Catching Assignments from Your Boss and Shining While You Do It

By Chad Broadus

Delegation. You hear that little gem of business-speak a lot around the office. The workforce is in a constant flux as large tasks are broken into small pieces and shipped downstream. Much like its proverbial cousin – you know what I’m talking about – delegation flows downhill. 

I’ve been on both ends of the delegation game, and have made every conceivable mistake so you don’t have to. So sit back and take in the world of delegation according to yours truly.

A Smart ‘Yes’

When they have a task to delegate, most managers will have someone in mind. Since they aren’t completely omniscient, they’ll generally check in with you to get your buy before they officially give you the assignment. Your boss will want to know how much you have on your plate, and whether you feel up to the job. Since no one wants to be the can’t-do guy, you’re inclination will be to say a knee-jerk yes

When you speak, though, make sure you deliver a qualified "yes." Let your manager know that you’re willing to do the work, will think through the task, and follow up ASAP with an assessment of what it will take to get it done. Before you leave her office, make sure you know exactly what her needs are, and what the deadline is. If your boss is worth her salt, she’ll make sure you don’t go away without being clear.

Think, then Think Some More

Now you have to walk a fine line between being eager and being realistic. If you’re already putting in extra hours and have been asked to take on even more, odds are you’re going to blow it if you start spinning another plate. So think through the steps it will take to get from start to finish with the new assignment. Then figure out how you’ll get it done. Be creative. Consider all options, like temporarily shifting some of your work to other people in the department, agreeing to a slightly longer time frame to complete the task, or some other combination to meet the objective.

Sometimes though, it may come down to putting in a little extra muscle in the form of a few long days. Okay, I won’t lie to you: It often comes down to working those long days.

Be a Decision Maker

As you go through that planning exercise, you’ll undoubtedly come across some ambiguity. Be cautious in asking your boss a lot of decision-point questions. Remember: If she had time to make all the granular decisions herself, she would have done it herself. So, don’t be afraid to make decisions. That’s the one thing that often separates stagnant employees from those on their way up.

Plan in Hand

Now that you’ve put together your plan, it’s time to sit down with your boss and discuss it. When you meet, make sure you have a simple agenda with salient bullet points to guide the discussion.  And often it will be just that – a discussion. Your manager will now get the chance to chime in on your plan and tailor it with some input drawn from her perspective. When the meeting’s over, e-mail a quick recap to make sure there are no misunderstandings about what was discussed.

Execution

All you have to do now is execute the plan. As you progress, keep your manager in the loop with a brief e-mail every few days. Always bring up any roadblocks you can’t get around on your own. Believe me, your boss will want to know about any risks to the delivery date.

And there you have it. Delegation done. But don¿t get too comfortable. One of the pitfalls of being smart and reliable is that word gets out. Don’t be surprised if bigger and higher profile tasks start to come your way. But, really, that’s a good problem to have.

Chad Broadus is both a delegator and victim of delegation living in the Pacific Northwest

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