that delivers outstanding results. Why is this method so effective? Because of one crucial element – Trust.

Trust is the highest form of human motivation. It brings out the very best in people. But it takes time and patience and it doesn’t preclude the necessity to train and develop people so that their competence can rise tot he level of that trust”
– Stephen Covey –

Trust is a great human motivator and stewardship delegation relies heavily on it. When you trust your people to deliver the results you seek – and you give them the support and freedom to innovate and exercise initiative – you empower them to channel the best of their potential into their work. This is how good teams become great!

So how exactly does stewardship delegation work? It works by following a set of steps. Five to be exact. Though the concept behind each step is simple and straightforward, it requires a firm commitment to the growth and training of your team. It’s a lot like making a super expressway. A lot of time and effort goes into paving it, but its long term benefits dwarf the initial investment.

Master the following steps and you’ll be building your expressway to phenomenal success in no time!.

The 5 steps of stewardship delegation

Step 1. Specify the Desired Results
First things first. Tell them exactly what you want. Explain, in as much detail as necessary, the specific results that you are looking for.

Distill the goal into a simple, achievable target that they can aim at. Create a clear mutual understanding of what needs to be done. Focus on the end result – not ‘how’ you want them to do it but ‘what’ you want them to achieve. The mantra is – results over methods.

Specify the results you want in detail and leave the methods up to them. The necessity to provide clear goals is reiterated in Verne Harnish’s Scaling Up – another great source of knowledge for growing companies. We also recommend the Objective and Key Results (OKR) framework to set goals.

(!)Tip: It’s important to note here that while pushing them a bit out of their comfort zone is a good thing, you should make sure they’ve sprouted wings before you give them a nudge off the cliff.

Step 2. Provide guidance and training
There’s no denying it – this part is hard. I know from experience. It’s hard because it requires significant investment of time and energy to train and guide people. To equip them with the skills necessary to carry out the delegated tasks.

As you guide them, let them know that once they are up to speed, they are free to choose the methods to achieve the desired goal. By all means, share your experience with similar tasks and identify failure paths. Warn them against what NOT to do. But once you have done all that, STEP BACK! Leave them to it and don’t interfere.

Choose capable people, teach them what they need to know, and then trust them to get the job done. Don’t try to take over at the slightest hint of trouble. This is the hardest thing to do and also the one thing most crucial to making stewardship delegation work.

Step 3. Offer necessary resources
Equip your people with the resources they need to accomplish the given task. Let them know the tools, technical and organisational resources available to them and the budget they have to work with.

If a team is required to complete the task, assign suitable people. If possible, let them pick their own team and clarify the level of authority granted to the person in charge of the team.

If you can’t be available to lend guidance all the time, assign a member of the senior staff or another qualified person who they can go to for advice and assistance whenever needed.

Step 4. Establish accountability using fixed parameters
Establishing accountability provides a firm direction to the efforts. It also helps internalise the responsibility for the task’s success or failure.

Therefore, for effective delegation, set up definite intervals to receive reports and use easily measurable parameters for evaluation.

For example, rather than saying, “Bring in more traffic to this client’s website…” say “Increase this website’s traffic by 50% in the next 3 months…”. This allows both you and your people to qualitatively and quantitatively evaluate the progress over the given timeframe. This is a rough example of course.

There are plenty of other KPIs and metrics in (online) marketing that can be used to evaluate progress and quality of results.

(!)Tip:When assigning tasks to someone new, keep progress reports more frequent. As they prove their calibre, give them more room. But always follow up. Remember – trust, but verify.  

Step 5. Explain the consequences
Explain the consequences of final results, both good and bad, to the person entrusted with the job. If doing the job well will earn them some benefits, let them know. These benefits can be anything from performance bonuses, better work opportunities or even just a pat on the back!

Assurance of recognition empowers people to fully commit to their goals and not hesitate to go the extra mile to deliver desired results.

It’s also important to let them know the flip side of things. When assigning high priority tasks, tell them what’s at stake. They should know if poor results might end up adversely affecting the team or the organisation. Inform them if performing poorly on a particular task will affect their position in the organisation.

The objective is not to put pressure on them, but to make sure they are aware of the big picture and how their efforts tie into the larger goals of the organisation. This lends a sense of purpose and a broader perspective to their efforts.

Applying and mastering the principles of effective delegation

Learning and mastering these steps and the principles behind them will not happen overnight. It’ll take time and effort.

Choose capable people. Find out the gaps in their skills and knowledge. Help them fill those gaps. And then – trust them to do their best.

If it sounds tough, that’s because it is. We should know, we have been trying to implement these strategies with our team. Our efforts have already yielded some success, though a challeging road still lies ahead.

But this is the noble burden of effective leaders. Always has been. It’s how great organisations are built. And if you can master stewardship delegation, you’ll be well on your way to transforming your team and organisation into a resounding success.