How do I make sure the work I delegate gets done?

A veterinary practice manager gets tips on how to delegate items to their team

A veterinary practice manager writes:

I’ve been a practice manager for a couple of years, and during that time my areas of responsibility have progressively increased. That’s not really a problem because I enjoy learning new things and being challenged.

I had my performance review a couple of weeks ago and the practice owner said that I need to get better at delegating some tasks. There are things she would rather I pass on to other team members, like patient reminders, customer complaints, sympathy cards and orders. I don’t have a problem asking someone else to do these things, but I just know that it won’t get done or they won’t know how to do it properly.

How do I remind them to get things done without panicking and nagging them? How do I make sure they actually get things done on time?

Are you asking this because you’ve had a bad experience with delegating and haven’t achieved the desired results in the past? It sounds like for whatever reason, you are assuming that things won’t get done. Do you actually have any reason to believe that?

There are a few things from your letter I want to address, I’ll tackle them one-by-one:

There are things she would rather I pass on to other team members, like patient reminders, customer complaints, sympathy cards and orders.”

I know this wasn’t part of your question, but I just have to say that I don’t think delegating customer complaints (well — resolving customer complaints) is a good idea. By all means, give the other tasks to someone — the orders, sympathy cards and patient reminders. Listening to customer complaints and being given the opportunity to resolve them is really important, and unless you have a ‘right-hand man’ who has all the skills, accountability and authority you do (e.g., for refunds, etc), you as the practice manager should be resolving customer complaints, not delegating this.

I just know that it won’t get done.”

How do you know this? Let’s assume you work with responsible, professional adults — give them the benefit of the doubt. Prepare for the worst, but assume the best. There are things you can do to ensure you delegate effectively:

1) What do you want them to do?

Even if you delegate a task, you are not delegating the responsibility. As the practice manager, you are still responsible for the completion of the task, but you do not have to complete the task yourself.

Clearly define what you want the team member to do. For example, saying “can you send out reminders” is not as clear as saying, “I want you to send out the vaccination and worming reminders via email, mail and SMS to all patients who are due for a visit between March and April.”

Be clear about the scope of the task.

2) How do you want them to do it?

This will ensure the team member has had appropriate training to complete the task. Don’t simply ask, “Do you know how to send reminders?” Your team will want to please you and not admit they don’t know what to do (or they may actually think they know). Instead, ask them to tell you how they would do this — that way, you can test their knowledge and once you hear their response, you’ll feel a lot more confident that they know what they’re doing. If they don’t, show them.

3) When do you want them to do it?

Always, always, always set a date for completion of the task. 
If you are delegating a task to a team member for the first time, you may like to set two deadlines. For example, “I need you to complete this by 21st of April, but let’s set a time now to touch base on April 15th and see how it’s going.” 
This can alleviate some of your concerns about whether the task will be completed, as you’ve given yourself a buffer. It will also give the team member an opportunity to ask any last-minute questions and feel confident they are on track to doing a good job.

Both you and the team member need to honor the agreed-upon date. If the task isn’t completed by that date, it’s really important that you follow it up with them. Over time, your team will learn that when you delegate something to them, it’s important, and they need to complete it on time. I hope that addresses your comment “I just know that it won’t get done.”

“… they won’t know how to do it properly.”

Great, show them!

Remember the first time you took on a PM task? Do you remember how thrilled you were that the owner selected you for it? Do you remember how important you felt? I certainly do, and chances are your team members will feel the same.

As a leader, it is your responsibility to empower your team and help them grow. It doesn’t matter that they won’t know how to complete the task ‘properly’ the first time — there is so much value in entrusting them with it, training them and mentoring them so that next time they can do it ‘properly.’

Hey, instead of doing it ‘properly’ (sorry, I read this to mean ‘my way or the highway’), they may find a better way of doing it!

You may not end up with the exact wording on the sympathy card that you like to use, but you will end up with a more engaged team member.

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