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.