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Set Up Individuals for Success

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Set up individuals for success when you’ve delegated a task or project.
  • Overcome the risks in delegating to others.
  • Determine how to let go and empower others.

Set Up Individuals for Success

Joran is a new report who is eager to take on more responsibility on his team. So far he’s excelled at hitting deadlines, and his work has been clean, concise, and on point. His manager Lora delegates a report to him before she leaves for vacation, knowing that it has to be client-ready the day after she returns.

Joran struggles with the report because it demands higher-level knowledge of the business that comes with experience. He cobbles together a presentation based on searches and stretch assumptions. He feels anxious for Lora’s return, fearing he failed to uphold her expectations. Without appropriate coaching, Joran might indeed have been set up for failure.

When a report takes on a new assignment, you need to help them through the ramp-up until the person is proficient at the task. When managers say, “My employees never get it right, so I’d rather just do it myself!”, that usually means they didn’t build enough time into the teaching portion of delegation. As Ansar tells us, delegation isn’t just a skill you pick up, it’s a mindset you adopt to get things done.

Here’s what you can do to make the learning process even easier.

  1. Set up check-ins daily, weekly, or at whatever cadence you need to discuss your report’s decisions and how the project is progressing.
  2. Establish a second-in-command who the report can turn to first to ask for advice.

Regardless of the task difficulty, allow and help your report to gain understanding by asking questions and continually problem-solving. Don’t simply tell them how to do it or do it for them. Why is this important? When team members stay curious and engaged, it directly translates to an innovative workplace.

According to Todd Kashdan, a noted researcher on curiosity in the workplace, a company can make the following mistakes.

  • Discourage employees from asking questions about why or how
  • Punish employees for taking risks
  • Reward managers for a command-and-control, know-it-all behavior
  • Devalue the inclusion of diverse perspectives
  • Value speed of getting things done versus investing time in exploration and inquiry

To combat these mistakes, researchers like Liz Wiseman are bringing to light the power that intellectual curiosity can have on engagement and productivity. In her book Multipliers, Wiseman outlines how to multiply the intelligence, energy, and capability of others by demonstrating the value in:

  • Asking questions instead of giving answers
  • Encouraging debate
  • Looking for opportunities to leverage the smarts and capabilities of those around you

At Salesforce, we introduce the Multipliers mindset within our leadership development programs. We encourage managers to foster debate and clarification when they have delegated or been given a task.

What does all this mean in terms of setting up someone for success? It means asking questions to gain clarity on what you’ve observed (as the giver) or what you’ve heard (as the receiver). Be present when your reports are asking you questions about a delegated task, and keep an open mind if they have more questions than you anticipate.

That being said, what if the task you’re facing is complex and involves multiple stakeholders? Is leveraging your reports, both junior and experienced, helpful in coming to the best possible result? Absolutely. Let’s take a look at why that’s the case and how you can do it.

Manage the Risks of Delegation

One of the biggest problems managers encounter with delegating is the unease that comes with letting go as the size and importance of a project increases. “I get the importance of delegation, but this project (or client) is too important to fail!”

We get that, but you can still find ways to delegate and maintain your sanity the next time your group takes on a challenging project. Generals can’t fight in every battle, ringleaders can’t perform in every act, and you don’t have to execute every objective on your own.

Let’s say your group is trying to land a high-stakes client. You need to pull together a deck, polished presentation, strategic business plan, and data analysis for a meeting in one week. If you attempted to do all this work on your own, the chances of you sleeping or showering in the next seven days are slim to none. And no one wants to work beside a tired, odorous leader. Thankfully, you have a team who is eager to help.

First, inform the entire team about the details, expectations, importance, and intended results of the project. Here’s an example of what that could look like. These questions and what you say vary depending on the project.

What You’re Aligning On
What You Ask Yourself And Say
  • What is the scope of the project?
  • What is the timeline?
  • What are the dependencies?
  • What does the final product or presentation need to look like?
“We have one week until the presentation, which means we need a first draft in three days and a final draft in five days.”

“The internal communication team must proof and sign off on the presentation. Copy them when you send me the final draft.”
  • Will there be multiple drafts?
  • How polished must each draft be when it’s submitted?
  • Is there a particular file type that is expected for the final presentation?
  • Are email updates to just the manager or the entire group required?
  • What’s the escalation plan for when things go wrong?
“When we look at the final draft, aim to make it something I could present tomorrow, so send it as a PDF file.”

“Copy everyone on the communications so that we can all be in the loop.”

“Roadblocks look like X,Y, and Z. If you’re stuck, reach out so that we can work through it together.”
  • What does landing this account mean for the group?
  • How does it relate to the mission of the company at large?
“Doing well on this presentation improves our group’s visibility in the organization and moves us toward achieving our yearly goals.”
  • Is there a goal for each portion of the presentation?
  • Is there a stretch goal?
“The goal for our team is to bring on an important new client as a result of this presentation.”

“If the project goes well, we can ask the client to refer our services to others next quarter.”

Gaining alignment is mission critical on this portion of the project. When something does go wrong, you want the team to “swarm” the problem to get back on track as soon as possible. Like ants on a fallen crumb, your team can surround the issue and correct it far faster than if only one team member knows the details. As Kris notes, delegation only works when everyone is in lockstep, from the beginning to end of a project.

Then comes the delegating! Assign tasks to your reports based on their expertise. In the big client presentation that you’re preparing for, asking the Excel guru to perform the data analytics and the details wizard to complete the presentation seems like a good idea, right? The more junior teammates can help their experienced counterparts and learn from their expertise. Boom! Delegated.

At this point, you might be inclined to clap twice and send them off on their way to execute! Just kidding about the clapping, but aside from your agreed-on check-ins, this is when you trust your team to get things done. All you have to do now is just “let it go.” We know that’s harder than it sounds (even harder than getting that song out of your head), so let’s talk about how to do that.

Learn to Let Go

Hooray! You’ve done it! You’ve delegated so that you can focus on keeping the team working at their best. And just to be crystal clear, no hovering over their desks or checking their Google Doc progress throughout the day.

Your goal is to help your reports develop critical thinking and problem-solving so that they can be more effective with less frequent input. Micromanaging squashes learning flatter than a marshmallow in a s’more.

Allowing employees to be risky and creative encourages them to constantly innovate and iterate. These are the employees that you can trust later on to solve even the hardest problems.

When you have team members who are passionate about what they do and are open to trying new ways to solve problems, you can support that behavior in a few ways.

  • Group settings—Praise their contributions even if the risk wasn’t a complete success. For example, “I noticed you tried a new solution to this problem we’re frequently tackling. I love the creativity! You’ve almost found a new way for us to move forward on that objective.”
  • One-on-one conversations—Reinforce how important it is to see them taking initiative to get things done in an efficient and innovative way. “I just wanted to reiterate how great your suggestions were at the meeting on Monday. Even though we can’t carry it through to your original vision, your out-of-the-box thinking reenergized the discussion and led us to a creative solution.”

When you give your reports the opportunity to try, fail, and learn from their previous efforts, you’re laying the groundwork for their improvement. That also brings up the point of our old friend accountability. For your team to fulfill their potential, hold them accountable for their responsibilities during and after the project’s completion. At the agreed-on check-ins, if there is a gap between expected and delivered work, here’s what you can do.

  • Review missteps and help your employee learn from them.
  • Clarify details, expectations, importance, and results.
  • Decide if more guidance or support is needed.

So as you can tell, delegation isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it process. Monitoring tools give you visibility without lording over your employees. Established check-ins ensure that there’s a platform for communication and problem-solving. With everyone working on tasks that best fit their skill set and experience, you harness the power of your entire team to make the greatest possible impact on your business.

Let's sum it up.

Delegating responsibilities to your team means that you support and trust them throughout a project’s completion. Letting go of some control poses its own challenges, but the rewards are exponentially greater than trying to do everything on your own. When you put the right metrics, coaching, and accountability in place, and align with your reports, you use the talent of the whole group to arrive at the best possible outcome.

Think about the number of responsibilities you’re juggling daily, and the supportive team around you who want your group to be the absolute best it can be. By delegating some of your tasks and holding reports accountable for their efforts, you empower them and improve your team’s overall performance. And get to take that much deserved vacation as well!