Please learn from our mistakes

No-bullshit lessons in business and careers. One mail every day. 15k+ readers love it. Join in?

Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
5 Nov

So you think you can delegate?

Management is difficult.

I say this because as a manager, more than being good at your skill you’ve to be good at skills you’ve not specifically trained for: delegation being the crucial one.

In India, there is a cultural layer added to this difficulty. We grow up in environments where professional self-sufficiency is advocated for and regarded highly. We are primed to believe that promotion is the only metric that defines success in the workplace.

However, as soon as you’re promoted you find yourself stressed about the basics: communication within teams, delegating responsibilities and building a team that holds itself to the standards that you hold for yourself.

In fact, high standards are the popularly touted notion of why perfectionists find it hard to delegate. The narrative is: perfectionists believe no one has the eye for detail that they have, so even when they delegate, they tend to micromanage. They tend to curb the autonomy of the individual who wished to take full ownership of that task.

But now, I'm going to tell you some really counterintuitive things.

A counterintuitive thing that is true:

It's great to be a perfectionist. And it is true that if you're a specialist, you will rarely find anyone who has the eye for detail and the specific know-how you have developed over years of experience.

And it is also true that there are some tasks that only you should do and that only you would be able to do justice to. There's no need to shy away from this fact.

However, here's what isn't true:

That delegation is difficult because you're a perfectionist and care deeply about the quality of work that's shipped.

This isn't true.

I think delegation is actually difficult because you are currently not allocating time to discern which tasks to take responsibility for personally, and which ones to entrust with people reporting to you.

So, how do you solve for this?

I'm sure you might have at some point come across this simple but effective prioritization matrix:

For starters, using the Eisenhower Decision Matrix (EDM) might be useful. I would recommend using the EDM as a manager when you need to do a basic prioritization of your to-do list.

You mark tasks based on how they fit in the matrix, and then decide to do, decide, delegate, or delete.

The urgent and important tasks will be high-impact and you will more or less know the direction to take in order to accomplish them.

The not-urgent but important tasks will the kind of tasks that you have little clarity on right now. They are unstructured and will need you to take some time out to tinker with unknown, confounding factors. But these will also be the tasks that if you undertake them right now, will get you exponential returns in the future.

However, here are where things start falling apart.

Firstly, marking urgent and unimportant tasks as something to be delegated is not the right way to think about delegation.

Secondly, even after you bucket your tasks and decide to only focus on the ones in the top two quadrants, you will realize that you still have too many. To help you think in an even richer resolution, you need a framework that further breaks down the top two quadrants.

Here's where Shreyas Doshi's Radical Delegation framework will help you get unstuck.

After using the EDM, you will most likely realise that even within the important task bucket, there are still too many tasks you will need to execute yourself.

An easy trap CXOs can fall into here is to then only focus on the urgent and important at the expense of the not-urgent and important tasks — which will undoubtedly come at a loss of long-term strategic thinking.

But clearly, you do not need to do all the important tasks yourself, which the EDM framework gets wrong, in my opinion. You have a team for that and you can leverage your team to do some (or a lot) of that important work.

Enter Radical Delegation.

While EDM can help you prioritise the important, and eliminate a few tasks, the RDM will further help you delegate the important to those who report to you based on two axes:

1. Impact of the task, and
2. The level of specialization needed to do that task.

Here’s what the model suggests:

  • For High Impact, High Specialization: Focus Deeply Yourself!
  • For High Impact, Low Specialization: Delegate to Most Suitable Person and Monitor Closely.
  • For Low Impact, High Specialization: Set Up The Foundation and Coach.
  • For Low Impact, Low Specialization: Delegate and Forget.

Use the framework to first highlight the tasks that your expertise lies in and that are also high impact. Focus on them yourself.

You might have tasks that are high impact and need high specialization, but not the specialization you have. For these, you speak to specialists from other teams you’re working with cross-functionally and delegate the tasks to which you cannot personally contribute, after providing a clear brief.

You also realize there is a team that could use your expertise before they build something of their own. So, for tasks that are low impact but need high specialization, you set up the foundation and then coach team members while they do it. If you have hired a junior who you see a lot of potential in, this is the perfect kind of task to delegate to them. It also offers you an opportunity to coach them on the craft.

There will also be tasks that are high-impact but need low-specialization. Since these are low-specialization tasks, you can easily delegate it to a junior. But as these are high impact, you will still need to closely and actively monitor the work throughout the process. The beauty about delegating these tasks is you're allowing a junior to work on something meaningful and high-impact and cultivate a sense of ownership.

Finally, there will be tasks that are important, and yet both low impact and need low specialization. These, you can safely delegate to a reliable individual and forget. Shreyas adds, "But clarify that you are always available to help," which I think is an important addition.

Now, the process may not always be as neat and quick to get through as explained above.

But you’ll have to use the framework enough times for you to become good at discerning what to do yourself and what to delegate, even within the important stuff.

Here’s what I usually do:

As a CEO, I first delegate and forget along with delegating to the most suitable person. The reason is: I want to exercise my trust in team members who are willing to take ownership and then get out of their way to focus on aspects that need my specialization.

I then work with the team that needs my help to set up a foundation and then move on to the task that only I should focus on.

Parting thoughts

The Radical Delegation framework helps you pick the battles you want to fight as a manager.

Being present everywhere and trying to micromanage will do more harm than good to the overall functioning of a team, and the project you’re working on. Even though your task as a manager won’t stop being challenging after you’ve learnt to delegate better, it will certainly help you avoid feeling overwhelmed as if you’re all over the place.

If you do attempt to use this matrix at your workplace, I’d love to hear from you. Till then, have fun managing!

Feeling Lucky?
Subscribe to get new posts emailed to you, daily. No spam.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
15k+ business professionals act on our advice every day. You should too.
Subscribe to get new posts emailed to you, daily. No spam.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
15k+ business professionals act on our advice every day. You should too.