Delegation isn’t just about assigning work; it’s also about ensuring those tasks and duties are being done by the right team member, in the right way and at the right time.
Ideally, on any given work day, team members find their flow, described by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as the state of “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake . . . Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” In the workplace, it may look like this: Staffers are focused on their respective issues and challenges. They are completing their own assignments. Though they may at times collaborate, they peaceably and productively stay in their designated lanes.
But given this context, how can leaders decide which employees are prepared for more responsibility? How can they determine when it’s time to pull the trigger and let today’s administrative assistant or marketing associate aim for a new target?
As supervisors and managers evaluate opportunities to give “stretch assignments” – those that challenge team members and engage new skills – they should look for these five signs of employee readiness.
1. They’re always on time.
Employees who meet deadlines without fail not only show command over their own work; they exhibit respect for the output and process flows of others. The ability to meet deadlines consistently is a major indicator of proficiency. It reflects strong organizational, scheduling and prioritization skills. Additionally, it showcases a sense of autonomy and ownership over one’s contributions. Employees who are reliable in this way understand the many moving pieces within their department, projects or organization – and how the components intersect.
2. They never intimate, “It’s not in my job description.”
You’ve heard of – or had the misfortune of working with – team members who really aren’t playing with the squad. They may seldom volunteer to pitch in during a pinch, or they may express vocal disagreement about doing something not neatly within their official role definition. For the staff members who are quite the opposite, there could be a light at the end of the tunnel. Their willingness to learn about other tasks, to cross-train and to chip in during a crunch shows promise for professional expansion.
3. They offer fresh ideas, without nudging.
Professionals who are committed to their craft stay in the know on their own. These are the people who read industry articles, subscribe to relevant newsletters and may even belong to professional groups, associations or meetups. Employees who are ready for growth make no bones about sharing their knowledge for the greater good of the team. They don’t want to hold their information hostage; they want to use it to help others.
4. They produce stellar work.
Staff members who go above and beyond are truly worth setting apart. Their commitment to quality is even more striking when it’s evident in everything, from the most routine tasks to unique, one-off projects. This shows that the employee believes in doing his or her best, without qualification. When people continuously make lemonade out of lemons, or exude pride in a job well done no matter how simple, you know they are likely to work even harder if given more bandwidth in their work.
5. They have others clamoring for their involvement.
Supervisors should take note of staff members who are tapped for inclusion in ad hoc or special projects. This is especially so when ‘the ask’ for participation comes from other departments or higher-level managers. Employees who have won others’ confidence and made a name for themselves is a stand-out sign of forward momentum. They have earned a solid reputation backed by performance. Clearly, they also demonstrate sound people skills and teamwork.
Coincidentally, many of the same signs of an employee being primed for evolution are similar to those that indicate a company may be ready to go to the next level. Business leaders may better navigate the nuances of delegation by viewing their team’s preparedness in an entrepreneurial light. This calls for noticing potential before opportunity presents itself, just like an early adopter ahead of the mainstream or a disruptor who stimulates a new status quo.