Effective delegation is often thought of as one of the most challenging management skills to master. Yet, delegation is one of the most powerful management skills. In fact, if you are not an effective delegator, you are shortchanging yourself, your employees and your organization. Successful delegation entails delegating the right things to the right people at the right time, along with the authority and resources needed to carry out the assignment. Delegating, of course, conveys a number of benefits beyond getting the job done. It is an important part of employee development, employee motivation, self-development and succession planning.
Before exploring how to delegate more effectively, let’s take a look at why people don’t delegate. Often, those who are considered by their employees to be micromanagers simply have not perfected the art of delegating. Some people don’t delegate because they are perfectionists and others don’t want to take the time to delegate. Yes, it does take time to delegate properly, but the time invested pays dividends.
Some people think that they need to protect themselves; in part, this may be because when you delegate, although you delegate authority and responsibility, you don’t delegate liability. Some people just enjoy doing the tasks that they could be delegating. Often, it is a matter of trust; managers don’t trust the people working for them. Finally, some people are new to management and are not comfortable assigning tasks to others, especially those that were former peers.
Irrespective of the reason for not delegating effectively, we can all learn to delegate more effectively and reap the benefits that accrue to everyone involved. The first step is to identify work that can be delegated. Although there are some exceptions, I lean more toward the belief that you should delegate everything that either someone else can do or be trained / developed to do; to do otherwise is a disservice to your employees and your organization.
When identifying what you are going to delegate, try to delegate the complete job, rather than just some small tasks. By giving an employee a complete job, you can take better advantage of their creativity. Further, there is an exponential increase in employee pride and satisfaction when they can see that they took something from beginning to end.
Next, it is important that you plan ahead and provide enough time for the entire delegation process. That begins with setting clear objectives and boundaries, and ends with follow-up, completion of the task / job and feedback. The process may also require some employee development and / or training. Keep in mind, it may take an employee longer to complete a work assignment than it would you. Even considering that it may take longer for delegated work to be completed, for the reasons mentioned above, in the long run, delegation is worth it. The fact is, if you don’t delegate overall productivity declines due to your focus being taken away from critical issues that require your attention and a workforce that lacks motivation and is disengaged.
- Determine to whom to delegate: Don’t just delegate to those who are the least busy. Delegate to those that are best equipped to handle the job or be trained to do the job. Don’t always go to the same people; if you find you can only rely on a small select group of people to successfully complete delegate work on time and at the level you require, it may be time to determine if you have the right people on your team. Likewise, don’t only delegate to those that you know can handle the job with little or no training and development; plan ahead so you have time to equip employees with the tools/knowledge to do the job.
- Provide clear instruction: Articulate clear, observable and measurable objectives. The employee must understand exactly what outcome(s) you expect. The goal is to communicate the outcome, not how you expect them to do the job. This is a balancing act. You don’t want to micromanage; on the other hand, you want to provide them with enough input that sets them up for success. In determining how much information to give the employee beyond the objective(s), consider the employee’s experience with the specific task / job, the employee’s past performance related to taking initiative to figure things out, and their overall performance on previously delegated work. Also, communicate boundaries or constraints, if any, that the employee should abide by in carrying out the assignment.
- Determine resource and development requirements: Engage in a conversation with the employee to determine what additional training / development they feel they will need to complete the job. Also, find out from the employee what resources they believe they will need. As a manager, it is your responsibility to make sure the employee has the resources and training necessary to succeed. I find it best to start by asking the employee what their needs are and let the conversation flow from there; again, you don’t want to micromanage. You may also want to ask the employee how they plan to proceed with the work; this often informs what resources or development may be needed.
- Agree on a timeline: Once the objectives are agreed on and training / development needs are determined, agreement should be reached on when the assignment is due. Again, I find it best to begin this conversation by asking the employee when, considering their current workload and other responsibilities, do they think it would be reasonable to have the work at hand completed in a manner that meets objectives and rises to the quality expectations? In my experience, it is helpful if you raise the issue of the employee’s other responsibilities, because it often results in the employee suggesting a more realistic deadline. In fact, I find employees are often over ambitious when estimating the timeframe needed to complete a work assignment. Often, when an employee suggests a timeframe, I respond with a suggestion that they take a minimum of 50 percent more time to complete the work. For example, if the employee states they could complete the job in two weeks, I ask them if they think 3 weeks might be more reasonable. Keep in mind, as a manager you want to create a situation that results in the employee’s success. Always factor in enough time to re-do or improve on the submitted work; let the complexity of the job and employee background / experience be your guide.
- Agree on follow-up plan: At the outset, you and the employee should agree on follow-up plan. Determine how often you and the employee will check-in to monitor the progress of the work. Depending on the work, you may agree to check in when the assignment it complete or you may set weekly or milestone check-ins. Regardless of whether or not “check-ins” are agreed to, it is important to let the employee know that irrespective of scheduled follow ups, you are available should the employee run into a roadblock. A word of caution, however, on check-ins: if the employee comes to you with a problem or question, make sure that you don’t end up being on the receiving end of someone delegating up. Only in a very rare situation should you permit work to be delegate back to you. Just as you delegated the responsibility to the employee to get the work done, the employee must take the responsibility and complete the task.
- Provide Feedback: Once the task is complete, provide the employee with feedback on the results. You may want to discuss the actual results and the process the employee engaged in in completing the work. The goal in these discussions is two fold: look for opportunities to give positive feedback and look for opportunities for you to learn something from the employee.
Finally, give credit where credit is due. Look for every opportunity to give credit to the employee for the work well done. On the other hand, if your board or members criticize the work or the job doesn’t come out like expected, it is important that you take full responsibility. Regardless of the circumstances, I firmly believe that as leaders we should always give credit to others, and take full responsibility when things go south.
Are there tasks / responsibilities that you think should never be delegated?
About the Author
Robert Nelson, a Certified Association Executive (CAE), brings over a quarter-century of successful executive leadership experience, working with Boards and high-powered CEOs in a not-for-profit setting. He is the founder of Nelson Strategic Consulting and brings hands-on experience guiding and facilitating the design of strategy development processes and think tanks. His focus on organizational strategies and strategic solutions to complex organizational and global grand challenges for national as well as international organizations.
Contact Robert through his website, or learn more about Nelson Strategic Consulting at www.nscstrategies.com.