I recently attended one of the best talks I have been to in Oxford. It was a talk by Felix Dennis of Dennis publishing. He is one of the most famous self-made billionaires in Britain. And to his credit he can do much more than just make money. He is a great poet, a philanthropist and in my opinion, a great orator.
At the talk, he spoke about his life story, some lessons that he has learnt and what he plans to do ahead. In question and answers he also gave a brief picture of what it takes to be an entrepreneur. I was particularly impressed by an answer that he gave in response to a question of how to deal with employees. He said:
I am only really good at two things. First is recognising talent. I can say within a very short time whether someone is suitable for a certain task or not. Second is delegating. And by delegating I don’t mean giving work away to someone so that I don’t have to do it. What I mean is really delegating, letting that person handle the task on their own, giving them the space to work and making them understand the expectations I have of them. I’ve seen very few people delegate work effectively.
Although, I can say very little about recognising talent (which on occasions all of us do), there is something I can say about delegating. For any of us who has been in a position of responsibility (however big or small), where we lead a team to a complete a task, we will know that delegation is a really important aspect of the job. It requires us to understand the other person well enough to assign a particular task to them and to be able to ask them, in the most effective manner, to do that task for the team. In most cases, there is also a degree of trust that needs to be present
Looking at my previous experience with delegation, I realise that I am able to do it and to a certain degree well enough. And I say well enough because according to my definition (not Dennis’) delegation means getting someone who to do a certain thing for the team. In that regard, I have definitely managed to get a fair amount of work done.
But according to Dennis’ definition, I feel I have utterly failed at it. That’s because very rarely have I come across a piece of work that I have delegated and which has come back to me in a way that serves the set purpose best. I tend to feel that it could be done better or sometimes, that it would have been better had I done it.
Clearly, there is something I need to change about the way I delegate work. And I think after listening to that answer by Dennis, I realise that I can definitely improve on communicating my expectation of the task that I am about to delegate.
Here’s what I think I will do: when delegating a piece of work, I will ensure that I will give the person doing the job as much detail as possible about what I expect as the outcome of the job. After that, I will set a deadline for the task and then give them complete freedom to do it on their own. And at the end, I would request them to let me give them some constructive feedback about the task they just completed.
I think this in many ways should improve the quality of work that I receive on delegation. With this freedom, of course, there comes some added responsibility on the person doing the job. And I think that is what can serve as the true driving force of some quality work.
The feedback idea should also serve the purpose well because it then gives the person who has been delegated the task a chance to reflect upon what they have done and take in the feedback in much a better setting. Doing this at the end is advantageous, of course, because they don’t have the pressure to finish the task. Additionally, it is a better setting because interrupting someone while they are doing something is very inefficient (and I realise that because I have done it on some occasions).