Managers Must Delegate Effectively to Develop Employees

Planning can minimize poor performance

By Sam Lloyd Feb 29, 2012
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Managers have some tasks that they need to do, but their primary job is to make sure that others are doing what they have been assigned to accomplish the mission and goals of the organization. Effective managers know what responsibilities to delegate to allow themselves time to plan, to collaborate with others in the organization, and to monitor the performance of their employees, making sure to give them adequate feedback and development opportunities.

Often, managers think that they are delegating when they assign tasks to employees. Sometimes this is merely dumping on people. Real delegation is assigning responsibility for outcomes along with the authority to do what is needed to produce the desired results.

Why is this not done well in most organizations? A major factor is the failure of organizations to assure that the supervisors and managers know how to delegate effectively. Many managers have never received training in delegation. Other reasons why managers do not delegate as much as they could include:

  • The belief that employees cannot do the job as well as the manager can.
  • The belief that it takes less time to do the work than it takes to delegate the responsibility.
  • Lack of trust in employees’ motivation and commitment to quality.
  • The need to make one’s self indispensable.
  • The enjoyment of doing the work one’s self.
  • Guilt associated with giving more work to an overworked staff.

Some reasons for not delegating are legitimate. For example, if an organization is understaffed or managers have no one reporting to them, obviously it is very difficult to delegate responsibilities. However, most such arguments do not stand up to rational analysis. Managers need to delegate because they are not supposed to do all of the work themselves. They need to interact with other managers about goals; plan for possible changes in economic conditions, competitive factors and the like; and communicate with other managers about how to improve operations and develop new strategies. In addition, managers need to devote time to their own development through training and by keeping up with technology and other innovations relevant to their industry and their organization.

Managers are responsible for developing their employees to ensure that they are well trained, to identify future leaders, and to prepare their own successor when they move up or move on to other organizations. Delegating responsibility is a powerful statement to employees about how much they are trusted and how competent and valued they are considered to be to the company.

Delegator’s Dozen: A Preparation Checklist

1. Keep a delegation attitude. Ask yourself frequently: "Who else could do this?" Question every task, particularly those you have done for years.

2. Define the desired outcome. Ask: "What is the result I want accomplished?" Learn to assign responsibility for achieving results rather than unloading tasks.

3. Select the person. Consider more than one criterion when choosing to whom to delegate something. Some things to consider: Who has experience and skills? (Be careful not to overload this person.) Who needs to learn how to handle this responsibility? Who has the time to accept this responsibility? Who would like to have this opportunity?

4. Get input from others. Ask for ideas about what to change, who to involve and how to define the results. Consult one’s own team, other managers who interact with the team, one’s boss and customers.

5. Assign the responsibility and define the time factors. What is the deadline? When will you want progress reports?

6. Provide training and guidance. Does the person need training before assuming this responsibility? What guidance will they need to succeed? Remember to allow them freedom for independent thinking.

7. Define the authority level. How much power will they need? What kinds of power? Who else needs to know that this person has the authority to act? Be sure to inform them to assure cooperation with the employee.

8. Agree about the control process. What kinds of controls are needed? How can one feel in control and still empower employees to act independently?

9. Monitor progress. Pay attention and maintain control of the situation. Managers are still responsible for the success or failure of this person and for achieving the desired results.

10. Provide feedback. Stay in touch, giving plenty of positive reinforcement and coaching when needed.

11. Identify the lessons learned. What did the employee learn? What did you learn? Often, the person with the new responsibility will figure out better ways to get things done and such improvements need to be identified, documented and shared.

12. Evaluate performance. Give the person helpful feedback. What did they do well? Where can they improve? How can the results be improved? How can the manager do a better job of helping them succeed?

Communicating Delegation

Once managers have prepared to delegate certain responsibilities, the next step is to communicate with the person or person chosen to handle the newly assigned responsibility. Following is a four-part communication process that can help ensure successful delegation.

Meet face to face without time pressure. This is very important communication, and face-to-face interaction is the approach most likely to convey the message that this discussion is important. Make arrangements so that you are not interrupted. Explain why the person was selected for the assignment and what results need to be achieved. Remember, you are assigning responsibility for producing outcomes—not just performing tasks. Encourage the other to ask questions. This needs to be a dialogue, not a monologue. Be sure to agree about timing and the control process by the end of the discussion.

Confirm employees’ understanding and commitment. This is a common failure in delegation discussions. It is very important for managers to confirm that those to whom they’ve delegated responsibility have understood what they need to know; ask them to restate what has been said. Asking, “Do you understand?” almost always elicits the answers “Yes” or “I think so” even if the employee is totally confused. Do not, however, come across as testing them. Instead, say, “I want to be sure that I have communicated what I have intended to communicate. Will you please tell me what you have heard so far?” This communicates that you want to make sure that you have communicated without suggesting anything negative about the other’s listening abilities.

Define employee’s authority level. What kind of power will the person need to accomplish the results? Inform whoever else needs to know that you have delegated this responsibility to ensure their cooperation with the employee.

Follow up and provide coaching and guidance if needed. Don’t abandon the person. You are delegating, not abdicating. Be available for questions and to help resolve resistance from others. But remember not to look over the shoulders of those to whom you have delegated responsibility. Instead, provide feedback to reinforce what has been done well and to help them learn when they make mistakes or encounter problems that require learning. Mark the calendar for checkpoint dates and updates on progress.

Sam R. Lloyd is president of the training firm SuccessSystems, Inc. and author of the book Accountability: Managing for Maximum Results (Course Technology (Thomson, 2002).

Adapted with permission from SuccessSystems, Inc. © 2012. SuccessSystems, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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