Delegation TechRepublic member RC Lopez expressed some frustration at a manager who often identifies tasks for others to do but then jumps in and takes care of them himself before anyone has a chance to do anything. RC wrote: "By not delegating, the manager gives the impression that he either doesn't trust anyone to do the job or that he is trying to be a maverick." RC touched on a deadly sin for any manager—delegating tasks to staff only to snatch them back again before they can be accomplished. Unfortunately, this is a common mistake for many new managers who have not yet learned how and what to delegate or how to demonstrate the patience necessary to see the process through to its conclusion. Delegation is not an instinctive reaction for most human beings, but effective managers recognise the importance of delegation—both for the sake of their own success as leaders and for the overall health of the team. They learn how to determine what should and should not be delegated and what it will take to help staff be successful at the delegated tasks. When entering the "delegation zone," you should follow these guidelines: Accept that delegation is important. Plan your delegation strategy. Use common sense when delegating. Give your staff a chance to succeed. Examine your personal motivations when delegating. Let's examine each of these a bit further. Accept that delegation is important Delegation is a key part of being a good manager. To be successful, you need to demonstrate the vision to understand broad goals and objectives for the team and then determine what it will take to get there. This will most often involve relinquishing specific tasks and responsibilities to others so you can spend more time managing team members, enriching their skills and keeping morale high. Delegation is much more than a nice thing to do—it is an essential thing to do. Plan your delegation strategy Think carefully about what tasks and responsibilities can or should be delegated. A machine gun approach to delegation, where task assignments are made on a whim or without much thought, will create a chaotic work environment. Start by determining what your core responsibilities are. Then, determine what responsibilities can be delegated to others. These will involve activities that are important but that do not define your role as team leader, or compromise your ability to manage if you hand them off. Use common sense when delegating Take a realistic look at your work team before committing to delegation. If a highly competent staff person is already working overtime to keep up with her work, don't surprise her with the good news that you are adding more responsibilities to her plate. Discuss the reasons for delegating responsibilities with the person who is to receive them and develop an implementation plan. It may be useful to share this discussion with the entire work team to receive feedback on how the process will affect everyone on the team. Give your staff a chance to succeed Make sure that staff members who receive delegated responsibilities have the skills and experience needed to succeed. Don't assume that staff members will figure things out on their own—provide mentoring and training if necessary. It is also important to thoroughly explain your performance expectations and then closely monitor how things are going. This does not mean that you will jump in and take over the responsibilities at the first sign of trouble. Rather, you anticipate potential problems and ensure that staff members have the support needed to deal with them successfully. Examine your personal motivations when delegating An ineffective manager will often earn the reputation for passing off unpleasant assignments or "hot potatoes" to staff members. Ask yourself why you are delegating a responsibility to someone else. If it is because it is unpleasant or is one of those thankless tasks that almost always leads to negative feedback from others, consider keeping it. Your team will usually see through motives that are self-serving or based on avoidance. An example scenario Let's consider the following scenario, which illustrates these important points about delegation. Betty is a vice president for operations for a medium-size company in the Midwest. She recently hired Ray as a new LAN administrator and was anticipating that he would do a great job. He did not have much management experience but had an impressive technical background and a nice, easygoing personality. Betty walked by Ray's office one day and saw him with his head in his hands. Since he seemed in some distress, she asked him what was wrong. Ray explained that he had recently delegated responsibilities for LAN technical modifications to a support team member, Ron. However, things were not going very smoothly, and he was ready to throw in the towel and take the responsibilities back. Betty asked Ray three questions: Did you thoroughly brief Ron on what your expectations were and the timeline for achieving results? Does Ron have the skills and experience to take on such an important task? How long had it been since he delegated the responsibilities to Ron? Ray said that he felt that Ron had been properly briefed on his new responsibilities although he did acknowledge that there had not been a formal meeting to ensure that expectations were clear. Ray also indicated that Ron seemed to have the skills and ability to take on the assignment, but that he had never actually been responsible for such a large project before. Finally, Ray acknowledged that it had been only two weeks since he delegated responsibility for the technical modifications to Ron. Betty suggested that Ray keep Ron on the assignment but that he sign him up for a project management training course that was being held later that week. Betty also recommended that Ray set up a schedule of briefings where Ron could update Ray on progress and receive advice from Ray on how to handle problems and issues. Betty complimented Ray for his diligence in making sure that the LAN modifications went smoothly. However, she advised him to take a deep breath and then focus on managing the process so that his staff person had the greatest chance to succeed. The moral of this story is that delegation does not generally come naturally to people. It is a process that needs to be managed and requires considerable planning and monitoring to be successful. Final thoughts To be an effective manager, you must learn to use delegation as a way to increase the knowledge and skills of staff members while freeing up your time to focus on management. Delegation can be time consuming and distracting, especially if employees lack experience with what they are being asked to do. The commitment to using delegation as a management tool requires patience and the willingness to work through problems that will undoubtedly occur. However, the long-term payoff in the efficient workflow of the team and positive morale of its members can far outweigh any short-term difficulties experienced. Two useful books on delegation are The Agile Manager's Guide to Delegating Work by Joseph T. Straub (1998) and Delegation and Empowerment: Leading with and Through Others by Michael E. Ward with Bettye MacPhail-Wilcox (1999). TechRepublic is the online community and information resource for all IT professionals, from support staff to executives. We offer in-depth technical articles written for IT professionals by IT professionals. In addition to articles on everything from Windows to e-mail to firewalls, we offer IT industry analysis, downloads, management tips, discussion forums, and enewsletters. Delegating without losing control Appropriate use of power Inappropriate use of power or poor delegation can lose commitment from project members and even create resentment or resistance to your goals. On the other hand, as Project Manager you need to retain control to ensure that the project meets its goals. In fact, Project Managers often feel such a need to retain control that they are uncomfortable with delegating power - it feels as if control is being lost and that unnecessary risk is being introduced to the project. The trick, therefore, is to delegate without losing control. Keeping hands-on and hands-off at the same time You can do this, bearing in mind the levels of power from the previous section:, using the following tactics: Use the minimum power necessary to achieve the desired outcome Use a small amount of power at first, and if that doesn't work then escalate your use of power Do not abuse power - ie: do not use power to achieve a result for which you have no authorisation or is purely for your own personal gain Delegate as much power as practical, starting from the top of the triangle (ie delegate decisions, whilst setting the agenda). A simple example is that you ask other people to make a decision between two choices, but you make sure the two choices are both ones that you are happy with. Eg: if you think something has to be done, you ask: "Would you be able to do this today, or would it have to wait until next week?" not "Would you like to do this?" - the latter question gives them the option of saying 'no'. Have strategic "checkpoints" that tell you how each person is progressing with their work. Take close interest at the checkpoints, but let people get on with their work between them. Eg: if an experienced project member is producing a computer program, you might ask them to meet with you to discuss the outline design, when they have completed it. Don't wait until they have finished writing the program - that's too late to spot anything going wrong. Neither should you get overinvolved, eg: going to meetings with them to investigate detailed requirements - that demonstrates a lack of trust in their ability to do the job. When you perfect these techniques, you can not only let others make decisions, but also set the agenda - providing you retain control over the environment. You retain control because you delegate the top levels of power, but retain control over the bottom, more powerful levels. However, project members will view your approach as more "hands off", letting them take more responsibility. Question How can you make better use of power in your project? Team management: The art of delegation Tom Mochal Published: 28 Jun 2005 19:25 BST Once in a while, you find a project manager that wants to keep all the decision making power to himself. However, it is my experience that most project managers would just as soon delegate some of the decisionmaking to the rest of the project team. In fact, you don't want your team members helplessly bringing you every problem that arises over the life of the project. You want to empower the team to make as many decisions as possible. This helps the project team feel more professional about their jobs and the level of responsibility they have. This can also help morale, since people generally feel better about their jobs if they feel they have a level of control over the things that impact them. As a project manager, you need to encourage people to accept responsibility and make decisions when appropriate. This helps the team run more efficiently and allows individuals to grow professionally. As a project manager, you need your team members to handle all the day-to-day problems and only bring items to you on an exception basis. At the same time, the project manager should resolve as many problems as he can, and only bring true issues to the sponsor for assistance. If you really empower your team with decision-making authority, it might seem that they will be able to handle any and all problems without taking them to the project manager. Actually, this would be taking the empowerment process too far. There are some problems that arise that will need to be escalated to the project manager. Likewise, there are some problems that the project manager will need to escalate to the sponsor and other appropriate managers. Here are some criteria to ask about the problem so that your project team knows whether the resolution is outside their control. Will the resolution result in an impact to duration or cost? If there is, the project manager must be involved. The project team members cannot make changes to the project cost or duration without project manager, and probably project sponsor, involvement. Will the decision require you to go out of scope or deviate from previously agreed upon specifications? This happens all the time. In many cases, the project team members feel empowered to take on scope change requests. This is not right. Even if the scope change is made without impact to cost or schedule, the project manager must always be involved to manage changes to scope. Is the problem and/or potential resolution politically sensitive? If so, the project manager must be involved. These types of problems may require escalation to the sponsor and management team as well. Will the decision require you to miss a previously agreed upon commitment? If so, the project manager must be involved since he or she keeps the schedule and must be involved in any decisions that result in changes to an activity end date. Will the decision open the project to future risk? If so, the project manager must be involved, since the project manager is responsible for the risk management process. If none of these conditions are true, then the team member can make the decision. It may sound like there is nothing left, but in fact, most of the decisions that are required on a day-to-day basis do not meet these criteria and can be made by the team or individual team members. A Fresh Look at Delegation - 10 Ideas for Action November 1st, 2007 · 3 Comments Delegation is something that we, as project managers, must do excellently in order to be managers, and very skillfully to be leaders. At first glance, it would seem that delegating work to subordinates, but actually doing it well is often much more complex. In my experience, I have found that in order to delegate effectively, you must earn respect. Respect can be earned in a number of ways. Here are a few: 1. Demonstrate an understanding of the task at hand. 2. Offer the task as a challenge. 3. Show your own willingness and ability to do the task. 4. Demonstrate your understanding of the importance of the task and how it fits into the big picture. 5. Share the overall plan with the delegate in order to provide them with the perspective. 6. Communicate the task clearly, and ask for feedback to assure understanding. 7. Be likeable. 8. Show that you are respected by stakeholders in and around the project. 9. Show a very sincere willingness to support the delegate through the task to completion. 10. Be willing to give credit - publicly - to the person performing the task. Everyone works in a different environment - large corporation, government organization, small company, entrepreneurial venture, consulting organization, not-for-profit, in the military - and in a multitude of cultures. The practical application of the items on the list above will vary depending upon these environmental factors. So, how can we become a better delegator and apply the ideas on the list? We can become smarter by getting to know ourselves better, getting to know our organizations well, and getting to know other people well. I know that is a mouthful, but it is true, and it is actually easy to start. First, some introspection helps. Ask a few questions and be honest. What do I do best/poorest? In what situations do I excel/fall short? How do others see me, in terms of strengths, weaknesses, style, and tendencies? It may seems strange that this would help with delegation, but you can only help others and get the most from them when you know how to get the most from yourself. Second, by getting to know the nuances of our organization, we can become familiar with the centers of power, the sway to get things done, and what to prioritize. This will help us to get the big picture, and to share and hand it off to someone else. Third, by getting to know other people well, we develop the ability to take honest and sincere interest, and to be truly sensitive to the uniqueness of people. We learn to find and utilize strengths in those around us. A final point. Delegating does not always mean that you are in charge. In a world of flat and matrix organizations, and in consulting situations, we often do not have the authority to simply offload the work. So se can delegate in a skillful way by forming alliances, trading services, and many other means that draw on the same rich set of skills. Management hack: The sweet spot of delegation by Bren on January 30th, 2006 Delegation has a sweet spot and it lies somewhere between the tightfisted grip of the control freak who can‘t give anything away, and the lackadaisical absentee manager who won‘t accept responsibility. Somewhere in there is a place where a manager can offer a chance for expanded responsibilities, with a safety net. It‘s the place where an employee can broaden their experience and know that failure is an option. As a manager, that‘s what I aim for. Delgation defined Delegation happens when a manager offers an employee an opportunity take on a task or project. Delgation is an offer, not a demand. Managers can delegate a lot of their work (in theory, at least), but they can‘t give away their ultimate responsibility for that work. Managers can bestow certain authorities, but they can‘t pass off their responsibilities. Delgation isn‘t the same as assignment, and that throws some folks for a loop. Since assignments are part of the job description, they can‘t really be turned down (though they can certainly be botched on purpose). Delegated tasks are tasks that are part of the manager’s job description, though, so employees ought to know that they really can consider turning down delegated tasks. Strategies Let‘s look for a moment at the idea of turning down a delegated task. If you‘ve got a good manager and you enjoy your work, you probably won‘t turn down an offer of delegation because you know it means more fun work and it only raises your profile. In my opinion, there aren‘t many times when it‘s a good idea to turn down a delegated task. The more likely scenario is that you can renegotiate the task. You may see that you‘re being asked to do only a portion of what needs to be done. This can often be a path to failure if your portion is dependant upon another person‘s outcome and there aren‘t clearly defined feedback channels (there usually aren‘t). Consider asking for the whole task or process rather than a slice of it. Conversely, you may see that you‘re being asked to do something for which there are no obvious supporting resources. Probably worth negotiating those in, or at least brainstorming with your boss about how to bootstrap the project. If you‘ve got the control freak manager, then you probably won‘t get anything delegated to you, but in the unlikely event that you do, and you accept it, you‘ll be on a leash the whole time. The best strategy here is to set up a firm front-end agreement as to the outcome, resources and timeline. Also set up regular review meetings, no more frequently than weekly, though the exact timing will depend upon the nature of the project and just how controlling your manager is. The idea here is to provide the control freak manager with sufficient external controls that they feel comfortable letting go. If they keep bugging you, just remind them of the agreeement and let them know that the two of you can discuss things at the next regularly scheduled review. If you‘ve got a manager who tends toward the absentee side of the spectrum, the strategy is essentially the same, though the emphasis is heavier on the regular review meetings. Again, the timing of the meetings ought to be tied to your specific project and your manager‘s disposition. Unlike the micromanager scenario, reviews with the absentee manager are more for your own peace of mind than for theirs. You‘ll want to give them a brief update on progress and roadblocks. You‘ll probably be doing a lot of ―managing up‖ so you‘ll want to be sure your follow-up is flawless. The tried and true, ―death by next action‖ technique is well served here. If you‘ve got a next step that‘s hung up on your manager‘s to-do list, just keep sending friendly reminders via email, with increasing frequency and urgency, until the task gets done, or the project blows up. If you‘re the manager and you‘re overloaded, delegation ought to be one of your first considerations. Take a look around at staff and determine whose skills and interests most closely match the project or task at hand. Resist the temptation to pass it to the person who has been the most competent over time, or with whom you communicate most easily. Look hard and objectively at what people are good at. A huge part of a manager‘s job is helping people develop new skills and fine tune old ones–don‘t take the easy way out. If you sense resistance to the offer of delegation, explore it. On the surface, the employee is probably pointing at the clock and saying they don‘t have time for this. A little deeper examination might reveal a little bit of fear. Maybe it‘s a simple fear of failure, maybe they don‘t want you to know they don‘t really understand the task, or maybe they don‘t believe there are sufficient resources available. The ―time excuse‖ usually doesn‘t hold water, but be open to the possibility that it might. If this is really the right person for the job, look at ways you can clear their plate for a while, or perhaps delay the delagated task until they‘re able to clear the decks. Don‘t be vague in this conversation, though. Set clear benchmarks and goals for clearing the decks, just as you would (right?) for the delegated task itself. The manager’s risks of delegation I don‘t pretend to know all the risks associated with delegation, but there are a few obvious ones. Following are descriptions of the risks and their associated antidotes. Coming from a blog with a name like Slacker Manager, the first and most obvious risk is that people will think you‘re just trying to dodge your responsibilities by delegating everything away. Antidote: be clear about the fact that you‘re sharing responsibility. You (the manager) will maintain as much communication as needed throughout the life of the delegated task. All success will be theirs. You‘d like to say all failure will be yours, but that isn‘t always true. If they make some really boneheaded decisions, you‘ll both suffer. Otherwise, you can take the heat for their learning curve. Another risk is that you‘ll end up with yet another project to manage. Antidote: don‘t fall into this trap. Hold on loosely. Keep an eye on things, have regular check-ins, but don‘t hover like a den mother. You don‘t need another project to manage, and they don‘t need a micromanager breathing down their neck. A related risk is that you‘ll lose control of [insert your fear here]. Antidote: Get over it. You‘ve got a job title that ensures your responsibilities. There should never be a question of who owns what. If there ever is a question, then it‘s time for a hard conversation with either the person who reports to you, or between you and your boss. If it‘s between you and your boss, bring a copy of your job description to the conversation. Go in with the best intentions, but get your resume polished up. Failure is a reasonable risk. Antidote: Failure happens and by now all enlightened managers ought to understand that evidence of failure indicates a willingness to innovate. Doesn‘t make it any easier to accept failures, but at least you know you and your folks are planting seeds for future success. Don‘t fear failure; face it, measure it, fix the problems that caused it and keep on keeping on. General delegation tips for managers Set context. When delegating, setting context is a great idea. Let folks know why this is important, how it‘s good for them and how it‘s good for others. Individualize. Don‘t delegate willy nilly. Assess the skills of the folks available and match tasks to skills. Remember responsibility. Don‘t forget that the responsibility for the task or project ultimately belongs to you. Accept the risks. ‗Nuff said. General tips for delegatees Negotiate the delgation. Make sure you have sufficient information, authority and resources; negotiate when needed. Consider saying no. There can be legitimate times when it‘s not appropriate for you to accept delegated tasks. It‘s rare, though, so tread lightly here. Meet regularly. This is easy to let slide, so be aware. Regular meetings not only ensure you and your boss are on the same page, it also alerts you to changes on the landscape of your project. This is notice you might not get anywhere else.
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