We all have the same 24 hours in every day to get work done, and farmers are experts at squeezing every second out of that time. Have you ever thought to yourself, “If I only I could be in two places at once!”

Even though it’s not exactly possible to transport yourself, there is a way to be working in multiple places at one time. It’s called delegating, and managers and owners need to learn to be able to do it well in order to be successful, said Lisa Holden in a Penn State Extension webinar.

What is delegation? “You’re giving others the authority to act on your behalf,” explained the dairy science associate professor, emphasizing the word “authority” and adding that this means you are giving them responsibility while holding them accountable for the results. Without authority, responsibility, and accountability, it’s very difficult to successfully delegate, she said.

Holden said to think of delegation as the transfer of a baton in a relay race: two people coming at the moment from different perspectives need to make a smooth transition. Consider when you might need to delegate a task — it could be as simple as being gone from the farm for a couple of days or as large as gathering information for an expansion. Many little things need to go right for the delegation to work. It is a skill that must be honed, just like any other managerial skill.

To delegate in a way that gets the task done well in a timely manner, Holden provided these six steps:

  1. Prepare in advance. Give the person you’re delegating to all of the information they will need far enough in advance so they can ask you questions, practice the task if necessary, and be aware of the change. “If you prepare, you’re much less likely to have a situation where you consider the delegation to have failed,” said Holden.
  2. Discuss the task. Practice good communication skills when explaining the new role. Effective communication needs both a sender and a receiver, Holden reminded. If who you’re talking to is busy, in a loud environment, or focused on something else, they will not be receiving the information you’re sharing in a way that they will retain well.
  3. Set a completion deadline. Be clear about when the task needs to be done so you are sure the person has the time to do it and they know what you are expecting. Holden noted that “as soon as possible” (ASAP) means something different to every person — do they drop what they’re doing right now, wait until they’re at a break, or have it done by the end of the day? Avoid using this as a deadline.
  4. Outline the level of authority you’re giving. No one wants to do a task and then feel like their time was wasted when their suggestion or work is shut down because you weren’t clear where the decision-making process stood. Explain if you are asking the person for a recommendation for you to take action, to inform you first then they take action, or if they have clearance to act.
  5. Build checkpoints. Particularly for larger projects, periodic touchpoints provide accountability. “If things become unclear, there’s a set time to touch base,” Holden added. They don’t have to be long or every day. To avoid employees feeling micro-managed, explain ahead of time that these conversations will be happening as a check in.
  6. Have a final meeting. Discuss how the task went and thank them for doing it. This is a two-way opportunity for positive feedback and constructive critique.

Without these steps, delegation can feel like a task is being “dumped” on another person, Holden said. “That always fails,” she described. Delegation also fails when the manager hovers like a helicopter or the employees are not experienced enough to handle the task yet.

It might seem like it would be simpler to avoid delegation and do the job yourself. While that can sometimes work, Holden reminded that delegation allows more things to get completed while building up skills in your people.

“Sometimes it’s difficult to give up control. Sometimes people say it’s easier to do it themselves,” she recognized. “Yes, it is, but how many things can you do well in a day’s time?”

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2023
April 24, 2023

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