The Art of Delegation
At the end of April’s column, “What Are Your Leadership Priorities,” I suggested:
When you finish reading this column, ask yourself, “what is required of me?” “what gives me the greatest return?” and “what brings the greatest reward?” Then make a list of the things you do that do not fit into one of those categories. Those are the things you need to delegate or eliminate.
In May’s column I pointed out: (1) “Anyone taking that advice needs to ensure that when they delegate, they do it effectively. There is a difference between delegating responsibilities and abdicating responsibilities. Delegation is when a leader assigns a personally held task, project or responsibility to someone else while maintaining accountability. Your responsibility is to see that the job is accomplished in a way that meets all standards for quality and in a timely fashion,” and (2) effective delegation involves a process that includes the following components:
- Preparation for delegation
- Confirmation of understanding
- Confirmation of commitment
- Ensuring accountability.
“Preparation for Delegation” was explored in last month’s column, and if you followed the suggestions in part one, you have selected the person to whom you are going to delegate the task for one of two reasons: (1) The person is the best qualified and can deliver the best results or (2) the person is the one who will most benefit from the learning experience that comes from doing the job. Now, it is time to make the assignment.
Assignment: For delegation to be successful, the employee to whom the task is assigned must be provided the “big picture.” The employee should be given enough information to see how what he/she will be doing contributes to the overall operation of the organization. When making the assignment, you should describe what success looks like so that the employee has a clear picture of what you want accomplished.
Delegation is most effective when we are delegating responsibility, not just work. You should focus on the results not the process. The effective delegator focuses on the result and allows the employee to exercise initiative and to develop the methodology for achieving the desired result.
When assigning the project, it is essential the employee has the necessary resources to successfully complete the task. Point him/her in the right direction if the work involves other people or resources are needed to get the job done.
Let the employee know that you are available for guidance and advice and point out any roadblocks they may encounter.
Establish the parameters, conditions and terms before you delegate and do not impose controls after you have delegated. Conditions must be stated up front.
Confirmation of understanding: Delegation should be accomplished through a dialogue and in an environment that is conducive to fully explaining the project with a minimum of disruptions. Encourage the employee to ask questions and offer suggestions. Instead of asking “do you understand?” which almost always receives a “yes” answer, ask questions such as “at this point, do you have any ideas about what you will do to accomplish the result we have discussed?” or “What resources do you think you will need to get this done?” This will enable you to see whether or not the employee has a clear picture of what you have asked him/her to do.
Confirmation of commitment: This is the part of the delegation process that most managers overlook. Instead of confirming the employee’s commitment, they often just assume that employees have accepted the assignment.
Runners know that the most important part of a relay race is the handing of the baton to the next runner and they spend a huge amount of time learning this skill. Just as in running, the delegation process cannot be successful unless the employee takes the assignment he/she has been handed and successfully carries it to the finish line.
It is the delegator’s responsibility to confirm that the employee to whom the task has been delegated is committed both to the expected results and to the process that has been set out (including the schedule, budget, and tools) and that their overall goals for the task are aligned with the goals of the organization.
Ensuring Accountability: Accountability is key to the process of delegation. Finding out at the completion date that an assignment hasn’t been completed or has been done unsatisfactorily is the nightmare scenario of delegating.
To ensure accountability, you should establish deadlines and check-in dates when making the assignment. Make sure the employee clearly understands the due date for completion of the assigned task. By also assigning check-in dates, you can be aware of the status of the project without hovering and micromanaging and can offer guidance and advice without interfering. Two-way communication is an essential ingredient of the delegation process if accountability is to be achieved.
Once you have delegated the task, it belongs to the employee. Do not let them delegate it back to you. If the employee comes to you for guidance and advice, listen without assuming responsibility for the problem. If the employee asks you what you think, turn the question around and ask the employee what he/she thinks or what he/she recommends. Help the employee solve the problem. Give the guidance needed without taking the project back. There is a difference between rescuing an employee and providing guidance and support.
One other piece of advice (which was not included in the original outline for this article but which you should consider in delegating) is that when the job is done, give full credit and recognition to the employee who did it. However, if the employee was unsuccessful, take the blunt of the blame yourself. Do not use the employee as a scapegoat. Ultimately, as the manager, the responsibility for getting the job done is yours. Use the failure as a learning experience so you can become more effective in the delegation process.
By becoming an effective delegator, you enable yourself to tap into the strengths of others, free you up to do the things you are required to do or can only be done by you, and you enable others to grow and expand their capabilities.