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Building Your Business

Delegating to Junior Employees

By Sam Glover

Without delegation, you don’t have a scalable business. Sure, you can probably do most things better and faster than someone else. But doing everything yourself doesn’t let you scale past the number of clients you can serve in a workday. To grow, you must figure out how to delegate effectively.

Critically, effective delegation starts with having the right people on your team. But since hiring, managing and firing are beyond the scope of this post, I’ll just leave this link here. For the purposes of this post, let’s assume you already have a junior employee to whom you want to delegate a task.

Set Expectations and Get on the Same Page

Unless you are trying to ruin someone’s weekend, never hand off a task on Friday as you are walking out the door. Or any time you are too busy to stop and talk, for that matter. Always delegate when you have adequate time to explain the task and make sure you and your employee are on the same page. Adequate time varies with the complexity of the task, of course.

Make sure you both understand the key factors:

The desired outcome and deadline. For example, a continuance to the 15th of next month. All phone calls answered before the third ring. A draft contract by the end of the week. Your procedures manual for social media sharing updated by the start of next month.

Most importantly, state the obvious. What’s obvious to you as an outcome isn’t always obvious to someone else.

Strategic considerations. Provide perspective: Why does this task need to be done? Give some context that will help your employee exercise informed judgment when unforeseen issues arise (as they inevitably do).

Available resources. Where should your employee go for the information they need to complete the task? Whether it’s contact information, legal research or something in between, make sure they have the tools (and login credentials) to get the job done.

A reasonable time estimate. Whether or not you bill by the hour, approximately how much time should this task take? If you aren’t sure, then your employee should probably start by figuring out how much time they will need.

Prioritization. Junior employees will tend to prioritize the last thing you asked them to do ahead of their other tasks. So make sure they know whether they should drop everything to work on this right away, or get to it when they can.

Be available for follow-up questions. It’s virtually impossible to ask all the questions you need to ask about a task you just received.

Regular Check-ins with Retrospective, Issues and Feedback

You should have a short weekly check-in with each employee who reports directly to you. First, to check in on their tasks, discuss improvements to the workflow and give feedback. Also, to discuss their performance, professional development and so on.

Limit the “status update” discussion to a few minutes. Focus instead on the retrospective, issues and feedback.

Retrospective. For projects or ongoing tasks, consider these three questions:

  1. What did we do/are we doing well that we should keep doing?
  2. What did we do/are we doing poorly that we should stop doing?
  3. What should we try next time/going forward?

These questions come from the Agile software development approach and form a framework for thinking about constant, iterative improvement. They are not meant to be an invitation to lay blame. If what went poorly is that your employee forgot to do step 4 in your intake process, how can you improve the intake process so that it does not depend on anyone’s memory? Keep the focus on the system, not on individuals.

Issues. As a manager, your job is to help your employee resolve issues and remove roadblocks to their progress. Make a list of issues, including any that may have come up during your retrospective discussion, and for each take a few minutes to identify the decision that needs to be made, then make it.

Feedback. Regular feedback isn’t just a millenial thing. The only thing worse than finding out you’ve done something wrong is finding out when it’s too late to do anything about it. If you have criticisms, offer them constructively, and make sure your employee knows what they need to do to improve.

And if your employee is doing a good job, make sure they know it! The best way to get more good work from someone is by recognizing the good work they have done.

If you have the right people working for you and they are well-suited to the tasks you have assigned to them, the keys to effective delegation are to align expectations and remove roadblocks so that they can bring their A-game to their tasks. Once you get these down, your law firm is prepared to grow and accomplish the goals you have set for it!

Related:Want More Balance? Build a Better Team” by Dustin Cole

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Sam Glover Lawyerist Sam Glover

Sam Glover is the founder of Lawyerist.com, an online place for lawyers to learn how to start, manage and grow a modern law practice, and home to a community of innovative lawyers building the future of law. Sam is a former plaintiffs’ lawyer and ABA Journal Legal Rebels Trailblazer. Follow him @samglover.

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