Often when talking to clients about delegation they may tell you “I don’t trust my employees”. Your client probably isn't accusing their staff of stealing each others’ sandwiches from the kitchen fridge, or selling company secrets online – it’s just that they don’t think they care enough or understand enough to be trusted with more responsibility.
If your staff are overloaded, fed up with getting grief from unhappy customers, feeling unloved and underpaid, resentful towards management (that is, towards your client)…don’t try to get yoyr client to delegate stuff to them.
If that is the situation then chances are that your client is also feeling overloaded, fed up with getting grief from unhappy customers, unloved and underpaid…and resentful towards their staff.
This is a recipe for a downward spiral.
How then to help them break out of this situation? And break out of it they must, or things will just get worse and health, wealth and happiness will become a distant memory.
Taking a leaf from the AA handbook (that’s the drink problem people, not the motoring organisation) the first thing to do is acknowledge the problem. Now they have another eleven steps that aren’t as relevant so here is the delegation creed instead:
- Ask your client to acknowledge the problem. Turn off their phone, shut down their email, switch off social media notifications – and spend five minutes writing down the things they are not happy about in their business and the impact they are having and will continue to have;
- Ask them to acknowledge the problem publicly – to their employees. Stand up in front of them and explain how they feel about their business, their own performance and their employees' performance;
- Ask them to acknowledge publicly that it is their fault (because it is) and commit to doing things differently as a leader;
- Ask them to state their faith in their combined ability to improve things and build a business that will make them all proud. Ask them to admit that they don’t have all the answers, can’t do it on their own and that they need their employees' help;
- Ask them to commit to better communication on their side, which means blocking out diary time to communicate, listening, and respecting opinions;
- Ask them to ask their employees to commit to better communication on their side, which means asking questions, giving opinions and speaking up when they see things going wrong;
- Ask them to explain that in future they will be asking people to take new things on and each time they do this they will expect the employee to ask your client to change something or do something differently to benefit the business in return.
This creed doesn’t mention delegation – and only in the last point does it start to edge towards it. The point is that the act of delegation is the last step, not the first. Trying to delegate in a negative, suspicious, chaotic environment will be seen as an imposition and will simply contribute to more negativity, mistrust and chaos. First you need to build the conditions for successful delegation – and the foundation for that is trust. To gain trust you have to give it.