Delegation is a phenomenal technique at your disposal as a manager – it can multiply your impact as you can get so much more done through others than carrying everything on your own shoulders. However, it can be a struggle for some managers. I explore this struggle further in this article, in addition to sharing a structure for a conversation to delegate a task, project or responsibility to someone else. The article also covers tips on how you can get your manager to effectively delegate to you i.e. where you are the one being delegated to.
This is my second article based on the book The Six Conversations of a Brilliant Manager* by Alan J Sears. The first article covered my thoughts on the book overall plus some discussion on other (related) approaches, and delved into the specifics of four of the six conversations. They were coaching, taking responsibility, addressing performance/behaviour, and performance appraisals.
Alan argues that “many organisations are systematically under-delegated, with everyone doing tasks they really should have briefed others to do”. In my view, this means everyone is operating below their potential, under-developed because they are stuck doing things that are routine for them, but would have offered growth opportunities for others if they had been briefed properly and supported while learning.
Delegation is one of my professional strengths according to a previous manager of mine. For me, it’s about empowering and trusting your reports to do their best and what’s right for the business. And, yes, it may push you and them outside of your respective comfort zones, but that’s how we learn and grow.
Difficulties for managers
Some of the difficulties include managers:
There may be an unstated suspicion that if you delegate well, you’ll have nothing left to do! If your team is a ‘well-oiled machine’ and stretched (in a good way), dealing with delegated opportunities with aplomb, the risk of redundancy or downsizing for the manager is sadly a legitimate concern in some organisations… Even developing potential successors such that your team is sustainable can be dangerous in those organisations i.e. if you actively work to reduce their reliance on you, you increase your risk of redundancy. Nevertheless, I still feel you should delegate as it’s what affords you the capacity and time to take on broader responsibilities across your business, like volunteering for strategic projects.
It’s important to learn how to delegate properly, else you won’t get back what you’re wanting. You’ll then be under pressure to go back to doing it all yourself, stressing yourself out, and demotivating your team as they feel they can’t meet your standards.
Delegation Conversation as a Manager
The steps in a delegation conversation are:
1) Set the scene, including the reason(s) why you want it to be done, what the overall aim is, and why you are asking them to do it.
2) Describe the task, being clear about what needs to be done. Cover both the general outline and sufficient detail so they can be clear on the result required.
3) Set the timeline: when it needs to be done by.
4) Talk through who else might be involved, and perhaps where it will be done, and be clear on the limits of authority (what they can and can’t do).
5) Check the other person’s understanding of the four key points (why, what, when, who/where/limits) by asking them to run your request back past you, plus tell them when you want updates on progress from them.
Note though that you should not cover how they should get it done – that will be up to whoever you are delegating to. It is key to remember that anything you delegate will not be done exactly the way you would have done it. This is not a different quality standard (if you’re sufficiently clear on the quality expected), but just a different approach taken. Other pitfalls to avoid are flitting between why and what (as this can be confusing) and insufficient clarity on timelines.
In more complex situations, you may need to cover:
And, limits of authority can include:
Delegation as a direct report
As a direct report, you could use these elements of the delegation conversation too, when you’re being delegated to. In other words, ask your boss specific questions when she delegates to you to:
What have your experiences of delegation been? Have techniques like the ones above helped you, either as a delegating manager, or as the person being delegated to?
* PROTAGION is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.co.uk. The links with * participate in this programme.
Tanja Tippett has over two decades of asset management experience, after starting her career with a master’s degree in applied mathematics, followed by obtaining her Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation while working. During her career, she became an expert in asset-liability management, including fixed income and credit securities, founding and leading a Liability Driven Investments boutique in South Africa. Now she uses her experience in the financial services industry to prepare postgraduate students from different backgrounds for professional working life. This is her story...
“My Asset Management journey started over 20 years ago on the swap desk of an investment bank! I had just finished my master’s degree in applied mathematics and found the transition from studying to working challenging. This was towards the end of the 90’s and the trading desk environment was still very harsh, male-dominated and cut-throat. I did not do well in that environment – I was drowning! My first inclination was to doubt myself and pursue a different career. Fortunately, I had good friends who knew me well and who wanted me to succeed, and they all urged me to apply for a different position at an asset manager. It took courage to apply for a new position so shortly after I started. I had to come to terms with the fact that some might view it as failure, but with hindsight it turned out to be a good decision.
I moved to the Fixed Income team at South Africa’s largest asset manager. I immediately felt more at home, even though I still had much to learn. I was fortunate to have had a great mentor and teacher in my immediate manager. He generously shared what he knew, and gently guided me towards more knowledge and confidence. I quickly realised that if I wanted to succeed and become a technical expert, I needed to close what I perceived as my financial knowledge gap: I had a real fear of interpreting and analysing financial statements. Being in a fixed income team, that attitude was not going to get me very far in terms of my goal to become a technical expert! I decided to study towards becoming a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) to close that gap.
Learning and demonstrating my skills
Shortly after I joined the team, the local government issued their first inflation-linked bond. It was a new instrument in the South African market and my team had to upskill themselves in this financial instrument’s pricing, valuation, etc. I used this as an opportunity to demonstrate my abilities and skills, going above-and-beyond in my analysis to show that I had considered this instrument from all possible angles.
A few months later the first listed corporate bond was issued in South Africa and I was afforded another opportunity to learn, analyse and demonstrate my skills.
I believe that these two events are what allowed me to establish myself as the technical expert in the team and demonstrated my value to the team. They became the foundation for my progress. Read more for further reflections on my career experiences to date…
David Alexander has had a varied 35 year international career so far. During that time he has managed Life, Pensions, Health and General Insurance, and Reinsurance portfolios, underpinned by his actuarial background. His functional roles spread across technical, management, governance, non-executive director, and business development roles - sometimes in combination! Geographically, David has covered all parts of Asia, including as CEO of the Hong Kong branch of a global reinsurer, and the United Kingdom, where he is now a consultant and advisor. These are David’s reflections on the skills, experience and behaviours that helped him on his career journey:
“Interested in a varied career? My career story may be able to give you a helping hand.
Looking back, my father gave me some advice at a relatively young age that I should get myself a trade or profession as the basis of my career. It was only much later that I saw what a good investment that was. I happened to become an actuary, but you may be an engineer, a surveyor, lawyer, doctor etc etc. It doesn’t really matter, but he was right that having a profession brings with it an ethical foundation and some professional support as well the technical knowledge you gain through examinations and continuing professional development.
Any profession brings advantages in securing work and gaining the respect of your colleagues. It also brings responsibilities towards the public interest, your profession and of course your client(s). A highly regarded profession brings opportunities. However, whilst that qualification gives you a springboard for your career, you still have to deliver in your work life in order to continue making progress.
Opportunities also bring change, and that means stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something new. You need to be motivated to take on the challenge and have some strategies to give yourself the best chance of success. The reward is potentially a series of engaging roles and development opportunities. These in turn lead to more substantial jobs and challenges. How far you expand your horizons and how substantial the roles you aim for is really up to you.
Let me tell you about some of the opportunities I was fortunate enough to come across and brave enough to have a go at and how I was able to be successful at them. Read more for my reflections...