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Delegation – the neglected skill

Is Delegation the most overlooked skill in the management “Toolbox”? The often quoted maxim of, “if you want it done properly, do it yourself” would seem to suggest so. Yet that statement does nothing more than identify the incompetent manager, one who has missed the point, entirely, of delegation.

Delegation, and performing it well, acts as a valuable development mechanism for all managers and those who report into them, regardless of  their position in an organisation.

In addition, delegation, when understood and performed properly, is a powerful tool to harness and develop the most important resource available to a manager; people.

A delegate or a subordinate

A few years ago I was working as a General Manager for a large manufacturing business, a senior post within the company. For the first 9 months I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, from a work perspective. My boss provided me with clear objectives on which direction we needed to take the company and he delegated that effectively. After 10 months, my boss changed; which is when the situation started to go awry.

In one of the first conversations I had with my new boss, he stated, “trust is good but control is better”. The managerial climate shifted, dramatically, from delegation to subordination, which most people, outside of a military environment, really don’t respond well to. Incredibly, I stuck it out for another 4 months. (see my Testimony of working in Saudi Arabia elsewhere in my blog).

The reason for the anecdote is to stress the importance of trust in a working relationship.

Is there a place for subordinate control in a work environment? In my opinion, the answer should be, “not for 99% of the time”, as for the arbitrary 1%? I would suggest that there are rare occasions when the manager needs to instruct, without the full panoply of delegative procedures.

Trust is the foundation of delegation; in every direction. The manager needs to trust the person to whom they are delegating a task and, just as importantly, the delegate needs to have trust in the manager (this fundamental requirement is discussed in more detail in my Teams series). The onus lies with the manager to gain trust and forge a commonality with individuals and within the team, through the framework of delegation.

At its most effective, delegation becomes intuitive; tasks and objectives can be achieved without the detailed direction required in the earlier stages of the relationship.

Communication

Improving one’s communication skills improves one’s ability to delegate effectively and vice versa. Delegation, put simply, is a method for achieving objectives through others, therefore, a manager needs to communicate these objectives with simple clarity.

The use of the what, how and why methodology is key to successful delegation; focussing the process on these questions will ensure that all necessary information is delivered, to allow the delegate to achieve the task.

Never underestimate the importance and significance of the why in delegation. This will take out any potential doubt about the task(s) and provides purpose – it propagates commonality and fosters respect between the manager, individuals and the team.

Development

When it is done well, delegation can be used to impart a variety of essential competencies; skills such as listening, analysing, debating and negotiating are all used in delegation and the responsible manager will use the opportunity to bestow these upon a willing delegate. Delegating to individuals successfully enhances the performance of the team as a whole.

In the “do it myself” aphorism, the manager trusts neither the skills nor the ability of their subordinates, a good manager will take the time to recognise this and develop their team members when delegating.

A project that I instigated within a manufacturing company was so successful that others wanted the opportunity to be trained, in order to achieve the same, performance yielding, results. The initial task was delegated to the Shift manager via the General Manager, from me.  I knew what needed to be achieved but the technical skills required to do so were outside my area of knowledge. With carefully planned and communicated delegation, I was able to use the task to develop my own skills, as well as the skills of the GM, the Shift Manager, the specific team and then, the whole department. Every level benefited from the process.

Time management

There have been books written by infinitely more qualified authors than I on this topic, so I will keep this specific. Managers who delegate poorly are always the busiest. It frustrates me when I hear managers claiming that they are too busy to complete basic tasks, even something as simple as reading emails in a timely and appropriate manner; their time is taken up performing tasks that should have been delegated.

In a recent case, the manager voiced grave concerns in the ability of his team. Upon investigation it became apparent that his “team” were more than happy to fail, because the manager compensated by doing it for them! When I questioned the team, exculpation came in the form of, “he said he’d do it”.

The manager and I reviewed the situation, created a plan and then communicated what needed to be done and the reasons why the manager wasn’t responsible for the team’s tasks and objectives (the how was obvious to them, they held the competencies). The notes from the daily production meetings became a record of operational requirements and they took ownership. Once the team took responsibility for their tasks, the manager had time to manage effectively.

Review

When done properly, delegation necessitates review. Timely review requires progress updates and discussion, this applies not only to individual delegation but also when delegating to the team. Reviews are a mechanism to ensure that nothing has been missed in the process and ensures that the objective remains achievable; further encouraging trust, enhancing communication and augmenting development.

Conclusion

A manager can’t function without delegation, even a manager with no direct reporting line below needs to delegate tasks; so, whilst it might be an overlooked skill, it is an essential one.

This and other management topics can be found in my blog at www.businessmanager.blog I cordially invite you to have a mooch around.

© Andy Collinsson July 2020

One reply on “Delegation – the neglected skill”

As with all other posts, i totally agree with this post and very nicely written. It made me smile from start to finish.

The element of trust is something overlooked or forgotten in management and teams. People want to take control as soon as possible, instead of learning how to trust and who they can trust.

A crazy women from Texas once told me ‘if i can’t trust ya, ya might as well be dead. Trust can take a long time to build and yet, be lost in one quick moment’.

I look forward to the next post.

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