title>The Why, What and To Whom of Delegating - Articles - Andrew Schwartz - ReadySetPresent

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The Why, What and To Whom of Delegating

Too many managers waste both time and energy performing tasks an employee could perform just as well, thereby lowering productivity while raising operating costs. The answer to the problem is easy--delegation. However, many managers still limit their own effectiveness, create imbalances in the organization, waste their department's time and energies, and fail to develop their employees by either ignoring or mismanaging the techniques of delegation.

Benefits of effective delegation Effective delegation is the strongest productivity improvement tool management can utilize. Since, delegation can be mismanaged, however, it is important for a manager to clearly understand why, what, and to whom he or she must delegate before attempting to do so. The benefits of effective delegation include:

  1. Freeing management from routine and repetitive functions. Managers are most cost effective when directing their energies to those top-level duties for which they were hired and are being paid--setting objectives, developing policies, and measuring results.
  2. Insuring that the work is done by the right person. No manager, regardless of his or her competence, can adequately perform each departmental function as well as the person who does it on a daily basis. Many have not worked their way up through the company and are highly unlikely to have handled all aspects of a process while doing so. Additionally, they would hardly have been promoted to a managerial position without a belief that their talents could be put to use elsewhere. Effective delegation ensures that each task is performed at the lowest appropriate level.
  3. Increasing motivation, confidence, and personal as well as professional growth. On-the-job-training challenges employees to evaluate risks, make decisions, and handle conflicts and prepare them for promotion, facilitating company growth. Effective delegation also heightens interest in the company and instills pride by demonstrating the manager's faith in their abilities.

Obstacles to overcome
There are, of course, factors outside a manager's control that may preclude all efforts to delegate. Examples are organizational instability, lack of resources, and poorly defined accountability. However, the most common factors that obstruct delegation are controllable and can be dealt with. Examples are:

  1. Employee deficiencies. Lack of confidence in employees quite understandably leads to a reluctance to delegate. When deficiencies exist, action must be taken to restructure jobs and/or retrain, reassign, or as a last resort terminate employees.
  2. Management deficiencies. Intimidation or lack of organization on the manager's part makes effective delegation impossible. In such a case, it is the manager's responsibility to seek training in the delegation process via seminars, self-help courses, and the like.
  3. The "I can do it better myself" syndrome. Some managers think it is easier and quicker to do the work themselves. Therefore, they never seem to be able to spare the time to explain a task to an employee. These managers need to come to the realization that, in the long run, more of their time will be freed once an employee has been adequately trained.
  4. Doing what comes naturally. A manager's preoccupation with familiar, routine work is a three-fold stifling of productive energies -- of his or her employees, the company, and himself or herself. Managers who follow this philosophy fail to grow, fall short of their potential, and reduce their chances for promotion.
  5. The "multi-hat" syndrome. Insufficient definition of the scope of management functions may cause managers to attempt a multitude of diverse tasks rather than concentrate on management functions. This can lead to reversed priorities, inefficiency, duplication of effort, and disregard for the capabilities of employees.
  6. Perfectionism. Managers who expect perfection often feel employees just can't do the job right. "Perfection" comes through practice, training, and the setting of realistic goals. A re-valuation of past goals and standards, as well as employee potential and current capabilities, is in order. Future goals and standards must be devised to fit individual circumstances and, as much as possible, to ensure their own achievement.
  7. Adversity to risk. Delegation involves risk taking. The ultimate responsibility always rests with the manager who will still be held accountable if the task is incomplete or inadequately carried out, but it is essential to remember that zero risk results in zero gain.

Essentially, faced with any of these situations, a manager must re-evaluate his or her personal bias, understand it as an impediment to both personal and corporate growth, and overcome it accordingly.

Deciding what to delegate
Now that the benefits of delegation are established and obstacles removed, the next step in the delegation process is to decide what work can and must be delegated. In general, work to be delegated needs to adhere to the following guidelines:

  • It can be handled adequately down the line.
  • All necessary information for decision making is also available down the line.
  • The work involves operational detail rather than planning or organization.
  • The task does not require skills unique to the manager or position.
  • An individual other than the manager has, or can have, direct control over the task.

There are, of course, tasks that must never be delegated: work that involves confidential information; "crash programs" that usually demand the experience and expertise of management; and tasks involving supervisor-employee relations such as employee evaluations, development, training, compensation, counseling, discipline, and morale-building. Using these guidelines, managers must divide all of their current tasks into three categories: (1) work that only the manager can perform; (2) work that can be delegated immediately; and (3) work that can be delegated as soon as an employee can be trained to handle it.

Selecting the right person
This brings us to the last of the three vital questions -- to whom must tasks be delegated? Selecting the right employee to do the work is an evaluative process, and managers must be able to identify individuals both capable and willing to handle responsibility. A careful review must be made of past assumptions about personnel. Some employees' capabilities may be overestimated, others underestimated. A personnel survey or personal interview is an excellent tool managers can use to reassess their employees, determine what additional duties each believes he or she can now adequately handle, and recognize the goals and direction toward which the employee aspires to advance. This will provide managers with insight into employee interests and aspirations, while pinpointing those presently qualified for delegation.

A manager must also consider which employees have made independent decisions within the parameters of their position and authority, and whether these decisions were "right," even though they may not necessarily have agreed with past management decisions. Employees are certainly ready for more responsibility and authority when they have shown the ability to make decisions that are both innovative and correct. After the evaluation process is completed, managers must be able to separate those employees to whom delegation can be made with a good chance of success from those who are unsuited. Then managers need to show patience. Subordinates' ability to handle added responsibility and authority comes in stages.

Manager must avoid the tendency to constantly delegate to the same one or two capable individuals. This practice only overloads the best personnel while slighting all others.

Now that the proper climate for delegation has been prepared, four essential rules that enhance the probabilities of success must be observed.

  1. Delegate the whole

    As with delegation in general, there may be occasions in which work must be divided among several individuals for example, highly technical or complex tasks. Should this be the case, the rule is always -- delegate the maximum amount of work to the lowest possible level.

    Whenever possible, managers must delegate a whole task to one person rather than divide it among several individuals. Delegating a whole task increases an employee's initiative, encourages greater attention to detail, and gives a manager greater control over results. Furthermore, it minimizes confusion, and eliminates unnecessary and inefficient coordination of efforts among two or more employees. All of these factors lead to more successful results.

    Delegating the whole, however, does not mean dumping an assignment on an employee without specific preparation, training, and coaching. This is especially true for those new to the job or those who have not previously been assigned responsibility or authority. Goals and deadlines must also be clearly spelled out. Delegation must be a gradual process, allowing employees to assume responsibility and authority at a comfortable pace. Creating an amicable environment can go a long way towards motivating employees to perform to the best of their abilities.

    After a manager has delegated a task to an employee, he or she must not take it back, make changes in the assignment, or redelegate it. This causes great frustration on the part of an employee. In fact, the employee may lose motivation and interest in the project, doubting whether he or she will ever be given the opportunity to complete it. When work is repeatedly taken back, the responsibility and authority are reassumed by the manager and delegation has failed.

    Should an employee reach an impasse and turn back to the manager for answers, the manager must immediately put the ball back in the employee's court and ask, "What do you recommend?" This forces the employee to come up with a solution, and provides the manager with a means of evaluating the employee's thinking and judgment process. Taking back incomplete work, for whatever reason, fosters dependence and indicates the failure of delegation.

  2. Transfer responsibility, authority, and accountability

    Merely assigning a task with detailed instructions is not effective delegation. An employee cannot grow without the freedom to make decisions on how the job needs to be done. Managers need to also be aware that only through the conjunction of responsibility and authority can the desired results be achieved. Additionally, a delegatee must be held accountable for his or her actions. Responsibility for carrying out a delegated assignment to its end--including making decisions, exercising ingenuity and resourcefulness, and doing his or her own worrying--is a necessary part of any successful delegation. A manager who delegates a task must be willing to step back and keep suggestions, questions, and interruptions to a minimum.

    Transfer of authority gives the delegate power to command resources that might otherwise lie outside his or her control to assure that results meet the manager's objectives. At a minimum, enough authority must be delegated to allow the employee to take the initiative, to keep the project running smoothly in the manager's absence, and to get the job done on schedule.

    Freedom must be given to employees to utilize their ingenuity in problem solving. A manager must be willing to accept that an employee will probably not tackle an assignment exactly the way he or she would and that there may be others equally good ways to achieve the desired results.

    Furthermore, managers must be willing to give employees freedom to make mistakes, learn from them, and try again. Managers must not, however, leave employees totally on their own and must make it clear that asking for advice will not be taken as a sign of failure.

    Controls are necessary to hold employees responsible for their actions and to check their results. Excessive freedom--for example, a manager's failure to set firm deadlines or provide adequate coaching--can cause an employee's failure. Excessive control, on the other hand, is counterproductive, time-consuming, and can stifle an employee's efforts. Progress reports or checkpoints help ensure that managers receive the right feedback, at the right time, while avoiding excessive freedom or excessive control over employees. Indeed, excess control may falsely communicate to employees a manager's lack of confidence. For best results, the manager and employee need to jointly decide on the frequency of the reports and establish a mid-point deadline, final deadline, and red-flag indicators identifying occurrences that needs to be brought to the manager's immediate attention. These steps bring better results, without overly restricting the employee's efforts.

    The biggest problem managers need to address in delegating authority is the authorization to spend company money. In many cases, employees who are given responsibility and authority for a complete task must have access to these resources and delegation that is not accompanied by the authority to spend "necessary" funds isn't very extensive. Subordinates soon realize this and the entire delegation is undermined. Access to company funds, however, must be limited, with the limitations specifically spelled out in writing.

    Accountability. Delegation is not complete, however, unless employees are held accountable for their work. They must be accountable to only one person--usually their immediate manager--and must understand what criteria will be used in judging their performance. They must also understand that unless the job is done successfully, they will be replaced.

    Though ultimate accountability cannot be transferred and does rest with the manager, managers must be willing to support the actions and decisions of those in whom they have placed their trust. They must stand behind the results--whether good or bad.

  3. Put It In Writing

    The delegation process requires that the scope of the employee's responsibility, authority, and accountability, as well as the expected results, be clearly spelled out. Agreement between the manager and the employee on these points is the cornerstone of the delegation process. But the individual to whom the task will be assigned must be allowed some latitude to establish the direction and guidelines of the project. Specifically, managers must write down all provisions discussed verbally, including the objectives of the assignment, the resources necessary to carry it out, the degree of authority being transferred (including access to funds), time limits involved, and when and how results are to be reported. Managers must also put in writing all expectations, priorities, foreseeable problems, and any other relevant information that can aid the employee. This written record not only increases clarity and avoids misunderstandings, but provides a useful record of the delegation.

    After the provisions are put in writing, the employee must be given time to digest the information, raise questions, and suggest changes. When necessary, the manager must be willing to rewrite points that need changing or clarification. The work assignment must not be started until a final agreement is reached, and until there is a clear understanding by all involved of the objectives of the tasks assigned, and the degree of responsibility, authority, and accountability transferred.

    Once it is decided to whom to delegate, it is important to inform all relevant personnel of the responsibilities that have been delegated. This makes the employee's transition to a position of authority easier and more acceptable to others.

  4. Review results, not methods

    Once a task is completed, the manager and employee need to sit down together and evaluate the results--not the methods. When results do not measure up to expectations, managers must access the consequences. They must determine why the employee failed and then check to see whether he or she misunderstood objectives and standards. Additionally, fault may be determined to lie with a manager who failed to make himself or herself readily available for assistance, a sign of insufficient coaching. Other areas to analyze include the nature of the problems that were encountered, and whether the employee can be delegated responsibilities in the future. The results of the followup must then be communicated, or the employees will never know where they fell short. Criticism, however, must always be handed out in private.

    On the other hand, it is extremely important to reward employees for successful results. Rewards must be linked directly to accomplishments, and managers needs to publicly give credit to employees for a job well done. Remember, the reward, as well as the credit, belongs to the individual who produces the results--and ambitious people work for success and the rewards it brings.