September 2nd, 2013

They say the first step towards recovery is admitting that you have a problem.

I believe that the first step towards solving a problem is to understand the problem. It’s very hard to solve a problem if you don’t know the root cause.

Know thyself.

I have a hard time delegating. I have a hard time letting go. I know that I am not alone in this. The purpose of delegating is to take the weight off of our shoulders, so why can delegating cause so much stress?

The inability to delegate can be attributed to a need for control or perhaps for a level of perfectionism that is believed to be unattainable by others. Both of these are valid and difficult obstacles and both of them deal with trust. Though I think it can be broken down a little further.

Consider a task that you know well but could be delegated. Maybe you don’t like to do it, maybe you don’t “need” to be the one who does it, but you’ve done it often and have a good system. Now you have an opportunity to delegate the task, but are hesitant to do so.

The fear and distrust can be broken down to several different causes:

  • You know they will probably do it differently and maybe you distrust their process or the outcome.
  • You know potential problems that could arise in the process (especially if it’s not YOUR process.)
  • You know what is important to achieve in the end. (You know what the end results needs to look like, and maybe even why.)
  • You know what might need to be done to fix a non-optimal result.
  • You know that if something does go wrong, you’ll probably be the one fixing it… and you know this will take as long, if not longer, than doing it yourself.

Now, a lot of this could be handled by giving appropriate directions… but maybe you don’t trust them to follow directions. Or maybe you don’t trust yourself to give clear enough directions.

Directions can be problematic.

Properly delegated work should focus on outcomes, rather than process. Yet, as humans, we tend to think in processes.

There are certain times and places where process is perhaps more valuable than outcome (like in science!), but focusing on process can cause problems in delegation situations.

Process and procedure is within the realm of problem solving. It’s a potential creativity outlet when it comes to getting from point a to point b. When the solution is a given, the task becomes tedious. At some level, it also disallows someone else the opportunity to learn.

There is usually more than one way to accomplish any given goal: There’s more than one way to skin a cat.

How often are our directions more complicated than they need be?

Q: How do I get to your house?
A: Oh, well, just get to this street, then follow it south. Go three blocks past the fourth stoplight, then turn left. Go two blocks and you’ll see a park, then take a right, and three houses past the brick house on the corner, take a left into the driveway with the basketball hoop.

How much more complicated do we make our lives trying to give directions to someone else? How often do directions rely on our perception of the world? By definition they must, we only see the world through our own eyes. The things we think are obvious are not always obvious to others.

I’m not saying that these kinds of directions are unhelpful, but add any level of complication and it takes more time and energy to explain the process than it does to do the thing yourself.

We instinctively feel that our own methods are significantly better than anyone else’s method. Many times that might be true, we have probably done it more (and therefore might be more efficient at it).

There are times and places where things need to be done a certain way. It can very hard to convey this knowledge without experiencing it first hand.

Again, it comes back to trust. Trust that someone else is capable of producing a satisfactory result.

As such, there are many tasks that can’t be delegated without a lot of training. At the same time, how many tasks do we only think need to be done a certain way? How often are we more anxious about someone following our process than achieving a given result? Can you trust someone to get the right result using their own process?

Delegation is suppose to ease our burden, but if it’s not done correctly, it creates an open loop. Open loops are bad, as humans, we need closure.

How do you get closure, when you put an unfinished task into someone else’s hands?

To be continued…

This is a longer post than I originally intended, but there is more to say. Stay tuned for more on this topic, and others that are related. In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts on this and get any tips or tricks you might have for delegating tasks.