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You Get What You Ask For. How to Delegate Effectively

How to DelegateI’m in trouble with one of my clients. He asked for something yesterday. I gave it to him yesterday. But he really wanted it last week.

Could and should I have anticipated that he really wanted it last week? Yes. But I’m not unlike your good employees. I’m good at what I do, but I put off the hard stuff that is complex and takes a lot of focus and time until it is due.

I told my client what I tell all the managers I work with, don’t set deadlines as the final, drop dead moment you need something. Build in time to review work and have a few rounds of feedback and edits before final deadlines. The biggest opportunity I see for managers to make their lives easier and less stressful, in addition to giving employees regular and timely feedback, is to how to delegate better.

A sales person I was coaching lost a project because he submitted the RFP on the day of the deadline. The prospect said that because the salesperson waited until the last minute to submit the proposal, she feared he would leave all work to the last minute, and she just couldn’t work with someone like that.

Rather than test people or set them up to fail, just tell people what you really need.

Employees are not you. They don’t do things the way you do. If you have a picture of how a project should look, I’ll bet you any amount of money your employee has a very different picture of how that project should look. As you assign work, if you picture data being put in a table or a graph, your employee most likely has a different picture. If you want a color coded process map, ask for a process map. If you want three bullets rather than a detailed narrative, ask for three bullets, rather than being frustrated by receiving too much information you now have to weed through.

Set realistic and meaningful deadlines. Don’t set short deadlines because you don’t trust your employees to do what they say they will do. If you have an employee who constantly misses deadlines and doesn’t do what he says he will do, that’s a different conversation. That’s a feedback conversation.

You want to give employees enough room to stretch themselves but not enough room to fail. If you have a project that’s due at the end of January, ask to see pieces of the work along the way, perhaps weekly. Give feedback regularly, enabling employees to make changes to small pieces of work rather than to the entire project. Reviewing small pieces of work regularly reduces frustration and rework. Finishing a project and being told to start over because it wasn’t what the other person was looking for has damaged many working relationships.

You get what you ask for. What are you asking for?


Shari Harley is the founder and President of Candid Culture, a Denver-based training firm that is bringing candor back to the workplace, making it easier to give feedback at work. Shari is the author of the business communication book How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide to Building Business Relationships that Really Work. She is a keynote speaker at conferences and does training throughout the U.S. Learn more about Shari Harley and Candid Culture’s training programs at

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