How Do You Delegate?

Giving your employees both the tools and authority are vital components of the delegation process. - IMAGE: Getty Images

Giving your employees both the tools and authority are vital components of the delegation process.

IMAGE: Getty Images

Delegation, like everything else we talk about, is a process. People are typically turned off by the idea of delegation because at some time in the past they have had a bad experience. So, when starting this process, you shouldn’t announce that you are now delegating tasks, like you are Oprah handing out free cars. (You get a task, you get a task, you get a task!) My guess is that wouldn’t go over great. Maybe you, or your employees, have had an experience where a task was delegated to someone else or someone delegated a task to them, and it fell flat on its face. It was an epic failure. The time and energy required to fix the problem took more time and energy than if they would have “just done it themselves” from the beginning. Most likely, the task didn’t get delegated to someone, but instead was dumped on someone. There’s a difference. 

When you start considering delegating a task, it’s important to recognize that delegation is a process. It takes time. There is no easy button or magic wand. To delegate, you must commit time and energy to making it successful. I know that sounds overwhelming, especially if you don’t have time or energy to start with, but I promise you, it will be worth it.

Teach, Train, and Equip 

To start, you need to teach values — the “why” and “how” of wanting a task done a certain way. Explain why this task is important. Let’s say you are asking a parts support specialist to front and face the end caps in your showroom. You must teach them why you are doing this. For example, you might say: “We want our customers to walk into our dealership and say ‘Wow!’” Or maybe: “We want the customer to have an effortless experience every time they walk in.” The values you teach are going to be unique to your dealership and to the task, but you should first identify and clearly communicate the “why.” 

Next, you need to train your employee on the “how,” giving them skills they need to do the job. Let’s use the example of fronting and facing the product on end caps again. First, you would explain to the employee that in order to do this properly, you would need to pull all of the products to the front of the shelf to make it look full, and then turn each item so that the labels are facing forward. I know it’s not rocket science, but delegating is about teaching, not leaving things up to chance. 

Now you have shown them specifically how you want this done. Next, have them do the same task and provide clear and direct feedback. If you chose to skip this part of the teaching, you can’t be upset with your people for not doing it right. You are the instructor; they are the inexperienced driver. Remember?

Finally, you need to equip the employee and give them the tools or authority to do the job. The last part can be the hardest, but it is also the most important. Ask your employee: “Are there any additional tools or supplies you need to do this task? Is there any authority you need to have to do this job?” Tools or authority. Ouch. Maybe in our hypothetical example, the person asks for a shop towel to make sure there are no fingerprints or oil smudges on the product. 

In most cases, tools are typically easier to give than authority. But the authority to make the decisions on that particular task is as equally important.

In some situations, authority might be allowing them to decide when to do the task. If it’s the example of fronting and facing shelves, you might want to instruct them to do it first thing every morning right when the dealership opens. Or you might give them the authority to decide to do it every day before lunch. You have to be okay with giving them the authority to decide when to do it if you want to take the task off your plate. I know, it’s painful. 

The most challenging part of delegating is that you must follow the 80% rule: If someone does a task to 80% of how you would have done it, then it is good enough. That’s right, 80%. Not 85 or 90% — 80% has to be good enough. Let that sink in for a second. You might be thinking: “But Sara, there are certain things that require 100% accuracy. What about those?” You’re right — taxes, counting the cash drawer, inventory management, payroll, repairs in the service department, and other similar tasks require a high degree of accuracy, but most everyday jobs can be done at 80% and still be acceptable. 

I was at a dealer meeting recently, and we were talking about the 80% rule in delegation. A dealer came up to me after the session, trying to stump me, and said: “Sara, I have employees that set up our displays both in the store and in our outside display area. I am really particular about how they do them. Are you saying that I shouldn’t be watching the cameras in the dealership and giving them feedback on what I want?” 

I’m confident that my face showed my confusion before it came out of my mouth. I said: “That’s exactly what I want you to do. If you have delegated them to do the task, then I am assuming that you have taught, trained, and equipped them to do it how you want it done. So it’s not something you need to be involved in. This isn’t easy, and I get that. But if you are involved in every small detail going on inside your dealership, you will never make any forward progress.” 

What you will discover is that your employees will begin to take responsibility for the task, and, in the long run, will probably end up doing that task better than you ever did. Giving your employees both the tools and authority are vital components of the delegation process. If you equip them with the tools, but not the authority, the task won’t ever come off your plate and it will leave everyone involved, including yourself, frustrated. 

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