by Tim Gould
Delegation is every manager’s bedrock responsibility. But actual training on how to delegate isn’t easy to find.
As simple a concept as delegating duties seems to be, it can get mighty complicated in the real world. We’ve surveyed reams of material from the experts and come up with some simple guidelines on how managers can delegate effectively.
Deciding when and what to delegate
First, managers need to be sure that delegation is the best course of action. So they should ask themselves five key questions:
- Is there someone else who I believe has what it takes – background, expertise, information, etc. – to do the job? Absent that, is there someone I can get up to speed quickly to take over the job?
- Does the task provide an opportunity to grow and develop another person’s skills, or am I just foisting off an unpleasant task on someone else?
- Is this a task that that’s likely to come up again, so that if I invest time in someone, I’ll get a multiple payoff?
- Do I have enough time to delegate the job effectively? If there’s no time for training, feedback and, yes, an occasional redo, I may be asking for trouble.
- Is this a task that should be delegated? There are any number of critical functions that are best handled solely by supervisory personnel.
It would be great if everyone jumped on every idea with enthusiasm and vigor. But as every manager knows, there are almost always objections and hesitation – on both sides. So managers need to deal with the objections.
Often the biggest obstacle to delegation is the very person who should be delegating. Most supervisors must first convince themselves that delegation is a good idea and will result in a better operation overall.
Before they can do that, they’ll probably have to overcome a series of common objections to delegation:
- ‘I don’t have the confidence in others to do the task’
The best way to build confidence in others is by first delegating small, clearly defined tasks. That can serve as a confidence-builder for both the supervisor and the subordinate. Once inexperienced managers let go of a small task or two, it gets easier and more comfortable to let go of larger ones.
- ‘It’s more efficient to do the job myself’
That may be true in the beginning stages when the manager will probably will have to do a little hand-holding to help the subordinate along. This period is an investment that will save time and effort later on – and ultimately lead to greater efficiency.
- ‘I like to do things my way, and have a high standard that I set myself’
Delegating doesn’t mean you’re lowering standards. It means communicating standards to someone else. And if that person is able to meet standards, does it really matter how the task was finally accomplished?
- ‘I don’t want to lose control of the project’
Loss of control can be a negative. Trying to maintain full control over everything often results in having to spend time and effort on less important tasks. Delegating allows supervisors to increase the time – and level of control – to devote to other more important tasks.
Some people who are quite capable of taking on more will nevertheless hesitate to do so, and they’ll think up reasons and objections. Some typical statements:
- ‘I’m afraid of being criticized or embarrassed if I don’t do things exactly right’
This is a good time to mention the successes the employee has had – and the reasons that led the manager to pick that person in the first place. A little reassurance that help is close by means a lot, too.
- ‘I’m not sure I have the ability to do this’
Managers should go down the list of responsibilities involved in the delegated task, assuring the employee that each is well within the scope of the person’s talents. If there’s a “stretch” responsibility – one that might be a little beyond the employee’s skills – great.
- ‘I just don’t have the time to take on more work’
If that’s truly the case, managers can explore the possibility of the employee taking on a smaller piece of the project. If that goes well, their role can grow.
Getting everyone prepared
Maybe someone somewhere actually did learn how to swim by being thrown into the deep end. Odds are, managers will achieve greater success through training and preparation.
One of the most effective ways to prime employees for delegation is to have them “shadow” the manager or another employee familiar with the assignment.
That takes a task from the abstract – “You’ll make a presentation to a customer” – to the actual – “Let’s you and I make a presentation to a customer.”
Having employees do a walk-through is the equivalent of a rehearsal in entertaining or a practice session in sports. The employee gets to see the approaches and potential problems up close and in real time – with the advantage of having a coach close by.
Delegating takes practice. Like anything else, the best approach is to start small. This approach serves as a two-fold confidence builder:
- confidence that the manager can give up some responsibilities to the employee, and the world won’t end, and
- confidence in the employee that he or she is ready to take on more, and that doing so isn’t an insurmountable task, if taken in small steps.
Managers should think back to when someone first presented them with the idea of taking over something bigger or more complicated than the job you were working in. Why did they agree to it?
They likely had one of these two reasons:
Professional growth. They wanted to become a bigger player in their field, or at least prepare themselves to become a bigger player – someone who could be counted on to act independently and effectively.
Financial growth. It makes the world go ’round, and most of us would be kidding ourselves if we tried to deny that money didn’t play a part in the decision.
Keeping that in mind, you should have little trouble figuring out how to motivate others to accept the responsibilities of delegation.
It’s true, managers don’t always have the power, authority or means to reward people the way they’d like, or offer them the growth opportunities they desire. Now what?
There’s almost always something managers can do to provide an incentive. It may not be a pay raise, but it might be:
- a small bonus
- more time off to spend with the family
- training and learning opportunities, or
- an incentive tied to the company’s financial performance.
Incentives can be modified and adjusted based on the manager’s knowledge of the employee involved. Just as some people like opera while others like baseball, so can incentives be adjusted to target an employee’s likes.
So, while managers’ authority to award incentives is limited, their imaginations are not.