Meet Irial O’Farrell of Evolution Consulting

by Jerome Knyszewski
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Irial O'Farrell, of Evolution Consulting

Irial O’Farrell looks at a company’s situation through five lenses. These are Strategy, Structure, Culture, Capability, and Change. According to her, Strategy covers the company’s vision and purpose. Irial wants to know if the vision and purpose guide the business operations. She wants to know if companies go beyond simple to-do lists when devising strategy.

For structure, Irial O’Farrell asks whether the company’s infrastructure still works or the structure has been outmoded. Businesses need to respond to the changes in a market that is always in flux. These changes bring with them a whole new set of needs which a business’ current infrastructure may not fill. Without filling these needs, a company might suffer lower performance.

Irial O’Farrell also knows the importance of a company’s culture. Does your company’s culture help you achieve your business goals? Irial also knows that a sudden turn to innovation is unlikely if the company has spent its life sticking to conventions.

Do you also have the right people for the task? Do they have the right skills to help the business succeed? Do you have the desire to work hard to achieve the outcomes you want?

These are also some of the questions Irial O’Farrell will ask your business. As principal consultant of Evolution Consulting, she understands that businesses need diverse solutions for diverse problems. If you get her services, you will know what your specific problems are; you will receive a plan to change your dynamics; and you will receive support and guidance in implementing this plan.

An important part of business success is delegating tasks. Irial O’Farrell knows deeply the importance of this function, which is why she’s sharing her tips in how to delegate tasks effectively to ensure business success.

Read more interviews with business leaders here.

Jerome Knyszewski: Can you please share your “Five Things You Need To Know To Delegate Effectively and Be Completely Satisfied With the Results?” Please share a story or an example for each.

Irial O’Farrell: The Five Things You Need to Know to Delegate Effectively and be Completely Satisfied with the Results are:

  1. My number one thing you need to know is that delegation is an outcome of training. In reading books and articles or attending courses focused on delegation, this point is rarely mentioned. They tend to focus on “do this” or “try that” but all of it is irrelevant if the person you’re delegating to doesn’t know how to do the task to your standards.

One of my all-time favorite delegation stories is about a friend who worked in a recruitment company and was promoted to manager. It was coming up to year-end and the CEO tasked her with putting together the budget for her area for the coming year. My friend reasonably, she thought, pointed out that, while she was more than happy to do the budget, she didn’t know how to go about doing it. The CEO’s response was “well, you’re a manager now, you should know how to do it”. While the CEO might have been “delegating”, it didn’t produce the desired outcome. Instead, it resulted in “an effort” being made while the actual work of doing the budget still had to be done during the budget meeting with the CEO. It just left a bad taste in my friend’s mouth and a great story for me to share.

2. If delegation is an outcome of training, a key skill for a manager to develop is effective on-the-job training skills. This means being able to break the task down into its stages, understanding the knowledge and inputs required to execute the task (or aspects of the task), explaining the context of the task and its importance in the wider work of the team, function or organization and to set out the expected quality, deadline and volume requirements. For more complex tasks, it may mean having to focus the training on the easier parts of the task, to start with. Then, when those parts have been mastered, a second round of training can focus on the more complex aspects of the task.

For example, if you needed to delegate the preparation of a complex report, it could be broken down into two or three stages. The first stage could focus on preparing for the initial analysis, by gathering and inputting the data. Once they’re comfortable with that and understand the terminology, the next stage could be to start analyzing the data — trends, meanings, etc. The third stage might be to get them to write up the report. When faced with a large, complex task like this, it can be very easy to fall into the trap of “it’d be easier to do it myself” but by breaking it down into its parts, we can more easily see how we can train someone up on parts of the task, resulting in being able to delegate those parts and saving us some time.

As a rule-of-thumb, it takes approximately 30 minutes to properly train someone on a 10-minute task. That allows sufficient time to set the context, explain the terminology, inputs, process that will be followed, explain the task, show them or have them do part of the task, allow them take notes, and set out standards, volumes that they will build up to in time, rough indication of how long the task should take (taking the pygmallion effect into account) and the deadline. Don’t forget to support them the next time they’re doing the task too. Have them do it while you watch and answer questions (subject to point 5 below), to ensure understanding.

3. As humans, our brains are incredibly efficient. So, once we’ve figured out, and have become comfortable with, a task, our brains tuck all the knowledge and experience away in a short-cut file and we do the task on automatic pilot. The impact of this little habit is that, when we are explaining something to someone else, we have forgotten key points of information that are required to properly execute the task or to recognize some of the emotions that might arise in doing it for the first time.

A good trick is to bring ourselves back to when we were learning the task. What did we struggle with? What questions did we have? What emotions were we feeling? Was there a load of information and fiddly bits that took us a while to get our heads around? The best example of this is when we were learning how to drive. For an experienced driver, we regularly get out of the car and can barely remember how we got from A to B but, if you’re now an experienced driver, remember back to the first time you sat in the car and thought “I’ll never remember what to do when!” It was scary, nerve-wracking, maybe even frightening. Having someone to break it all down, explain the various parts to it, and allaying our fears that we couldn’t do too much damage, eventually, it all came together.

As a manager or business owner with a task to delegate, you may be busy and think “it’s easy to pick up and learn that task” but once, it wasn’t. Bringing yourself back to that state will make you more patient, more open to sharing your knowledge and better able to reassure them that it takes a few goes for it to start making sense. Sometimes, the longer route is the faster one.

4. Don’t assume anything! When I managed teams, my number one rule was “if I didn’t tell them, I don’t know that they know it” and it served me well. I used to set out my stall by explaining that I was going to start at the beginning and if I was covering content they knew, that they were more than welcome to let me know and I’d move to the next point. I can’t remember one person who asked me to move onto the next point. I think they were grateful that they didn’t need to ask me a question that might show up their lack of understanding or experience. This is even more important the more senior the person is. When someone is in a role for a while, it can become uncomfortable to admit that they don’t know something while their lack of knowledge can do some serious damage.

5. Last, but by no means least, the fifth thing to know about delegating effectively is the power of questions. Many times, managers will ask questions such as “does that make sense?” or “are you following?” and are convinced that they have checked in with the other person. Taking a close look, what types of questions are these and what are the most likely answers? If you’ve done a communications course, you’ll immediately recognize they are closed-end questions but I’d go so far as to say they’re closed-end leading questions. The most obvious answer to the question “does that make sense?” is “yes”, regardless of whether it does or not. It’s only a very confident employee who’ll turn around and say “no”. So, when following up on their understanding of the task and what’s expected, ask open-ended probing questions such as “what is your understanding of x?” or “can you summarize what you need to do next time you’re doing this task?” Now they have to properly engage with the content and give you a detailed answer.

One story that gets a regular outing was the time a team member asked me how to do something. I gave him the answer, asked if he understood, to which he replied “yes” and off he went, while I thought all was good. The same issue arose the following day (we worked in a daily environment) and we had the exact same conversation but I noted the pattern. Next day, same thing happened and I thought “Hhmm, something’s not right here” so, after answering the question again, I asked him to repeat back what he was going to do. He started off telling me, got stuck and said “when I get here, am I doing X or Y?” I answered Y and he continued on until he got stuck again and asked “and when I get here, am I doing A or B?”. This continued until we got to the end. That was the end of that conversation and the issue never cropped up again. So, it’s not just about asking questions, it’s about asking questions that engage the brain, which in turn, reinforces the understanding and learning.

There’s a lot in this but, with practice and reflection, they combine into a very powerful way to develop the team’s capability, allowing the manager or business owner to delegate a lot more and free them up to focus on the higher-value aspects of their own role.

Jerome Knyszewski: One of the obstacles to proper delegating is the oft quoted cliche “If you want something done right do it yourself.” Is this saying true? Is it false? Is there a way to reconcile it with the importance of delegating?

Irial O’Farrell: With a true consultant answer, I’m going to say “it depends”. There are a few points to consider when evaluating the truth in this saying. If it’s a five-minute task that doesn’t need to be done with any regularity e.g., it’s a once-off or might happen once a quarter, then work away. You would be better off doing it yourself. However, if it’s a task that is going to be done with any regularity e.g., a daily, weekly or monthly task, then it’s better to take the time to train them up properly and then delegate the responsibility to them. As for “doing it right”, as described in point 2 above, in the context of training them, it’s important to note the expected standards and deadlines. An understanding of these expectations can often be assumed, only to be cruelly dashed upon the rocks of reality, when the delivered task doesn’t meet the expected standards. However, this is an outcome of unspoken expectations which can very easily be rectified by just stating them out loud.

Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Irial O’Farrell: I’ve watched he erosion of common frames of reference coupled with knee-jerk reactions based on little or no consideration, in dismay. Maybe it’s always been there but the amplifying effect of social media platforms along with the pace of the 21st world has made it more obvious. The world is going through so much turmoil with very few, if any, principles or guidelines, that arguments are circular or contradictory and senseless. We need to start making sense of what our future world is going to look, feel and sound like. We need to start deciding on what the guiding principles of the future are going to be. If it’s inclusion, then it needs to include all, so what are the principles to enable that? If it’s access, it’s access for all, so what are the principles to enable that? Are there boundaries and if so, what are they? I’d love to see a movement where we start having these debates at this level of sense making. That we move the discussion from the generic principles to the specific and back up again, so that they are thorough and robust and can see us through the next 50, 100, 200 years, as how we organize society. That would be truly amazing and liberating from the current feeling of groundhog circular debates taking place today and free us up to focus on our collective future.

Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?

Irial O’Farrell: Readers can follow me on the following:







Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

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