08/10/2012

By Ally Maughan, founder of People Puzzles, www.peoplepuzzles.co.uk

One of the things that business owners and managers complain the most about these days is the lack of time they have. It's hard when you're responsible for something to let it go; and delegation is one of the hardest things for any business person to learn how to do.

But what happens once you've actually jumped over that hurdle and managed to delegate to someone?

First of all you've got to stop yourself from second guessing them all the time, make sure you're not looking over their shoulder while they're doing the task and trust them to do it in a timely manner.

That's hard but, let's be honest, if you're double checking everything and not letting them get on with the job they've been given, you're actually creating more work for yourself, not less.

Pretty much common sense, I’m sure you'll agree. However, where many business people fall down is after the task is finished.

Let's take Joanne, for example. She's looking for a new print supplier and delegates the task to her assistant, Rachel. She wants Rachel to find her three print quotes and delivery times for 1000 business cards so she can choose the best one.

Trusting her assistant, she leaves the job in Rachel's capable hands and waits. A week later she realises she doesn't have the quotes, so casually asks Rachel where they are.

"Oh", says Rachel, "I couldn't get through to three so I've only got one and it's on my desk."

Grabbing the list of print suppliers, Joanne goes back to her desk and starts calling them herself. "If something is worth doing, you should just do it yourself", she mutters under her breath. Within 15 minutes she's contacted three printers, given them her details and, by the end of the day, has three quotes in her email. Proof indeed that she was right!

When Rachel comes back from lunch, rather than giving her feedback on the job she had been given, Joanne simply smiles and says: "Oh don't worry about the printers, I've sorted it."

Sounds like the easiest way to deal with it, doesn't it? But in this case all that Joanne has done is given herself more work and left Rachel feeling satisfied that the work has been done and she's done nothing wrong.

Let's look at how Joanne could have dealt with this situation.

Review

Joanne needs to think about the situation from her point of view. She asked for the quotations to be delivered as quickly as possible and they haven't been.

Ask

Joanne needs to ask Rachel why the job didn't go as planned.

"Rachel, when I said I needed these quotations quickly, what was the timescale you thought we had agreed? Why did you not keep trying, or try other print companies when you couldn't get through to the first three?"

Understand

'Quickly' may mean something different to Joanne than to Rachel. Rachel may have presumed the printers at the top of the list were the preferred ones. Rachel may not have understood how urgent the job was and ended up doing things she felt were more important.

"So Rachel, you just misunderstood what I wanted? You thought that 'quickly' could mean anything and didn't realise this was an important task?"

Agree

In order to resolve the situation, the two women need to develop an action plan. Joanne has now received the quotes she wants but she could ask Rachel to review them and come back to her with the results. Or ask her to get more quotes, while explaining that 'quickly' means within two days.

Follow Up

Joanne should agree to follow up with Rachel to make sure the task is being completed at a predetermined time.

This is a non-confrontational and easy way of dealing with a situation that is probably quite trying on both parts.

By not doing this:

•Rachel is not learning and developing in her role

•Joanne won't trust Rachel with other tasks and will therefore end up doing them herself

•Joanne will be spending more time on tasks that are on a lower level; she has more important things to do with her time

•Rachel will continue to think she's doing a great job when she isn't

•If Joanne takes lots of tasks away from Rachel, Rachel may find herself bored and dissatisfied in her work leading her to explore employment opportunities elsewhere

•Joanne may react more strongly each time Rachel gets something wrong and decide she's a bad investment

But, by giving firm and fair feedback, both Joanne and Rachel have learned something and, hopefully, future tasks will be agreed in more detail and completed to the satisfaction of both parties.

Feedback is an important part of employing people no matter how long they've been with you. Effective feedback will not only keep your workforce happy but, in the long run, personally save you valuable time.