Delegation: Why Is It So Hard To Ask for Help?

Delegation - Why is it so hard to ask for help?

By Hunter Laine

Delegation. The act of asking for help and allowing others to help. It’s such a simple concept, but it ends up feeling nearly impossible at times. We know on an intellectual level that delegation is the only way to maintain an efficient, thriving company. So why is it so hard to do?

When you delegate parts of a project that you are in charge of, you are still responsible for the end-result, good or bad. You, of course, then pass along credit, praise, and constructive criticism to the members of your team, but a good manager knows that when something isn’t done correctly, the buck ultimately stops with them. Which is why, for many of us, delegating requires a lot of trust. If I give this task to you, I am trusting in your ability to manage and execute it with competence. That’s level one. You need to be able to trust your staff and coworkers to be able to delegate to them. As basic a concept as this seems, it can be pretty difficult in practice.

New Employees

Sometimes that’s simply because an employee is new, untested. If you haven’t had the opportunity to see what someone can produce, it’s hard to pass along anything important. How can you know it will be done to your standards?

The Peter Principle

Sometimes, however, this lack of trust stems not from an employee being new, but from a much deeper issue that exists in many companies. Laurence J. Peter coined the term, and the idea behind, the “Peter Principle”: that people are “promoted to their level of incompetence.” Essentially, we promote people when they are successful in a position until they reach a position where they aren’t competent, one that requires a different skill set. And then, well, they stay there. Think about the salesperson who continually reaches and exceeds monthly targets. They smash the competition and so as a reward are promoted to managing the sales team. And they’re terrible at it. The skills that made them excellent at making sales, have nothing to do with managing a team effectively.

Chances are, if you’ve been in business long enough, you’ve seen this happen more than once. And the problem is, those people are rarely fired or demoted after they’re put in that position, which leaves a lot of companies with team leads and managers who just do not have the skills to perform their job. If you’re working alongside people who fit that description, there’s no way you’re willing to delegate important tasks to them. 

Know Their Strengths

Another important part of successfully delegating is understanding the strengths of those around you. Someone may be fully trained and competent, but if you are assigning them tasks that don’t align with their interests, experience, and skill set, you’re not going to get the desired outcome. Frankly, you can assign people tasks that they hate as much as you want, but the end result will never be of the quality that it would be if the person working on it enjoyed what they were doing.

Let It Go

Even given all of the above, oftentimes, hesitancy to delegate has little, if anything, to do with our coworkers. A lot of us just can’t let go of the reins. Why should I ask someone else to do something when I know I can get it done better, faster, or at least more confidently on my own? This butts up against a problem that software engineers face. A process needs to be scalable. You might be the best solution to get all of the work done when there’s only one project, but what about when you’re managing three? Or a whole company? If you try to do everything, things will fall by the wayside, only get partially finished, or suffer in quality. There is a point when doing everything yourself becomes untenable. So we need to start building processes now.

In order to delegate comfortably and effectively, we need to be sure that new employees are being trained properly to succeed, that people are in the right positions for their skill set, and that you know the correct types of tasks to give to which people. None of this is simple, but there are simple steps you can take to start building these important processes into your company. 

Open Lines of Communication Early

Start right away in training. Make sure that new trainees have someone, a peer or mentor, whom they feel comfortable speaking to. Let them know that questions, and even mistakes, are okay as long as they communicate them openly. There is no possibility for improvement if you’re unaware of the errors they are making. This ability to admit mistakes or holes in knowledge, allows for those holes to be plugged with information and for mistakes to be corrected early, during training, instead of further into a job when the stakes are likely much higher. An added benefit of this openness? If you can foster an environment in which people feel comfortable speaking about being overwhelmed or needing help, you create the opportunity to not only make people feel heard, but also to spread work out more evenly, smoothing efficiency into your operations.

Consider Personality Assessments

Look into personality assessments for your team or company. They are helpful tools to get to know an employee early and understand the best way for them to succeed. Anyone who has been in the working world has probably taken some iteration of a Myers-Briggs or Predictive Index test. These are not magic answers to whom people are; we often shift between profiles depending heavily on mood and stress. However, these are good guide posts to get an understanding of how your coworkers think, what they are good at, and consequently, what tasks are best to delegate to them. 

Most of us need to get better at delegating, but to do so effectively, we need to make some foundational changes to our team’s. We need to make sure we really know our people, their strengths, and weaknesses. We need to ensure open lines of communication. In business, it is imperative to be able to communicate what we need and what we are able give. Unfortunately, there’s no magic and easy button to push to become strong, efficient delegators. But there are small and important changes that we can make to start fostering an environment conducive to delegation. Start slow and ask for help!

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