Delegation Galore

 Posted by on 19 August 2009 at 11:01 pm  Activism, Productivity
Aug 192009

Lately, I’ve been working on delegating my activism work as much as possible. Delegation is brand-new skill for me. My work in graduate school — meaning taking courses, teaching courses, and writing my dissertation — was all mine to do. (Outsourcing is frowned upon, in fact!) Traditionally, I’ve created and managed activism projects by myself — like my e-mail lists. I’ve helped others as needed — like by editing their op-eds and articles. On occasion, I’ve collaborated with other people — like in writing the policy paper on Colorado’s Amendment 48 with Ari Armstrong. However, I’ve only rarely delegated work.

Mostly, I’ve just done whatever I could on my own, without asking for or expecting help from others. In part, that reflects a strength of mine: I don’t wait for marching orders from on high, nor do I depend on the approval of others, nor do I expect others to implement my good ideas. Instead, my standard approach is simply to see what needs doing and then do it. However, I’ve become seriously overtaxed of late — particularly given today’s unprecedented opportunities for activism.

This summer, I’d planned to delegate some work. However, I’ve done far more than I expected — much to my delight. The more that I delegate, the more that I see that I could and should delegate even more. It’s addictive!

Here’s what I’ve done so far:

  • A few weeks ago, I conducted a planning meeting for Front Range Objectivism to discuss future plans for the group and to divide the labor thereof. Twenty people attended; all were willing to contribute in some way. (Awesome!) As a result, many more people are doing the work of FRO. Tasks that weren’t getting done well, if at all, are now well under control by others. Those people will develop new skills as activists; they will become more invested in FRO; and they’ll get to know each other better as they work together. My load has been lightened, so that I’m now free to focus on the FRO projects that I’m most enthused about. The process is pretty new, and I’m sure we’ll see some bumps in the road. However, I’m downright thrilled with the results so far.

  • Just yesterday, I turned over the management of two of my precious e-mail lists to others. I realized that such was possible and desirable with the successful start-up of OGrownups, managed by Jenn Casey and C. August. So now, OBloggers is managed by Kate Gerber, the author of the blog CareerMama. And OActivists is managed by Tammy Perkins. I cannot possibly express my pleasure and gratitude for Kate and Tammy volunteering to take over that work. Managing those lists doesn’t take much time, but it’s definitely a distraction for me. (If only I could get someone to manage OAcademics; it needs some life breathed into it!)

As with all delegation, I’ve put far more work into these projects of late than I would have done if I’d simply maintained the status quo. I’m sure that will continue for a while: I expect to have questions and concerns to address. Yet in very short order, I’m sure that these projects will be sailing along smoothly — happily, without me at the helm. That will be very gratifying to watch.

Of course, delegation means releasing control. So the work will be done somewhat differently than I might do it. That can be a tad bit alarming. However, I’m quite certain that if I choose good people, they can be allowed to do the work in their own way, based on their own good judgment of what project requires. I think I’ll see the delegated work done better than before.

Recently, I got some excellent advice on delegation from two of the super-effective people behind the Objectivist Club Network on delegation. With their permission, I’m sharing it with you. In one e-mail, the first person wrote:

Delegate as much as you can. If you optimize for short-term results you over-utilize your best people (that often means you!) and burn them out. Focus on increasing your leverage not short-term output. Start by delegating tiny pieces to someone, so small they usually agree to help. You both learn about work together and if you’re both happy you’ll find ways to get them involved more over time.

He then expanded on those comments in a later e-mail as follows:

I’m far from an expert on delegating or managing people, but hopefully this will start an interesting discussion. In our update we mentioned one tip, here is an expanded list of explicit principles I have that I’ve found successful:

1) First, know your volunteers. Understand their interests and their strengths. We keep an excel file of this and review it regularly and we schedule a short “get to know you” phone call with all new people who express interest.

2) Make small specific requests of individual people and agree on a hard deadline with them. The very first time you do this it’s best to do it over the phone.

3) Follow-up with them *before* the deadline to make sure their on track. This reaffirms for them that their contribution will be meaningful to you and you’re looking forward to it.

4) After they deliver let them know how much you appreciate it, give them honest feedback about the work they did and any changes you need, and let them know what’s going to happen with their work. Nothing kills motivation more than someone volunteering their time and contributing something and then not knowing when their contribution is going to be used, acted upon, published, etc. If your volunteer has to follow-up with *you* then you know you didn’t communicate enough.

5) Change the way you measure your own progress and success: don’t focus on how much you (your group) got done this week or this month, this compels you to work harder yourself and put in more hours. Instead, measure your success by how much got done without you doing it. Focus on leveraging not output. If you maximize leverage then output will follow. Just like in business you focus on creating value and profit will follow.

The second person added the following:

Here is the approach we take:

1. We make a list of everything we need to do and then categorize the tasks

2. We then look at the categories and discuss which tasks or categories of tasks we feel we’re ready to give to someone else

3. We brainstorm individuals we think can do these tasks

4. We schedule a call with the person who is our top choice and see if they are interested in getting involved and doing the task. If they cannot help then we ask if they know of anyone else who could help. Phone calls take less time than in-person meetings, but are more effective than emails going back and forth and give us a chance to sell the person on the task and get them excited about getting involved.

Here are some things I always have to remind myself that help save me time and delegate effectively:

1. No task is too small to delegate. …

2. Everything takes longer then you think it will take, so again, you want to even delegate the small pieces/tasks.

3. It is often lazy not to delegate because it’s more work in the short term to delegate something, but in the long term it makes your organization more effective. So I often tell myself not to be lazy and to delegate :)

4. Be very careful about what commitments you take on. I try to view my time like a budget and always think about the trade offs.

5. Stop giving tasks to people who have proven to be unreliable – we will give up on people so that they do not waste any more of our time.

6. Be open to new ideas and ways of doing things.

That advice was very helpful to me — and I hope that it inspires some appropriate delegation of your work!

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