Delegation…Essential to your Success

How do you find the time to develop your people? Delegation both frees up your time and can develop your people. It also increases productivity, morale and commitment. As the economy becomes more dependent on knowledge, managers need to delegate to be effective leaders. The number one reason for management failure is an inability to delegate.

So, why don’t managers delegate? The following are common reasons with my counter-arguments:

1. They think it’s easier and more efficient to do it on their own. In the beginning, that is probably true! However, if they continue to do it on their own, their employees will never learn how to do it and they will be stuck doing it, as opposed to having more time to focus on more strategic initiatives.

2. Some managers simply aren’t sure how to do it correctly. Delegation is both an art and a science. There are some basics in terms of doing it—find the right person, set clear expectations, settle on a regular check-in time. There is also the art of knowing people well enough to know how much they can handle; to stretch them without breaking them.

3. Other managers have a lack of trust in their people. These managers need to work on developing that trust. If they don’t trust their employees, it is quite likely their employees don’t trust them. Building trust is essential to retention of employees. That can be done by getting to know them on a more personal level (within reason, of course!) and by showing them trust—including delegation. In other words, one way to start trusting your people is to just do it—delegate to them and trust that it will get done well. When you have put the correct systems in place (discussed in detail below) you mitigate the risk of someone failing in a delegated project.

4. Finally, other managers have the perception that there is nobody they could delegate to. Many managers tell me that everyone is too busy. Realize that delegating may require you to help some of your employees prioritize their work more. In other cases, nobody reports to the person so they assume they can’t delegate. There may be other people in your company who would be better suited for some of your tasks. Talk to your manager about who could take on some of those responsibilities.

The University of Michigan did a study that found that 70% of managers’ work could be delegated. To delegate more of your tasks do the following exercise:

1. In a two week period, list all of the tasks that you perform. Be as detailed as possible (in other words, instead of listing “responded to e-mails”, track which ones take a while to reply to or require action to be taken).

2. At the end of that time period, decide which ones you could delegate to someone else. Focus on full projects, as opposed to individual tasks. Be creative—for example, realize that you do not need to attend every meeting that you are invited to.

3. Decide who would be the best person to delegate to, keeping in mind each person’s strengths, needs for improvements and workload.

4. Finally, put in place a structure to delegate, including clear expectations and check-in points. If things are not getting done correctly, evaluate whether it is a training issue or an ability issue. If it is training, work with the person to make sure they get the knowledge they need. Coach them when possible. If it is an ability issue, re-evaluate what responsibilities that person has. If things are not being done in a timely manner, address it immediately with the person.

Finally, make sure that you are delegating authority with a project. This will save you time in not having the person continually coming back to you asking for permission to make decisions.

Delegation is a practice that can be developed over time, learned by observing great managers do it and honed through coaching. It will greatly enhance your abilities as a leader, through helping you develop your people and allowing you to focus on more strategic work.