Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Know When to Delegate

The managers I talk to are slammed with work and time is a precious commodity that always seems to be in short supply. Yet when I ask them about sharing the workload with their direct reports – an excellent way to develop employees and groom successors – they often have legitimate excuses as to why they don’t do it as much as they could or should. And the biggest reason revolves around time. It does take a bit of time to delegate effectively.

Expectations need to be clearly defined. This is the most difficult part, and the most crucial. In the future, I am going to dedicate a blog posting solely to communicating expectations, but that’s not the topic today.

Besides setting clear expectations, managers need to ensure their delegatee has all the tools, resources, knowledge and skills to do the task. Sometimes check-ins during the task or project delegated are necessary. When the task is completed, the manager needs to follow up with their direct report to debrief and express appreciation. Or alternatively, to back up and make some changes if things didn’t work out as expected the first time.

When I recently spoke to one of my clients who is always overwhelmed, I was surprised to find that he was less stressed and seemed happier with how things were going. When I probed, I found out he had finally taken the plunge to delegate some responsibilities off his plate and onto his employees, who were happy to be trusted with meetings, customers, and tasks that the boss had previously kept to himself. It really didn’t take as much time as he thought it would to delegate effectively. It was a leadership step that freed him up to be a better leader.

Delegating builds relationships, and your employees will feel like they’ve gained (more of) your trust and respect. In return, you’ll get more loyalty from them. If you are afraid that you would be overloading them, just be sure to let them know if they feel they can’t handle the extra work, to let you know. You can then help them with prioritization and perhaps redistribution of their workload.

Delegation is an underused development tool. Survey your current responsibilities. What could you pass on that would expose your direct reports to new people, new situations, new knowledge and new tasks? And would lighten your load in the process? You could use that extra time to concentrate on planning and yes, leading.

There are some instances when you do not want to delegate. As you survey your responsibilities, determine which are:
• Extremely time-sensitive. It may be necessary for you to keep the task if explaining it and a ramp-up training time is too long.
• Too political or protocol-oriented. Some tasks just need your personal attention.
• High risk. If it is a task that cannot handle a less than stellar performance as your delegatee gets up to speed on it, then keep it in your own hands until that person can do it up to standard every time.

If any one of the above points are true, it’s better not to delegate that task. In addition, sometimes you just don’t have the candidate with the right stuff to do the job. Make sure you know your direct reports well, and understand their current skills, their working habits, their interests, their potential, and their knowledge. You want to be able to delegate the task or project to just the right individual – one you can trust and who sees the extra responsibility as an opportunity to develop their skills and stature in the organization.

Delegating is a leadership skill that benefits everyone. Take the time to delegate effectively and watch as not only your open time grows, but your employees do too.

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