The 5 Levels of Delegation

By January 29, 2019 July 2nd, 2019 delegation, Operations

If you want to succeed in delegating work to other people you need to be realistic about the challenges you’ll tend to face, and how to overcome those challenges.

Human Nature

One of the most common misjudgments we tend to make is assuming that other people are like we are and know what we know.

People are alike in many ways, but not in the ways we tend to believe. When we have misunderstandings or disputes with fellow humans, it’s usually because of two key factors.

Reasons We Have Misunderstandings with Other People

The two main reasons we have problems are: (1) we are in a relationship with someone that we are insufficiently compatible with, or (2) we miscommunicate with others or are misunderstood by them.

In the worst case, we are in a relationship with people that we aren’t compatible with, and we are mis-communicating with them.

1. Incompatibility

If you want to have a harmonious relationship with other people, you need to be selective about who you partner with and who you hire. If you don’t share the same vision of how work should be done, then no amount of communication or persuasion will overcome that barrier.

2. Miscommunication

Assuming you have a shared vision for how your law practice should be operated, then you still need to make sure to communicate effectively.

Never assume that people understand what you expect from them. You have to be explicit in communicating your expectations. And this is especially true for people to whom you delegate work.

The reason most people do a poor job of communicating when they delegate is this: they fail to appreciate the difficulty of doing a task that is being assigned to someone that is not as adept at it as they are.

That is, once you know how to do something very well it’s hard to regain the perspective you had when you didn’t know how to do it very well. And this lack of perspective is what makes it hard for people to communicate effectively when delegating tasks. Many busy lawyers tend to act as though the person they’re assigning a task to can “read their mind.”

To overcome this common tendency, it helps to examine what happens when someone is learning a new task. So let’s examine something called “the four stages of competence.”

The Four Stages of Competence

In psychology, the four stages of competence, or “conscious competence” learning model, relates to the psychological states involved in the process of progressing from incompetence to competence in learning a new skill.

When faced with learning a new skill people are deeply unaware of how little they know. Or, to put it another way, they’re unconscious of their incompetence.

Then as they work on developing new skills, they start to recognize their incompetence. After they consciously acquire a new skill, then they can use it consciously.

Eventually, the skill will become so ingrained that it can be used without any conscious thought. At this point, the person can be said to have acquired “unconscious competence.” So let’s drill in more into the 4 Stages of Competence…

Unconscious incompetence The person does not know how to do something and does not recognize their deficit. They may deny (or misapprehend) the usefulness of the skill. The person must recognize their incompetence, and the value of the new skill, before moving on to the next stage. The length of time a person spends in this stage depends on their willingness to learn and the training they receive.

Conscious incompetence Though the person doesn’t know how to do something, they recognize the deficit, as well as the value of a new skill in addressing the deficit. The making of mistakes is actually useful to the learning process at this stage.

Conscious competence The person knows how to do something. But they need it to be broken down into steps, and they have to concentrate carefully to carry out the new skill.

Unconscious competence The person has had so much practice with a skill that it’s become “second nature,” and can now be performed easily. In many cases, the new skill can be performed while doing another task. And the person may be able to teach it to others, depending upon how it was learned (i.e. if it was taught by using a written manual or set of instructions)

Here’s a graphic depicting the 4 stages of competence…

So that’s the first part you need to take into account. Now let’s talk about…

5 Levels of Delegation

So know that you’re starkly aware of how people move through stages of competence, and now that you have a framework for categorizing where people are…

You can be more effective at delegating to other people by assessing their level of delegation. And remember you should be delegating all work that is (1) not stuff that requires a law license to do, and (2) work that someone else with a law license can do because they have less experience than you.

If you do that, then you’ll be left only with the kind of work that (1) you’re really good at, and (2) you can get great results for your clients by doing it. So now let’s talk about the 5 levels of delegation and how this will help you identify if someone is suitable for delegating a task to.

And as we examine these 5 levels, let’s assume that you’re training someone new and let’s focus on how they progress through the 5 levels. Let’s see what kind of work they can do as they progress through the levels.

Level 1: Do exactly what I tell you to do. Be explicit about how to do the task (don’t expect them to read your mind). Give them a well-crafted checklist, or process map, to follow. Then follow up and give them feedback based on the results.

Level 2: Here’s the end goal; figure out the best way to achieve that and tell me what you find before you start. Get them to create the checklist or process map. Give them feedback on how to improve it before they start the task. Then follow up with feedback based on the results.

Level 3: Here’s the end goal; figure out the best way to do it, and document your process so I can see what steps you followed. And we’ll use your checklist going forward for others to follow, and if we need to modify it later we can do so.

Level 4: Here’s the end goal; use your judgment to do the task and document it or update existing documentation. I don’t need to monitor your documentation or results (unless there’s a problem).

Level 5: Just keep doing superstar work and I’ll praise you effusively on a regular basis (but I’ll be counting the days until you decide to break off on your own).

So those are the 5 levels. And that’s a thorough overview of the how’s and why’s of delegation. The key thing to remember is that you can’t assume that people know things that they don’t know.

And you can’t assume they’ll figure things you. You have to be methodical and strategic about how you delegate work. If you do it right then you’ll be involved more in the early stages of training someone new or training someone doing a completely new task.

But you’ll avoid a lot of foreseeable problems if you spend more time with them on the front end.

And then by the end of their progression, you will have someone who knows how to do their job and can create a checklist of process-map for the next person to follow when you assign that task to someone new.

The Bottom Line…

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