Leadership and Management: Delegating Effectively

If you want something done right, do it yourself.
It’ll take too long to explain.
Employees won’t be happy if I ask them to do this.

Do these excuses sound familiar? Many managers will recognize these thoughts when considering whether to pass along a task. After all, you rose to the top because of your ability to get the job done. Employees that promote through the ranks were often technical experts before becoming managers, and you’re probably right that you can get the job done faster and quicker than your subordinates—at least initially. But you can’t do it all—at some point a manager has to trust his or her subordinates to get the job done, otherwise productivity will grind to a halt.

Delegation can be one of the trickiest parts of management. Even highly respected, long term managers admit they struggle with assigning tasks and responsibilities. Ultimately, the manager is responsible for the outcome, so it’s natural to want to remain heavily involved in the process. But staying so involved isn’t necessarily conducive to a positive outcome.

Managers frequently make one of the following critical mistakes when delegating:

• Micromanaging Because you were the technical expert for years, it’s quite possible—more than likely, in fact—that you know an effective, speedy way to get the job done. But hovering over subordinates to ensure they perform the job exactly to your specifications won’t help. Allowing staff to make their own mistakes is a faster way for them to learn. If you give directions every step of the way, it’ll be hard for workers to take on the task in future without depending on you to guide them. And just because you do things one way doesn’t mean a different approach is wrong. In fact, new ideas might help to streamline the process or produce a better result.

• Failing to delegate the entire process It can be hard for managers to give up control over a process. In this situation, while you may give up small chunks of a task, you might find it difficult to relinquish control over the whole process. But you can’t do everything. At some point, your own performance begins to be compromised, because retaining responsibility for everything is too much for a single person. You might even contribute to delays and bottlenecks in the process, because your time is stretched thin.

• Failing to follow up On the other extreme, a busy manager sometimes doesn’t have enough time to fully explain the task that’s being delegated. Failing to provide enough instruction and guidance can be just as damaging as micromanaging the entire process. You probably have a lot of context and background information on the process which helps you decide how best to complete the work. Your subordinate probably won’t have the benefit of this information, especially if you’re delegating a task or responsibility for the first time. It’s important to strike a good balance between providing enough background and explanation to allow your subordinate to make informed decisions, without dictating the decisions he should make.

To effectively delegate, managers should follow some general guiding principles:

• Provide sufficient information, resources and training Make sure you give subordinates everything they’ll need to get the job done.

• Encourage fresh ideas and experimentation Let staff know you support re-engineering. Encourage ways to increase efficiency, rather than sticking to a process just because ”that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

• Give enough authority To enable a subordinate to complete the task successfully, others must know he or she has full authority to take action and steer the process.

• Choose the right person Half the battle of effective delegation is picking the right person for the job.

• Hold employees accountable for results Don’t delegate and walk away. Let staff know you will be monitoring progress and determining if they achieved a successful outcome.

• Emphasize the opportunities that come with delegation make sure staff realize delegation can be a great growth opportunity. If workers perceive you as dumping undesirable tasks on them, they’ll be resentful and less likely to complete the job well.