How to Delegate Effectively

The secret of success is not in doing your own work, but in recognizing the right person to do it.

One of the most crucial and challenging tasks for managers and supervisors is to apportion the work among the employees they manage and supervise. A lot of managers and supervisors frequently complain that they have too much to do and too little time in which to do it. Unchecked, this feeling leads to stress and ineffectiveness. In many cases, executives could greatly reduce their stress by practicing a critical management skill – delegation.

Delegation is the assignment of authority to another person to carry out the specific job-related activities. It allows a subordinate to make decisions; that is, it is a shift of decision-making authority from one organizational level to another lower one.

Delegation should not be confused with participation. In participative decision making, there is a sharing of authority; with delegation, subordinates make decisions on their own. Effective delegation pushes authority down vertically through the ranks of an organization.

Mastering the art of delegation makes you a professional manager; it is an effective means of developing your employees, and a key to organizational prosperity.

The inability to delegate has led to the downfall of many executives – from the top-notch managers to the first-line supervisors. Successful businesses, regardless of size, encourage not only their managers and supervisors but also others to master the art of delegation. Historically, delegation has been a vertical process, with managers delegating to subordinates in a clearly defined hierarchical structure. Today’s successful businesses are emphasizing both horizontal and vertical delegation. With the growing emphasis on teamwork, the ability to influence and delegate to others over whom you have no direct control is critical to the team’s success.

Whether delegating vertically or horizontally, delegation must be accompanied by effective coaching. Delegation will not be effective unless managers and other designated supervisors and coaches work with employees to help them develop the skills needed to get the job done. Effective delegation also requires good communication and a high degree of trust between the delegator and the delegatee.

Delegation is not task assignment. Task assignment is simply assigning work to an individual within the duties and responsibilities of his position. Delegation, on the other hand, involves the manager giving someone the responsibility and authority to do something that is normally part of the manager’s job.

Delegation is not “dumping.” Managers should take special care to make sure that the employee does not think he is trying to “dump” unpleasant assignments on him. If delegation is not done properly, employees feel put upon and resent what they perceive as ‘ I’ve to follow the boss’s order ’.

Delegation is not abdication. The manager still has the ultimate accountability for the assignment. That’s why it is important for you to establish appropriate controls and checkpoints to monitor progress. Besides, managers should give delegatees the appropriate authority to act along with clear expectations including any boundaries or criteria. The manager, however, should try to avoid prescribing HOW the assignment should be completed.

Delegation involves three important concepts and practices: responsibility, authority, and accountability. When you delegate, you share responsibility and authority with others and you hold them accountable for their performance. The ultimate accountability, however, still lies with the manager who should clearly understand that :

Responsibility refers to the assignment itself and the intended results. That means setting clear expectations. It also means that you should avoid prescribing the employee HOW the assignment should be completed.

Authority refers to the appropriate power given to the individual or group including the right to act and make decisions. It is very important to communicate boundaries and criteria such as budgetary considerations.

Accountability refers to the fact that the relevant individual must ‘ answer ’ for his/her/their actions and decisions along with the rewards or penalties that accompany those actions or decisions.

Benefits of Delegation

Benefits to the Manager / Supervisor

• Makes your job easy and exciting
• Reduces stress and makes you look good.
• Frees you to do what you should be doing
• Develops trust and rapport with your employees
• Grooms your successor so that you can move on to bigger and better things. Often managers and supervisors derail their own advancement by not having someone to take their place

Benefits to the employee

• Provides professional growth opportunities
• Develops their professional knowledge and skills
• Elevates their self-image and ultimately self-esteem
• Enhances their confidence and value to the organization
• Brings them personal satisfaction and a sense of achievement
• Gives them opportunities to be involved with decision making which in turn leads to more commitment and increased morale

Benefits for the organization

• Saves money
• Promotes teamwork
• Brings about professionalism
• Increases productivity and efficiency

How Well Do You Delegate?

Here is an opportunity to learn how well you delegate. This exercise will help identify your strengths and determine where improvement would be beneficial. Circle the number that best describes you and then total the numbers and rate your skills and standing :

The higher the number, the more the statement

1. Each of my subordinates know what I expect of him 5 4 3 2 1

2. I involve employees in goal setting, problem-solving and productivity-improvement activities 5 4 3 2 1

3. I place my personal emphasis on planning, organizing, motivating, and controlling rather than on doing tasks others could do 5 4 3 2 1

4. When assigning tasks, I select the assignee thoughtfully 5 4 3 2 1

5. When a problem occurs on a project I have delegated, I give the employee a reasonable chance to work it out for himself 5 4 3 2 1

6. When I delegate work to employees, I brief them fully on the details of the assignment 5 4 3 2 1

7. I see delegation as one way to help employees develop their knowledge, skills and expertise 5 4 3 2 1

8. When I delegate a project, I make sure that everyone involved knows who is in charge 5 4 3 2 1

9. When delegating a task, I balance authority with need and experience 5 4 3 2 1

10. I hold my employees responsible for results 5 4 3 2 1

A score between 41 and 50 suggests you are on target. A score between 31 and 40 indicates you are just getting by but could improve. Anything below 40 means you immediately need to make changes in your delegation skills.

Barriers to Delegation

Exhaustive research proves that the biggest barrier to delegation is you, the manager. When managers are asked why they don’t delegate more, they often give the following excuses :

• It takes too long to explain
• My employees resist responsibility
• It is easier and quicker to do thing myself
• My employees lack experience and competence
• If you want it done right, you better do it yourself
• No one on my staff is quite capable of doing the work
• My employees won’t like me if I expect too much of them
• I can do the work in my department better than anyone else
• My people are already overworked. I can’t overload anything on them

Although managers/supervisors offer the above excuses, the real reasons may be discovered in the following list:

• What if the other person messes up the task; I am still accountable.
• If someone else can do my job, maybe I won’t be needed anymore.
• I am the manager; I am supposed to have full control over everything.
• I’m comfortable doing the job I’ve been doing for a long time. If I give that up, then I have to concentrate on the responsibilities of my new job which I am not comfortable with.

Be honest with yourself. What are the REAL reasons you don’t delegate as much as you should?

Sometimes employees resist or fail to accept responsibility for some of the following reasons:

• They may feel that the task is being imposed on them
• They may not have the skills, knowledge or ability to do the job
• They received no reward or recognition in the past for a job well done.
• They may fear criticism from the manager if they don’t do things exactly as he expects.

Study this list, and think of some other reasons. Then ask yourself if you have in any way contributed to employee resistance.

Symptoms of Poor Delegation

There are many symptoms of poor delegation, and can be seen in the working habits of the manager, the attitude of the employees, or the overall productivity of the organization. Check from the following list the symptoms that are visible in your department/organization:

• Deadlines are frequently missed
• Some employees are much busier than others
• Competent employees feel frustrated and bored
• Manager is usually too busy to talk to employees
• Employees are assigned the tasks with proper training
• Employees are unsure of their authority and responsibility
• Employees’ suggestions are often neglected and overlooked
• Employees frequently request transfers to other departments
• Manager never has time to visit the employees’ work stations
• Changes in plans and objectives are not passed on to employees
• Communication flow is very slow, incomplete and often too late
• The department/organization is plagued by slow decision making
• Manager sometimes intervenes in the task without informing subordinates
• Manager insists that all incoming/outgoing mail must first pass through him
• Manager does not meet the deadline; often takes the office work to his home and sometimes delays / postpones his vacation because of the workload

If you have checked one or two of the above statements, you should look very carefully at your delegation practices …… and emphatically ask yourself why these conditions exist in your department/organization.

What and to Whom to Delegate

1. The very first step in delegating the task is to identify what should and should not be delegated.

Do delegate …

• Making day-to-day minor decisions.
• Minor staffing problems such as scheduling, shift change etc.
• Anything your employees are expected to do when you are not there.
• Jobs that can develop employees in other areas for potential promotion
• Answering routine questions. Make the employees think for themselves
• Routine clerical duties ( e.g.; filing, counting, sorting, routine reports ).

Don’t delegate …

• Morale and off-job problems.
• A job no one else in the department is qualified to do.
• Personnel issue such as hiring, firing, or disciplinary matters.
• Assignments from your boss that he expects you to do personally.
• An emergency or short-term task where there is not time to explain.

2. The next step is to select the appropriate delegatee. Think about the delegatees personality as well as his skills. This is an important consideration when presenting the assignment to the chosen person. Some people may want and need a great deal of detail and explanation; others respond better to a simple statement of expectations and guidelines, then want to be left alone.

The Delegation Process

1. Determine what you are going to delegate. Then take the time to plan how you are going to present the assignment, including your requirements, parameters, authority level, checkpoints and expectations. It is a good idea to write down these items and give a copy to your delegatee in order to minimize miscommunication.
2. Choose the right person. Assess the skills and the experience of your employees as objectively as possible. Don’t be too quick to choose the person who you always know you can depend on.

3. Give an overview of the assignment including the importance of the assignment and why you have chosen the employee for the job.

4. Describe the new responsibility in detail, outlining sub-tasks, defining any necessary parameters, and setting performance standards. Make sure the employee understands his/her level or degree of authority. Let the employee know who he/she can turn to for help as well as other available resources. By the way, make sure that you notify those affected by the delegatees power.

5. Solicit questions, reactions, and suggestions. At this point, you may want to ask the employee what approach he/she might take.

6. Listen to the employee’s comments and respond empathetically. This step helps to get employee “buy-in” and will also help you determine if the employee does indeed understand what is expected of him/her.

7. Ask the employee for commitment and offer help or some type of back-up assistance. An employee who already feels overwhelmed may worry about completing the assignments already on his/her plate. It is your responsibility to help establish priorities and relieve some of the pressure by getting someone else to share some of the delegatees routine tasks for the duration of the assignment.

8. Be encouraging. Express confidence in the employee’s ability to successfully handle the new responsibility.

9. Establish checkpoints, deadlines, and ways to monitor progress. The entire discussion should be a collaborative process. You should strive for a mutual agreement.

10. Keep in contact with the employee and observe the checkpoints the two of you agreed to. However, don’t hover. Remember, delegating means letting go.

11. Recognize and reward the person for his/her successful completion of the assignment.

Avoid Pitfalls

1. Reverse or upward delegation. Sometimes employees feel they don’t know how to do what they were delegated. In this situation, you may find them coming back and asking you what to do. Many managers fall into the trap by taking the assignment back. To avoid this situation, called the reverse delegation, make the employee think and solve the problem for himself.

This is the perfect opportunity to practice coaching skills. Begin by asking the employee various open-ended questions to find out what has already been done and what the person thinks should be the next step. Offer help and support, but don’t take back an assignment that you have delegated to someone else.

2. Dumping. You may think you are doing an excellent job by delegating an assignment to one of your employees and may wonder why the individual is not excited about the opportunity. The only reason in this case is most probably poor communication. It is easy to assume that the employee knows and understands your motivation, but often the employee perceives that he is being “dumped on,” that is, taken advantage of. To prevent this from happening, take special care to explain the benefit to the employee. Remember to point out the WIIFT – What’s In It For Them.

3. Grabbing the glory. Some managers seem to overlook the importance of giving credit where credit is due, and take credit for the delegatees’ hard work. Make sure that you give the appropriate recognition and then quietly appreciate yourself for being a great delegator.