The Best Way to Delegate: 10-80-10

Sometimes as leaders we have trouble letting go. Sometimes for a good reason. But other times, because we do not have a system to apply when we are ready to hand something off. Allow me to share with you in this post a delegation method that has always worked for me.

the best way to delegate

The Best Way to Delegate: 10-80-10

I heard this idea on delegation a few years ago from leadership author and guru, John Maxwell. As I started applying the technique, it revolutionized the way I thought about delegating projects to key team members. I will share my take on it with you here, and how I personally execute it with my team. I hope you find the ideas helpful.

The concept is simple. It involves dividing a project into three parts: the first 10%—the middle 80%—and the last 10%. Here’s how it’s done. When you give a project to someone else to lead, you should be involved in the first 10 percent of the project—the initial stages. You should also be involved in the last 10 percent of the project—the final stages. The middle 80 percent should not be handled by you, nor should it involve you much at all, but rather the person you delegated it to.

This method works best if you have a good relationship with the person you are delegating to, and you are confident in his competency and work ethic. Therefore, you cannot enter a new relationship and expect to apply this formula effectively from day one. Communication and trust between the two of you must be at high and healthy levels. It is my aim from the beginning of any relationship that people can delegate to me, and I can delegate to them in this fashion. This is definitely my expectation with the key players on my team. Here’s how it works:

The First 10%
Define the vision and parameters together.

The initial stage of any project is when the vision and parameters are set. You are involved here. It is important however, not to approach this with the mindset that: I set the vision, and you do the work. This is not how wise leaders approach anything. I don’t know about you, but I want to be trusted enough that the person I work with will discuss the project with me and not dictate the work to me. The keyword here is together. Let me walk you through the steps on how to accomplish this first 10% successfully.

Step One: Ask what the person thinks about the idea.

We need to approach the key person whose strength it is to handle this project. And I say something like, “Hey John, I would like to discuss a project with you that I think would help move us forward. I have been thinking about holding an event for the new-comers to town to market our services.” Now if John is one who is immersed in the team culture and vision, he will most likely add to and improve upon this idea.

I have worked with people who ask this, but really do not care what the other person thinks about it. That’s not good leadership. Yes, rarely you will need something done without the ability to have a discussion. But this should be a rare event. If we don’t value our people’s opinions (truly value them, not put on a show), we will not go far in our leadership—first because we don’t and can’t know the right answer all of the time, and second because people should be valued.

Step Two: Ask if the person will take it on.

Again, be respectful. I always ask if people are up to taking on a certain project. I want to hear how they feel about it. Of course, it goes a long way to have chosen the right people for my team. It is important to train them, empower them, and create a culture of togetherness. And if I know their capabilities and limitations, I am confident to delegate something I know they can and will handle well.

So in our example, preferably you will want to ask, not demand, “John, would you be willing to take on this project? Do you have the time in your schedule to fit it in?” I am not dealing with the rare employee who is playing “busy” to avoid additional work. I am talking about that person you trust and have good a good relationship with.

Step Three: Set the parameters.

So here, give John the ideas that you already have. Brainstorm together and discuss how to best set the deadlines, the budget, the components, etc. Take this opportunity to communicate what you expect to know from him in case something comes up. I aim here to have only one meeting and get this going. The key to the success of the rest of the project lies in this initial meeting. I want to predict all the potential issues that may come up in the middle 80% and set the parameters beforehand.

I like to arrive at an agreement in the end. When someone reports to you, they already know that you have the final say. You don’t have to play that card. If you are having to do that, that usually means the relationship is poor and needs to be fixed. The goal at this stage is for you to leave the project after this initial interaction. And unless key elements need to be approved, or you would like updates, you should aim to empower people to make decisions so you don’t have to see it again until the end.

The Middle 80%
Get out of their way.

The middle 80% could be more like 90% or 70% depending on the nature of the project or the person you are delegating to. But at this point, you have one main job: let go. But many of us protest here and say, “What if they mess it up?”

Let me solve this for you. If they mess it up, then with the next project you will make adjustments. Any project you delegate will test the level of the relationship, your ability to communicate clearly at the beginning, and the level of maturity and skill of that person. In the beginning, trust people with smaller projects. But when you trust them with it, leave them alone. See what they can do with it, and be okay with some loss. That’s how you empower people. That’s how you free up your time. And that’s how you lead.

So let your people execute the 80%. If they come back with excellent work, then you have just raised their confidence level. You have increased their love for you because you trusted them. If people miss the deadline, mess up the objective, or blatantly miss the mark, then you know how to adjust things for the future. You have several options: give them something different to do, train them, talk to them, or even remove them from your team if they are not able to perform what is needed independently.

The Last 10%
Put the finishing touches on together.

Now, this is the fun part. You get to see what has been achieved based on the vision you both set. If adjustments need to be made, make them. Put the finishing touches on it, and congratulate the person in charge of it. Thank them for being your partner in getting it done. Give them credit for the work when it is mentioned in front of others.

Remember that when this method is well executed, it produces nothing but good for everyone involved. In my experience, it takes a lot of time and several attempts to get to a point with a person where this is consistently successful. The two of you have to get on the same page. And more importantly, you have to stay on the same page. As an engaged leader, keep your finger on the pulse of the relationship—always aiming to improve it, deepen it, and make it stronger. Then with each subsequent project you do together, greater things can be accomplished in a much more fluid manner.

The 10-80-10 method has proven itself to me over and over again as the best way to delegate to my core team members. If you find this technique as helpful as I have, I hope you’ll Twitter_logo_blue this post.

Question: What tips work best for you in regard to successful delegation?
(Please answer in the comments section below.)

Your friend,
Wes Saade MD Signature

For Further Reading:

Turn the Spotlight: Empower Others
How To Make More Time for What Really Matters

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