Culture of Delegation

April 20, 2021

Delegation is the process by which responsibility and authority for completion of an objective is assigned to an employee. Delegation allows for leaders and managers to have more time for high-priority tasks and present growth opportunities for their direct reports and other members of the organization. Executed properly, delegation can increase productivity, decrease the stress of management, offer training and experience to employees, and give employees a sense of growth and accomplishment.

Ineffective Delegation

Delegation becomes a challenge for some managers for a variety of reasons. Particularly in smaller organizations, some managers become used to doing things themselves, and fear the employee will fail at the task or believe they can perform the task better themselves. In other organizations, some managers are perceived as over-delegating -- or doing little to no work themselves -- and/or taking advantage of their direct reports by passing the manager’s own work off to his/her direct reports. As a leader and a manager, it is important to learn that effective delegation is an important part of a performance-based culture where direct reports are given opportunities to learn, grow, and take on additional responsibilities. Failure to delegate effectively ultimately leads to undue stress and failure in job performance.

Signs of ineffective delegation inside a culture:

  • Managers dong tasks for their direct reports
  • Being consistently behind in work
  • Feeling continually stressed
  • Racing to meet deadlines
  • Requiring employees to seek approval before taking action
  • Missing deadlines

Effective Delegation

A critical part of effective delegation is determining what tasks to delegate and to whom you will delegate the specific task. As a general rule, it is desirable to delegate any task that does not require your specific knowledge, skill set, or personal involvement. When deciding to whom you will delegate, make certain you consider the individual’s skills, capabilities, and interests. It is critical that the person has a clear understanding of the task and its associated deadline. It is perfectly acceptable (and often disireable) to discuss the task with a variety of individuals before deciding to whom it will be delegated.

DO delegate:

  • Tasks with developmental potential. This gives employees a chance to learn new skills and advance their skill set.
  • Paperwork such as reports, letters, memos, etc.
  • Routine assignments such as purchase orders, scheduling, inventory, etc.
  • Technical issues. It is best to have the person directly involved deal with technical issues so they learn from the experience.

DO NOT delegate:

  • Crises. Crises are no time to delegate.
  • Confidential activities, unless you have permission to do so.
  • Personnel matters such as performance appraisals, disciplining, etc.
  • Activities delegated to you personally. For example, if your boss assigns you to a team or a committee, do not assign someone else unless you have permission from your boss.

After determining what and to whom you will delegate, the next step is how to actually delegate a task. I recommend the following steps.

Steps for successful Delegation

First, explain the need for delegating the task and the reason the person was chosen: (Need) It is always helpful for the person to whom the task is being delegated to understand how s/he and the department and/or organization will benefit. Sharing this information raises the person’s awareness of the task’s importance and increases the meaningfulness of her/his work. (Reason) Telling the person why s/he was selected makes her or him feel valued.

Second, set objectives: Define responsibility, deadlines, and authority. The objectives should be clearly defined. There should be no questions as to what successful completion of the task looks like. Deadlines should be clearly stated and understood. Authority regarding decisions and acquisition of resources should also be clearly defined.

Third, develop a plan: Once the objective is determined, it is important to document a plan of action that specifies the objectives, the associated deadlines, the authority given, and the steps to execute the plan. Be sure all interested parties have a copy of the plan. In this step, also be sure that the person to whom the task is being delegated has access to the necessary resources to complete the task. Additionally, be sure that the person’s new assignment and authority is communicated to all parties with whom the person will be interacting.

Finally, close the loop and ensure accountability: Closing the loop means establishing checkpoints during the completion of the delegated task. For short deadlines, these checkpoints may not be necessary. However, for longer deadlines, it is desirable to “close the loop” by establishing predetermined times to check progress on the task. This creates a standard of communication throughout the task and offers you an opportunity to provide feedback and praise throughout the task, which provides ongoing motivation for completion of the task.

Keep cultivating your culture!

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