Revisiting Smart Delegation

mg1ysmkWhen we last discussed the subject of delegation, I shared tips for supervising lawyers and associates. That advice was fine as far as it went, but it left a gaping hole: how can we best utilize support staff? Being S-M-A-R-T is the best answer I’ve found to date.

S-M-A-R-T is shorthand for delegating tasks that are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Agreed
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

The idea comes from Associate’s Mind, and the simplicity is genius.

The original post gives this additional advice:

Define the task. The more specific the better. Don’t attempt to delegate some open-ended assignment and then get upset with what you get back.
Assess ability. Who on your staff is capable of completing the task? Certain tasks are likely better suited to paralegals, while others are better suited to assistants. You need to take the time to learn who can do what. Once you’ve done that, you can select the right individual for the job.
Explain the reasons behind the task and why they were chosen.  This only applies if it’s a new, or novel task.
State required results.  Again, think specificity NOT “Tell me about the local rules in Court X.” Instead: “Please draft a memo on the local rules in Court X regarding discovery deadlines and how they apply to case Y.”
Agreed upon deadline. Don’t just assign a task and not give a deadline. Otherwise, the person you’re delegating the task to has no clue how urgent it is.
Support and communicate through the process if they need further information or assistance. Sometimes there are speed bumps in the process. This is to be expected, especially if it’s a novel task. You need to be available to give assistance if they stumble.
Provide feedback on results.  If the work product that is returned to you is sub-par, they need to know. On the flipside, if the work product is exactly what you needed and delivered on time, they deserve positive feedback as well.

My two cents?

If a task is complex or time-consuming, make regular progress reports part of the delegated assignment.  This will keep you informed and ease your mind about the status of the work.  Encourage staff to ask questions and use this opportunity to ferret out problems.

When giving feedback, be constructive.  Simply telling staff that work product is “sub-par,” doesn’t help you or them.  In fact, statistics show that people who receive feedback only apply it about 30% of the time.  If you want to improve those odds, follow these tips:

  • Assess what went wrong and consider your role – maybe you used the S-M-A-R-T method and maybe you didn’t….
  • Focus on the task, not the person. This is a training opportunity!
  • Is your quarrel with the method or the result?  If the result is desirable, but you would have done it differently, try not to be a nitpicker unless you have a good reason to be.
  • Be specific about what needs to be done differently and provide context.
  • Deliver the feedback as soon as possible.

All Rights Reserved (2017) Beverly Michaelis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Delegate Successfully

If you belong to the “do it yourself” school, believe that you can’t afford to delegate, or have no faith that those reporting to you can do the job, please read this recent post from Tips for Lawyers. Here is an excerpt:

How To Delegate Properly (and to be delegated to)

First, identify the task with enough precision. Sometimes greater detail will be needed than others, and sometimes the task will be wishy washy. But either way, ensure that the junior knows exactly what is expected of them.

Set a realistic deadline, after speaking with your intended junior. This involves ensuring that your own time to review or settle the product is included, and you have provided a time by which the junior staff member must bring their draft (or results, or whatever) to you.

Identify how long, in real time, you think it should take. For example “the research shouldn’t take you more than 2 hours, and then 1 further hour to put together the draft letter”. Ensure that the junior comes back to you if those estimates are turning out to be impossible. This avoids two problems:

First, time getting written off because it took longer than you thought;
Estimates provided to the client being inaccurate.

Somebody take notes of the discussion (guess what – this will be you, junior lawyer).

Don’t call it urgent if it’s not. OK this is a bit of a pet peeve, but some seem to think that they will jump to the top of the priority list by calling everything they do “really urgent”. The task is then completed (at the cost of the other tasks that had to be set to one side) and then not looked at for two days. If it’s urgent, that’s fine – but don’t be the “boy who cried wolf” on this one, or people will just start ignoring you…

Make sure you have an open door policy in case the task requires clarification. Point ‘n’ shoot doesn’t work in the law – often complex tasks develop while being undertaken, and so more information might be needed or clarification of the intended path might be required.

Finally, ensure you provide enough facts. I have seen time and time again a wonderful task be completed and then the senior lawyer say “oh but X doesn’t apply because Y and Z are applicable to this one”. Was that a great exercise in how to waste somebody’s time and the client’s money? Yes. Was it good delegation? No. Providing sufficient context to a task also allows the junior lawyer to understand the real world impact of their task, which will often provide motivation and build a better team mentality.

All Rights Reserved – Beverly Michaelis [2014]