“What do you need?” “Everything!” “When do you need it?” “Yesterday!” If this is the story of your work life, today’s podcast is for you. Learn how to turn oppressive delegation into an empowering request and promise conversation. It will be worth your while to listen to this one—I promise!
One of my coaching clients had a really challenging week. There was one fire drill after another, with everything seemingly immediate, urgent, and important. The work they had previously committed to deliver by the end of the week hadn’t yet been started by Thursday. The more rapidly new requests came in, the more stress and tension built, and that meant less ability to rationally deal with the needs of each. What made matters worse was when the checking-up started: “When will you have my project done?” “Is it ready yet?” “I absolutely must have this by tomorrow noon or it’s the end of the world!” When I half-jokingly reminded my client that in such situations, panic is not your friend, they replied, “No, panic is not my friend. It’s become more like a social media troll—always there, always commenting, 24 hours a day, no matter where I turn!”
Here’s a very simple, straightforward way to deal with the stress of torrential delegation that you can drive whether you are the delegator or the delegatee: Stop delegating or accepting delegation. Instead, make requests and give promises. Here’s how it works:
First, when you feel the need to delegate, frame your request with what needs to be done, the deliverable, and – here’s the important part – why you need it. What’s it going to be used for? What larger project or context that it’s part of? Why does its completion matter? This, of course, hearkens back to last week’s podcast about the importance of creating meaning in one’s work to spur motivation.
Next, the time parameters: when you’d like it, when you absolutely need it, and – again, most important – what’s driving the time request. What is the critical path for the larger project? What can happen if it’s delivered by the “when I’d like it” time, and what might happen if it’s not delivered by the “absolutely need it” time—which, by the way, should never be framed as a threat.
The person from whom you want the commitment promise then has three options—and they must honestly and authentically have these options: They can say yes, they can say no, or they can commit to commit later. The “yes” option is obvious. But what about the “no?” Someone who does not have the ability to say “no,” does not have the ability to say, “yes,” either because the inability to say “no” means they don’t actually have control over their time and resources, and therefore cannot honestly commit. A “no” is an invitation to open a conversation about what is possible, and may involve inviting in others who have made requests on the employee’s time to collaboratively figure out what’s collectively and mutually possible. The third option, committing to commit later, enables the delegatee an opportunity think things through and cycle back to either the yes or a “no, and…”
Finally, schedule a planned check-in – not a check-up. Checking up conveys the tacit assumption that the employee is likely to fail. Checking-in supports success. It ensures that you appropriately convey any requirements or timing changes, including the often overlooked, “Oh, right. I forget to tell you. I don’t need that any longer.” It’s also an opportunity to offer whatever support might be necessary for a successful delivery.
Delegation today is more than what you need and when you need it. It now includes why you need it, and why you need it by a given time that is more than, “because I said so.” It’s an opening to a conversation about possibilities and alternatives. It recognizes the difference between checking-up and checking-in. The Request and Promise script does one more important thing: It helps develop the autonomy and agency necessary to achieve Scalable Capability for your 21st-century organization.