In our last blog post we discussed some simple steps towards effective delegation. We’ve compiled a few extra tips, stories and suggestions to equip you even more in this area of management.
“Delegation is difficult. It is perhaps the hardest thing that managers have to do. The problem is getting the balance right between delegating too much or too little and between over- or under-supervision. When you give someone something to do you have to make sure that it gets done. And you have to do that without breathing down his (or her) neck, wasting your time and his, and getting in the way. There has to be trust as well as guidance and supervision.”
Michael Armstrong, How to be an Even Better Manager, Kogan Page, London, 1988, p. 118.
Here’s an idea
Leadership skills are becoming more important in the workplace – and not just for managers. As organisational structures flatten and teams become more popular, employees need to learn and develop leadership skills as well. As a manager, you need to delegate to make sure every one of your employees gets a chance to hone such skills. Some methods for doing this: Have them chair a meeting; let them take the lead on a project; ask them to give a presentation; have four employees work on a report together, and put one of them in charge; create committees and appoint employees to lead them.
Many managers when delegating tend to over-manage their staff. Here’s a strategy to make sure you’re not doing this. Ask yourself these questions:
- How many things do I have to approve?
- How necessary is it that I am part of the approval process?
- When was the last time my input was absolutely crucial to a project’s success or failure?
If you discover that you are too involved with too many projects, step back a little. Put more faith in your employees, and give them more power to make decisions.
When you have to delegate a task, avoid the urge to hand it to the best person. Why? Knowing you trust them to fly solo may be just the thing an average staff member needs to excel. But you’ll never find out if you don’t give them a chance.
To whom shall I delegate this task?
One of the biggest mistakes when delegating a task to staff is to select the wrong person for the job. In a nutshell, says Robert Burns in ‘Making Delegation Happen’, you should take the following into account when selecting a delegate:
- The person must be available. How burdened down with other work is the candidate?
- The person must have the necessary skills or be able to develop them – such as IT background, report writing experience, skills in conducting and analysing surveys.
- Other important work must not be seriously interrupted. Is the candidate able to put aside other tasks in favour of the delegated task?
- Give everyone an opportunity. Spread the delegated tasks around. Resist delegating to the one capable person all the time.
- Does the candidate possess the appropriate personal qualities – such as attention to detail, maturity, motivation, attitude, care, self-directiveness, communication skills, ability to work with others.
- Don’t delegate to new staff. Allow them time to settle in.
Get the monkey off your back
In the ‘Harvard Business Review’ of Nov-Dec 1974, William Oncken and Donald Wass identified the phenomenon of ‘monkey management’ for people who fail to assign, delegate and properly supervise their staff’s work. They called doing the work of others, especially direct subordinates, ‘monkeys’.
Every time someone says: ‘I’ve got this problem and I don’t know what to do with it’, and you say ‘Leave it with me’, you’ve just taken on a monkey. Or when someone says: ‘ What do you think I should do about this?’, and you say, ‘Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you’, you taken on another one. Someone else’s responsibility has hopped from their back to yours.
How many monkeys are climbing around your back right now?
Your best response is to show confidence in their ability to sort out the problem, spend a few minutes chatting through a plan of attack with them, and sending them on their way, with the promise of support in their efforts to come up with a solution.
Avoiding the monkey
Don’t let the monkey-bearers off load their monkey on to your shoulders. When one of your staff members comes to you with a problem, resist taking on the task yourself – you’ve enough on your plate without taking on their responsibilities. Instead ask them the following questions:
- What is the problem?
- Can you suggest a few ways to solve it?
- What is the best way to solve it?
- What is the first step to take?
Since they now know what to do, let them know you have every confidence in their ability to get the job done.
Keep a ‘Promise File’ to keep track of what employees tell you
Every manager has at least one employee who is constantly promising things: she’ll finish the report a week early; next time, she’s going to do extensive research before starting a project; next time, she’s still learning the new software. And so on.
For some unlucky managers, this describes all their employees. Rein in these promise-makers by starting a ‘Promise File’. Keep track of everything they promise you. Then, if and when they renege, pull out the file and show them you’re keeping track. At the very least, they’ll learn not to throw promises around so lightly anymore. And who knows, if they know you’re keeping tabs, they may start following through more often.
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