Paradigm Shifter #23: Seek proof before delegating

Paradigm Shift

People are generally very good about telling others about their KSA’s (knowledge, skills, and abilities).  Whether it’s strategic planning, employee motivation, balancing work and life, or even making the perfect spaghetti sauce, I’ve observed that people tend to profess to be quite good at a number of things.

As a result, we tend to take others at their word and accept their help in completing projects or tasks.

The problem occurs when the results don’t live up to their professed talents and KSA’s. Why?

Are people intentionally lying about their skills – or are they confusing talent or potential with mastery and results?  Are they exaggerating their scope of knowledge – or are they really talking about areas of interest rather than actual experience?

While the disconnect between professed competencies and corresponding outcomes can have a variety of causes, the real challenge is what to do when the person to whom you’ve delegated responsibility for a project or task is really not adequately prepared for it.

A second challenge is the frustration and anger that you often feel when others don’t do what they said that they could do.

How to Enhance the Probability for Success When Delegating:  In my own experience resulting from many episodes of colleagues not being able to do what they said that they could do, I’ve learned that proof is critical prior to delegating a task to someone.  The challenge, of course, is how do you obtain that proof prior to delegating responsibility?  Here are some tips to consider before delegating:

Proof #1:  Discover what the KSA means to them.  Don’t simply rely on the word that someone uses to describe his or her KSA.  In addition to the denotative (or “dictionary”) meaning of a word, all words have different connotative meanings that are unique to each person.  For example, “strategic planning” to a CEO or entrepreneur requires creative visioning, hard core business analysis, and internal negotiations with stakeholders; in contrast, “strategic planning” to a middle manager often focuses on operationalizing tasks to achieve a pre-assigned goal.  As a result, the competencies necessary to strategically plan are quite different.  By understanding the competencies associated with someone’s KSA’s, you can better determine if they are the same ones that are needed to successfully perform the task to be delegated.

Proof #2:  Ask for examples of their KSA in action.  Once you understand what they mean by the term used to describe their KSA, use behavioral-based questions to find out more about the context in which this KSA was used.  These questions do not focus on how they might manage the delegated responsibility in the future, but rather focus on how they previously managed a similar project in the past.  This is a critical step in determining whether or not someone actually has the necessary skills to complete the delegated responsibility.  For example, subject matter experts (SME’s) are often delegated with the task of training others on the SME’s area of expertise; however, subject matter expertise may or may not include the ability to effectively train others.  Training requires not only understanding the subject, but also being attentive to the needs and experiences of students, then creatively presenting the concepts in a way that resonates with those experiences.

Proof #3:  Investigate how they used their KSA.  This is an extension of Proof #2.  Probe for specific behaviors, attitudes, etc. used in implementing the KSA in the past.  For example, “leadership” comes in many forms.  Will the way in which this person previously led others be effective in leading others in this particular situation?  Also focus on the context or environment in which the KSA was used.  Is it aligned with the values and goals of the current culture?

Proof #4:  Seek specific results of their previous use of the KSA.  This is often overlooked prior to delegating.  Just because someone has done something in the past does not necessarily mean that they achieved the level of success that you need for a potential delegated task.  This is also when many people will offer too many rationalizations or excuses if the results did not meet certain standards.

Proof #5:  Don’t be afraid to pull someone from the task if he or she is not performing.  Although it’s important to give the individual some time to ramp up, it’s equally important to monitor how he or she is progressing on the delegated task.  Offer coaching and restate the desired outcomes, but also be courageous in assigning someone else if it isn’t working out.  While this may seem to be cruel, it is just as cruel to keep someone on a task if he or she is insufficiently prepared to take responsibility for it.

Proof #6:  Above all, never assume that someone possesses a KSA or competency based on his or her job title.  Job titles change at breakneck speeds and require different skills in different environments.  For example, the title of “Vice President” is quite different in a Fortune 100 company than it is in a 5-person start-up.  By seeking proof and conducting due diligence prior to delegating, you are much less likely to pay the consequences of inaccurate assumptions of others’ professed KSA’s.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to

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