Over the years, one of the issues I’ve received many questions about from a management perspective is delegation or onboarding.  These terms both describe the same process; training someone else to do something on your behalf and trusting them to do it well.  If you don’t have that trust, then you don’t feel you can delegate.  And, if you delegate poorly, the person doing the work often fulfills that expectation fo failure.  It boils down to this question:

How can I go about training someone to take on activities I am responsible for and ensure that I feel confident in their ability to do so, releasing myself of the personal responsibility in the process and laying it on their shoulders?

The first thing I like to do when I’m thinking about this is to identify some of the mistakes that are often made with this process.  One of the first mistakes that’s made is that we often believe things are more simplistic than they really are.  This is the concept I discussed in a previous post called “Unconscious Competence.”  The things we know how to do come naturally to us, so we don’t really know how to break processes down into steps and teach it or explain it to someone else – we just think it happens naturally. How do you explain to someone the steps to brushing your teeth, swinging a golf club, or even eating a meal?  These are things that just make sense to you and you’ve never really thought about the steps that are associated.  We find in business that there are a number of things that just come naturally to us and for which we have “unconscious competence.”  Frequently, when we train someone else, the perspective is, “Here, let me show you the result I’m getting and then let you go to it, because you probably have the same natural sense that I do.”  In order for someone to learn something, they really need to have building blocks upon which they can learn, and too often we, as leaders, skip all those building blocks and just assume that if we show them the result that they’ll survive.
The second mistake is that we tend to think that the best way to train someone is with on-the-job training.  This generally consists of, “Watch me do this, I’ll explain to you once what I’m doing, make sure you have some intellectual understanding of what you’re seeing, and then I’m going to let you go do it.”  Unfortunately, most people don’t learn that way.  There are dots to connect between knowing the right thing to do and being able to actually execute the right thing each time.  Since we don’t connect those dots, we leave it to them to do that, and they often fail.  Then we jump back in and take over, rather than allowing them to learn from their own failures, and begin to micromanage.  We only give them small little steps at a time, and we tell them each step of the way exactly what to do long past the time where they believe they know how to complete the task.  In this way, we create frustration – for ourselves, because it seems they can’t get it done correctly and WE have to do it for them; and for them, because we leave them believing we have no trust in them and that we HAVE to micromanage because they are incompetent.

Most leaders and managers that I share these scenarios with are able to relate to at least one, if not more, of them, and have seen themselves doing those exact things in the past.  If those are the symptoms of the problem, then what does the solution look like?

What are the pieces that we have to get put together?

The first one is that we have to be able to break down the fluid actions that we’re taking into their subcomponents so that someone who is learning it can actually add block upon block upon block to their understanding.  We don’t jump into learning multiplication immediately; we start with addition, and then we add to that the concept of multiplication.  So we have to break things down into their pieces and parts.  That does two things for us – 1. It breaks things down so people can more easily connect the dots; and 2. It allows us to more readily communicate where they are in the process of learning.

The second part of what we need in order to do a better job of solving those problems that we’ve identified is better communication.  Some of the story that I was telling you was surrounding the fact that people will miscommunicate with each other and one will assume that the other is micromanaging and the other will assume that the other is getting it and the communication isn’t effective.  As a result, there are misunderstandings, misgivings, and bad feelings that are created.

The solution to this is to have a framework within which we can identify the pieces and parts that need to be learned and a clear transparent communication method by which we can both agree on where we are in the training process.  It needs to ensure that each party knows who owns the end results, whose job it is to be actually executing the work, overseeing the work, or doing neither of those.

In order to address this, I’ve created a system that I call The Onboarding and Delegation System.  This system aids in creating a foundation for solid learning, is easy to follow, and ensures that both parties are confident in the training given and received, and responsibility is passed willingly.

Please contact me, Michael Andersen, to discuss this system and how it can streamline your business processes, reduce employee turnover, and create a happier workplace for everyone.


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