How to delegate successfully

2 Mar 12
Delegation done badly can cause frustration, demotivation and failure. Done well it can help you, your staff and your organisation. Pam Jones shows you how to let go and lighten the load
 By Pam Jones | 1 March 2012

Delegation done badly can cause frustration, demotivation and failure. Done well it can help you, your staff and your organisation. Pam Jones shows you how to let go and lighten the load

Illustration: Paul Blow

Every manager has to delegate, not only to free time for more strategic tasks, but to develop and grow  staff. Yet many people find it hard to do.

Some of the reasons cited are: it is difficult to let go and to trust that others will do the work to the same standard as you; there are no resources; everyone is busy, and there just isn’t enough time. We often think it’s quicker to do things ourselves.

Given the changes affecting the public sector, it is not surprising to find that delegation is a challenge. If you are working long hours, struggling to meet deadlines and feeling under pressure, it might be time to question your assumptions. In the long run, it is never quicker to do it yourself. With some careful planning, delegation can produce excellent results and develop the skills and competencies of your people.

Delegation brings with it a whole host of benefits and can create a real win-win for your team, giving them room to grow and a chance to work with others and increase the variety of their job. It also gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your confidence in your staff and build a more effective team. Good delegation does take some time and effort but it is well worth it.

The tips below will help you to master the challenges of delegation and achieve the results you need.

1. Identify priorities
The first step in delegation is to examine your priorities. What do you need to deliver, and when? Then consider which areas you could delegate to others. Obviously, some areas of your job, such as recruitment, disciplinary and performance reviews, should never be delegated but many others can be.You might also want to review the overall department’s objectives and identify the  priorities for the team. This is especially useful if you are short of resources and time, as it allows you and the team to focus on the tasks that will give you most leverage in achieving your objectives.
2. Define the task
Once you have identified an area to delegate, be clear about what you want to achieve. Think about the tangible outcomes. What result do you need and by when? You need to be as clear and specific as possible so that everyone understands what needs to be achieved. It is often best to delegate tasks that are not urgent and can provide the opportunity for someone to grow and develop. This will also give you time to work with the individual to agree what needs to be done. So, have a look at what is coming up in the next month and identify something to delegate.

3. Select the right people
Think about which member or members of your team you should delegate the work to. Look at the current work load of the team and their development needs. Don’t necessarily delegate to the most experienced team member. This is a golden opportunity to build new skills in the team. You can always assign a more experienced team member as a mentor or coach to help the individual as they take on the new assignment. You might also want to help the person manage their workload and think about how they can fit it in to their schedule. In addition, it might be possible to delegate the task to a small group of people, giving them the opportunity to develop into a team.
4. Explain your reasons
It is very important to explain the reason for delegating the task to the individual concerned. Why have you selected them? How will it benefit them? It is also important to explain how the task fits both into their role and into that of the overall team. This can help motivate the individual and make them feel valued, rather than thinking that they have just been given ‘yet another job to do’.  This process will also help the individual to prioritise the task and allocate appropriate time to it.

5. Allow the individual to develop 
Once you have delegated the task, it is important to let the person get on with it and to work out how to achieve it. You can help and coach but as US World War Two general George Patton said: ‘Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what you want them to achieve and they’ll surprise you with their ingenuity.’ Involving the individual in discussions about the process gives them the opportunity to add in ideas of their own and, in turn, this will build their motivation and commitment to the task.

6. Remember you are still accountable
When you are delegating, make sure you give the person the authority to achieve the task. They might need to access information, people and resources and part of your role is to enable them to do this. However, do remember that ultimately you are accountable – Delegation is not abdication. If the task isn’t achieved, the buck stops with you. So it is even more important that you spend the time to delegate properly.

7. Agree check points
Agree milestones where you can both assess how the task is going and what else needs to be done. This is especially important if the person you have delegated to is inexperienced or not very confident. It is always better to check things along the way to ensure that you are both aligned in your thinking and clear about the deliverables. The last thing you want is an unacceptable result. Setting up specific times to review progress is much better than checking up on an ad hoc basis as this can create the impression of interfering and micro-management.

8. Give the right support
You need to provide the right resources to help the person achieve the task, such as your time, equipment, extra support, coaching and access to other people. If they are finding the task a challenge, don’t take it back or re-allocate it, but spend a bit of time coaching and working out what they can do next. Often, with a little help, the individual will be able to solve their problems and work out how to move ahead. You might also need to exercise a little patience. If they are new to the task, they might make a few mistakes. However, these can provide valuable lessons and your role is to help them understand and improve as a result. You might also want to provide some form of training or mentoring.

9. Don’t interfere
There is nothing worse than a meddling manager, who keeps checking up at inappropriate times. Too much interference can lead to lack of motivation, a loss of confidence and a feeling of frustration. Remember that if the individual has done 80% of the job but you do the extra 20%, it will no longer be their work. You need to build trust with the individual and if you have spent enough time briefing them and have regular check points, you should be able to let them get on with the task.

10. Don’t forget feedback and recognition
Feedback and recognition are a vital part of delegation. Letting the person know what has gone well, and what else can be done will help them progress with the task and grow in confidence. In addition, remember to give them the recognition they deserve. If they prepared a report for you, let them help in the presentation of it to others and make sure their name is associated with it. This will help in terms of morale and motivation, giving them visibility and ensuring the recognition of others.
Pam Jones is a director of Ashridge Business School’s ‘Performance through people’ programme and the author of Managing for performance, published by Pearson Prentice Hall

This article is published in the March edition of Public Finance magazine


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