May 15 2024 08:02 AM

Successful delegation starts with surrendering control, which isn’t always easy to do.

The author is a freelance writer based in Rockford, Ill.

Giving others the authority to act on your behalf as an employer can be unnerving, especially if you’re accustomed to bearing responsibilities on your own. Say a shipment of supplies is to arrive at your dairy a day after you leave for vacation. Who will see to the shipment’s reception, and how can you be sure things will go smoothly? Delegation is the act of entrusting another person with a task or responsibility, and it isn’t without challenges.

Most of us are familiar with tackling extensive to-do lists without help. “It’s easier to do it myself” is less a statement of pride or flippancy than of sincere belief. It truly seems simpler to complete tasks alone — we know what needs to be done and the best way to do it. But how many things can we do well in a day’s time?

Delegation may seem like more effort than it’s worth, but it can equate to fewer troubles in the long run. The key, said Lisa Holden of Penn State Extension in a Dairy Workforce webinar, is knowing how to conduct a successful transfer of the baton.

The six steps of delegation

In her lecture, Holden outlined a set of guidelines to follow when looking to share responsibilities on your farm.

  1. Prepare in advance. Be proactive about delegating. If something needs to be done, don’t wait until the last minute to communicate needs to a team member.
  2. Discuss the task. Communicate the need intentionally and with detail. Allow time for discourse, should the employee have questions or concerns.
  3. Set a completion deadline. Be specific about when the task has to be finished, and follow up accordingly.
  4. Explain the level of authority. Make clear whether you will make any final decisions. This will avoid any hard feelings should you decide to go in a direction other than what is recommended by the work the employee completed.
  5. Build in checkpoints. Conduct periodic check-ins for big projects and final reminders for small projects. This will ensure both you and the employee are less likely to get off track.
  6. Hold a final meeting. Thank the employee for their help and exchange positive and constructive feedback.

To surrender control of a task is to release authority over the task’s results, too. But if there are clear expectations for both you and your employee, this won’t feel like giving up something so much as sharing the load. It’s about building a bridge between your expectations and your employee’s abilities.

Tips for success

“We only have so many hours in a week,” Holden said. “By delegating within our team, we can get a tremendous amount more done — if we do it well.”

There are road blocks to look out for even in the best of delegated arrangements. For instance, Holden warned against committing a “delegation dump” (assigning a plethora of tasks and expectations at once, thus overwhelming an employee) or assigning tasks to employees who may be ill-equipped to complete them. If someone is incapable or unwilling to perform a request, the transfer will go poorly. If possible, provide additional training they may need, or simply select an employee who already has the experience necessary.

Further, avoid being a “helicopter manager.” If you’re going to assign a task, assign it. Then step away. Constant hovering suggests a lack of trust, and employees may be less willing to step up in the future.

Holden also advised incorporating open-ended questions into your request rather than “yes” or “no” ones. This will give you a realistic sense of a person’s comfort level with the request.

Practice makes perfect

Delegation is a skill, and like any skill, it takes practice. The more you do it, the easier it will feel. The next time a to-do list extends beyond what’s reasonable, consider handing off some responsibilities to capable employees. It will not only make your life easier, but it will nurture employee morale, too. The more they are trusted with accountability, the more employees will learn and grow, making your operation all the more prosperous.