• By Steven Wallace

Skills every Manager should have - Delegation

Delegation. It’s easy to say but maybe not as easy to do. For managers to be truly successful, they need to delegate. Even if you are not a manager in a company, delegation is something that you should be aware of and how it can help you.

My delegation skills

I like cooking. I find it relaxes me especially if I have the time (and energy) in the evenings. However I’m rubbish at delegating tasks in the kitchen! Whenever my wife offers to give me a hand with some dish, even something simple, I find that I watch what she is doing and then suggest a slightly different way because she doesn’t do it exactly how I would do it. This is my general behaviour in the kitchen, except when we cook Mexican food, then I shut the hell up...

So I’m bad at delegating when it comes to cooking, however it doesn’t mean I don’t delegate well in other areas of life (although according to my wife, I’m just as bad with our urban garden and several other things...)

One of my best moments as a manager came when I left the team that I worked with to go on holidays for 2 weeks. When I came back, they had finished everything they had estimated they could do (to  high standards). They also put out some unplanned fires and had no issues communicating with those outside the team for the typical reports and updates. I was so happy yet slightly frightened with the thought of "Great! So now, what do I do?"

Delegation as a Manager

Sometimes when we think of delegation we think of "What are those awful tasks that I don’t want to do?". While these may be tasks that you can delegate as a manager, no-one on your team is going to be really thankful for them, especially if everyone knows that these are awful tasks that you don't want. Delegation is much more than this, but before thinking of what you can delegate, you should have clear the why first.

Why should you delegate?

There are many reasons to delegate, below we list some of them. Hopefully they will resonate with you.

Delegation offers professional growth opportunities for the team members.

Why not help your team members learn new skills and perform new tasks? Delegation offers the possibility to grow through learning-by-doing rather than simply learning the theory or taking a training course. By setting clear the outcome expected, you can allow the person to think of how to complete the task. Of course you should provide the right conditions to allow the person to make mistakes and don’t ask them every 10 minutes how they are doing.

Display trust in the team.

I was fortunate to work with a manager for several years that had delegation down to an art form. He delegated so much it almost got to the point were people questioned what he actually did in the company. What that manager did was to have an enormous amount of trust in the team to be able to carry out whatever task came our way. Each member of the team learnt things that would have been impossible with another manager. He trusted the team and this trust was repaid. When any problem arose, he took blame. He delegated the authority but not the responsibility.

Ensure you deliver the highest possible value to the company.

If you have been recently promoted, then the company expects you to perform new tasks not to continue to do what you were doing. This could mean ensuring the strategy of the department is aligned with the company goals rather than getting bogged down in the operational aspects. If you are a manager, ask yourself "Am I delivering the highest possible value to the company right now?". A major focus of a manager should be on empowering the team (and organisation). Ricardo Semler explains in his book "The Seven-Day Weekend" how he built one of the largest businesses in Brazil, Semco, by delegating almost everything. He also has a great TED talk summarizing his experience and his current focus. A manager creates more value managing the system and not the people.

To inject new ideas into a task.

Maybe there is a task that has always been done in a certain way in your company. When we work with companies, inevitably there are times when we ask why a certain task is performed that way. The answer is normally something along the lines of "It's always be done that way here". Most people don't know why and they haven't questioned it. Delegating a task could result in new and innovative solutions that you had never even thought about.


And now, how do we do that? And now, how do we do that?

So I have to delegate more, ok got it. But how do I delegate?

While the above list sounds sensible, logical and reasonable, you may not know where to start. Should you just walk over to a team member and dump the task on his/her desk and wish them luck? You could do that, although the chances of success are slightly reduced.

In a company we worked in the past with there were many managers who tended to micromanage a lot. They were intelligent people and capable of doing most of the team’s tasks, however they were involved in everything the team did. They created a culture where the team members had to get their input for every task they did and it resulted in many delays and bottlenecks. The managers were interested in how to get their team members to have more initiative but didn’t know where to start. They had thought they were delegating tasks, but asking how the task is coming along every hour and being constantly involved in every decision is not delegating.

Delegation Techniques

A better solution would be to create a activity with the whole team where you communicate openly and honestly about the tasks that you’d like to delegate and why.

Also you should explain that delegation is not a binary solution for everything. There may be tasks that you as a manager need to be consulted on still or the person would like your advice. In the beginning, the team members may need some coaching or mentoring in order to be able to complete the task.

In this activity, list all the tasks that are to be delegated and find people interested with the necessary skills to be able to complete the task. The person does not need to have 100% of the skills but 80% is sufficient if they are motivated to do it.

In the past, we have used techniques such as Delegation Poker with teams to clearly show the tasks to be delegated and also the level of delegation that is given.

Finally, after the task is completed, don’t forget to praise the team members and ensure that the credit for the work is delegated as well. There is nothing worse for a team member to hear a manager claim credit for something that the team member has done.

Conclusions

Delegation is a simple concept that is not always easy to perform especially if you are under pressure as a manager. “I don’t have the time to delegate” is often said. If you don’t invest in the time to delegate properly, it is unlikely you will accomplish all you need to do as a manager and flourish in the organisation.

If you’d love to learn more about delegation and other essential management tasks, we are running a Management 3.0 course on the 8th and 9th June. This is a fantastic opportunity to learn, share and practice with others. What are you waiting for?


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