The Accomplished Solopreneur

Issue 23.17

Saturday, April 29, 2023

The Secret to Effective Delegation: Trust and Motivation

Delegation is at the heart of getting more done, faster. But you have to delegate effectively, otherwise you end up demotivating the people you delegated to — and now you have a bigger problem. In this article we look at the one thing that unlocks the power of delegation, and how you can build highly engaged teams with trust and motivation.

The one thing that unlocks the power of delegation

Steve Jobs famously said:

“It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

This is what delegation is all about: get the experts to do the stuff we don’t want (or need) to become expert at.

Now imagine this scenario:

You just hired a bookkeeper to look after your business accounts. You could probably do your bookkeeping yourself, but you’re not very good at it, you don’t particularly like doing it, and you’re slow. This bookkeeper is expert at what they do, love doing it, and come highly recommended.

There are two ways you can now work with your new bookkeeper:

  • You can tell them how to keep your books, or
  • you can tell them what you expect of them, and let them get on with the job.

Obviously it makes no sense to tell them how to do the job. After all, you hired them because they’re better than you at this task. So the best way to work with your new bookkeeper is to tell them what you expect of them, give them the information to do the work, and then go and spend your time on other stuff.

This is the secret to effective delegation.

The secret to effective delegation

The secret to effective delegation has three steps:

  1. Define what success looks like — what you expect them to deliver.
  2. Make sure they have the tools and information to do the job.
  3. Then step back and let them get on with it.

Note that we’re not telling them how to do the job. We expect them to already know how to do it, so all we have to do is wait for them to get the job done.

The third step — getting out of their way so they can get on with it — is the most important one and where we make the most mistakes.

Delegate to motivate

In his book Drive, Daniel Pink draws on four decades of research to reveal the top three things that motivate people:

  • Autonomy - the ability to do work on your own
  • Mastery - the opportunity to get better at it
  • Purpose - doing the work for a meaningful reason

(I remember these as AMP - as in “amp up” your team.)

Here’s the important bit:

When we delegate effectively, we are giving them the opportunity to a) do it on their own (autonomy) and b) get better at it (mastery). These are two of the most effective ways of motivating people.

And here’s the thing we often get wrong:

If we tell them how to do the job, even when they already know how to do it, we are taking away their ability to do it autonomously, and the opportunity to get better at it because you’ve told them how to do it.

So when you delegate, make sure you define what success looks like (what you want the outcomes to be). Then make sure they have the information and tools to do it. And then get out of their way — otherwise you reduce their motivation to get it done.

But what if they’re not expert at it?

I would love to hire a Virtual Assistant (VA) to help with my content marketing. In an ideal world, I will write the articles, and my VA will take care of the rest, from getting the content onto my website, adding appropriate images, meta titles, checking internal and external links, and scheduling articles for publication. And all of that needs to happen on the three different platforms my content goes out to.

Obviously, anyone I hire to do this work will know how to do some of this work, but definitely not all of it.

Here’s how I would go about engaging a VA to do this job:

  1. Create a checklist that has detailed steps on how to do the work
  2. Go through the checklist once to publish an article while they look over my shoulder
  3. Go through the checklist another time, but this time they do the work while I watch over their shoulder to make sure the instructions are clear.
  4. Depending on how the previous step went, do it once or twice more to make sure they get it right.
  5. Let them do it on their own, periodically checking to make sure it was done right.

The greatest thing about this approach is that you can start off with a relatively simple checklist. Define only the basic tasks, and make sure they get confident doing it. Then you can add more complex steps to the checklist, each time making sure they get it right before you add more complexity.

Things will go wrong

Don’t expect everything to work perfectly the first time round. Things will go wrong, and the great thing about that is that this is when people learn.

The most important thing to remember is to not punish them when things go wrong. We’re all human, and we all make mistakes. Show them that you will help them get it right, and figure out how you can improve your checklist to make sure it works better next time.

Only take corrective action if they repeatedly demonstrate they’re not suited for the task.

Delegate and motivate at the same time

Effective delegation is at the heart of getting more done, faster. The key to effective delegation is to:

  • define what success looks like,
  • make sure they have the tools and information to do the job, and
  • getting out of their way to let them get on with it.

If you delegate like this, you’re leveraging two of the top three motivators to build highly engaged teams: autonomy and mastery.

And if they’re not expert at the job yet, give them a checklist they can use to get it done.