Delegation is almost a dirty word. The notion of passing off a task or decision can feel nearly sinful. We may want to share responsibility or lessen our workload but our beliefs about delegation can interfere.
So instead we find ourselves quickly distributing tasks and decisions using the “read-my-mind” school of delegation.
It goes like this: We picture a project, tell someone to do it, and then we’re disappointed when the result doesn’t match our imagined outcome.
Sound familiar? I’d like to let you in on a secret for seeing this differently, leading to shared responsibility, reduced stress, clear follow-through, and great results.
How can a delegation conversation help?
When I became a school principal it was the first time I had specific people to whom I could delegate. My delegation conversation usually went like this, “Um, if you don’t mind would you do me a favor and…” Clearly delegation made me uncomfortable. I didn’t have a clue how to identify, monitor, and shift tasks from my plate to theirs. I made lots of mistakes and gradually grew in this area, especially after attending a Fierce Conversations workshop where a model for delegation conversations shifted my views and gave me tools that worked.
I learned a simple approach that would empower others by clarifying expectations, building trust, and creating a system of accountability. Here is the big idea that was a game changer for me: The Decision Tree.
What is The Decision Tree?
The Decision Tree uses the metaphor of a tree to describe levels of delegation. The simple idea is that when we have a clear conversation, to delegate a task or decision with shared expectations, mind-reading skills will no longer be needed.
Let’s start by picturing a tree in your neighbor’s yard. Each level of delegation relates to a leaf, branch, trunk or root of the tree. Here goes:
Leaf Level Delegation: Picture leaves of your neighbor’s tree hanging into your yard. You could grab a leaf without much disruption to the tree or upset to your neighbor. Grab a leaf — no big deal. So, leaf level delegation is when the employee makes the decision or completes the task and runs with it. There is no need to check with the leader before taking action or report back after.
Branch Level Delegation: Picture a small branch of your neighbor’s tree hanging in your yard. If you cut the branch off you would probably want to let the neighbor know afterwards. So, branch level delegation is where the employee makes the decision or completes the task and then reports the result to the leader at a specified interval (daily, weekly, or monthly).
Trunk Level Delegation: Picture your neighbor’s tree dropping rotten apples in your yard. Your grass is dying and you want the tree removed. It would cause a problem if you cut down the trunk without your neighbor’s approval. So, a trunk level delegation is when the employee makes the decision, reports it to the leader first, and then takes action.
Root Level Delegation: If the roots of your neighbor’s tree were erupting on your side of the fence and you wanted them removed you would need to gather more information from tree experts and your neighbor. So, a root level decision is where the impact is significant enough that it could cause damage to the organization. This requires the input from many before any action is taken by the leader.
Here’s an example.
Jane, a business owner, delegates vacation scheduling to her manager, Chris. Jane reviews the parameters for the decisions such as the busiest days that are off-limits for vacations and the optimal number of team members who can be off at one time.
Jane initially delegates this to Chris at the trunk level and instructs her to email a copy of the vacation schedule by the 15th of each month. Jane then reviews the schedule before the vacations are approved.
Over time Jane becomes confident that Chris is making vacation decisions according to her expectations, so she moves this decision to the branch level. Now Chris makes these decisions and just emails a copy of the schedule to Jane each month.
Down the road Jane may recognize her involvement is not needed at all. Then she will move this decision to the leaf level with Chris handling the schedule without even showing it to Jane.
Imagine delegating decisions using this framework (or another one you like). Imagine the clarity. Imagine the freed up time and what you could accomplish, envision, or become—when delegation is no longer a struggle.
So, I’d say that the dirty secret about delegation is that it’s a leadership muscle that we need to build—since it rarely develops on its own. What would you say?
Tree image from FreeDigitalImages.com
Other images from google images