For some, delegation comes naturally (perhaps even a little too naturally), while others find it to be a real struggle to pass off important tasks to others.
Whether you’re in the former group or the latter, knowing when and how to delegate properly is a vital skill and in this guide, we’ll explore how to walk the fine line that is the art of delegation.
Delegation’s what you need
A healthy culture of delegation is critical for the proper functioning of any business and this somewhat-straightforward concept has been statistically backed up empirically.
In a study of the legal profession in the US - the gains from delegation were found to be exponential. Median partners who were willing to delegate to their associates earned more than 20 per cent over what they would have otherwise, while for top lawyers (who had more skill to leverage) - this went up to 50 per cent.
“Importantly, we find that the partners benefit from delegation, even in contexts where it doesn’t come cheap. Legal work is handed to associates who have advanced degrees and have passed the bar, making their labor very costly. But the benefits to partners remain large both because delegating allows them to serve more clients and because clients are willing to pay them more per hour when they are spending less time on routine issues and more on complicated ones,” said study co-author Thomas Hubbard.
This research went on to find that using the right kind of technology could act as a multiplier for the return on delegation and urged managers to keep an eye out for systems that can lower the costs of coordination and ease collaboration.
A similar situation was found in the military, with another study, that examined delegation practices between senior leaders at TACOM (Tank - Automotive and Armaments Command) finding that 70 per cent of senior leaders routinely delegate and 20% responded they delegated often. Whereas with the remaining 10 per cent, it stated senior leaders were split among “sometimes”, “rarely” or “not at all” with delegating tasks.
The reasons why leaders commonly didn’t delegate were:
Too much upfront work
Previous bad experience
Feeling guilty to increase employees’ workload
Too much monitoring and guidance was required through the process.
It also found that there was no difference in senior leaders’ motivation on how they delegate to their staff, leading to the conclusion that TACOM should encourage delegation to achieve more strategic goals without decreasing leaders' motivation in their own jobs.
Managers have a proclivity to manage and as a self-confessed control freak, I’m all too aware of the danger of becoming buried under mountains of work for fear of giving away tasks that need to be done just right.
While owners and managers are often swamped, delegation needs to be looked at as a long-term investment. Yes, you will have to spend time amending or tweaking work in the short-term, but if you don’t let your juniors take the reins from time to time, they’ll never develop into a resource you can rely on.
A lack of willingness to pass on tasks can lead to serious cultural problems, with over-worked managers becoming frazzled and lower-level staff losing morale as they become bored with busy-work.
Trusting your colleagues is a crucial element of effective teamwork and believing in staff can empower them to go the extra mile and wow you with their output.
In some cases, you may have a poor opinion (with varying degrees of justification) of an employee’s capability, which can negate the benefit of delegating work. But the bottom line is you need to give them a chance to shine and if they consistently come up short - that’s an overarching issue that’ll need to be addressed separately.
If you think your organisation might be suffering from a lack of delegation, there’s a number of common symptoms we’ve come across, which include:
Stagnation: The company is at a standstill, staff become unproductive and the organisation is left in a rut.
Increase in staff absences and staff turnover: Having staff leave or go off sick can cause all
sorts of problems and no organisation wants a high turnover.
Lack of continuity: Knowledge is a big thing, if it’s not shared then teams are left ineffective and unreliable when a key staff member is absent.
Cultural issues: If some individuals take more on their shoulders than others, it can start a “blame” culture on who’s working harder and who’s doing very little.
The key components of successful delegation
Getting delegation right takes time, effort and practice. But by approaching it methodically, creating a culture of teamwork can lead to boundless benefits.
Just a few of the key components you should pay attention to include:
Deciding on what to delegate: Starting with a small job that can be completed in a number of different ways will help with getting the task complete and offer insight into how they work.
Choosing the right person for the job: Get to grips with your team’s strengths and weaknesses and pick the right person for the task. They should be able to work independently and be self-motivated.
Be clear on your expectations: Include timelines, deliverables and guidelines on the task involved – the more detail you put in, the less risk of confusion or error.
Make sure you have time to assist: If you’re delegating a certain project as a whole, you may still need to assist here and there. Take the time to be on hand if needed and offer appropriate training to build the employee’s skillset.
Celebrate success: Recognising key milestones can motivate staff – anything from a simple ‘well done’ to the giving of gifts or bonuses.
When delegating tasks, you want to be sure the work can be completed and to the right standard. As such, if an employee doesn’t have the ability or experience necessary to complete the task at hand, output will generally suffer.
Some work can only be tackled by higher-level staff, but no matter how broad their shoulders, if the burden isn’t spread evenly - this can cause resentment and enhance the chances of things falling through the cracks.
Balancing the need for training and development with commercial concerns is a never-ending battle, but there needs to be some effort to ensure staff are equipped to do their job properly and go beyond their remit as and when required.
Investing in developing staff can offer long-term benefits for your entire organisation - building faith in their abilities and equipping them with the skill set necessary to get tasks done to specification.
Delegation in practice
A company we recently dealt with had experienced rapid growth and were struggling to scale their operations. Using the EFQM (European Foundation for Quality Management) excellence model, we highlighted areas of deficiency and how industry-leading practices could be used to get things back up to speed.
The model showed that the organisation’s owners weren’t proficient at delegation, preferring to
work in the business - rather than on it.
As such, they had to make a logistical decision on how best to spread the work out and opted to take on a graduate to filter lower-level work to - freeing up their time to undertake more business development-oriented tasks.
This was something of a sea-change for the company and it didn’t happen overnight. The owners had to put in work to overcome their reluctance to delegate and find ways to tackle justifiable concerns about a business that was built on its reputation for quality work.
However, through careful planning and hard work, they were able to build out a management structure and clear processes, including quality assurance, that balanced the increased workflow - without sacrificing quality.
Hopefully, we’ve managed to shed some light on the art of delegation but if you’ve got any questions about the topics above (or anything training-related) - don’t hesitate to get in touch via Twitter or LinkedIn.
And if you’re looking for bespoke advice or business training – our team have years’ of experience in business support and consultancy - helping organisations (whatever their industry or size) to overcome any underlying managerial problems.
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