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Mastering the Art of Delegation

Need a primer—or a refresher—on this difficult skill? Here you go…

By Richard Ensman

Picture these scenes:

An employee bursts into your office with a frustrating problem: “I just don’t know how to handle this,” he exclaims, “What should I do?”

Or: It’s 9:00 on Tuesday morning. An employee stops you in the hallway to give you the latest details on a current project. “Yesterday, I called Joe and Sandy and we talked about those five reports you and I prepared.” she begins. “And today I'm going to sit at my desk until noon and get the production statistics together. Then I'll call Sandy back to arrange a meeting this afternoon.” And the impromptu report goes on and on.

In both instances, you’d feel some measure of frustration. Why, you’d wonder, can't these employees simply take responsibility for their activities instead of laying every problem and every detail squarely in your lap?

The answer to that question might not rest with your employees. Rather, your employees might be bringing concerns to you because you’re not delegating effectively.

Whether you’re a new manager or you have years of management experience behind you, you can benefit from a quick brush-up on the key principles of delegation:

Keep your eye on the outcomes.
To delegate effectively, you must focus your attention, and that of your employees, on the end results of your activities. Hold your people accountable for results, not day-to-day details.

Offer problem-solving skills, not solutions to problems.
Employees who come to you with problems want you to solve them. Effective delegation means, however, that you’ll give your employees the tools they need to solve problems themselves. In the short run, this might mean more training and coaching, but it will save you time and money in the long run.

Look to your employees for solutions and answers.
When employees bring you problems, ask for prospective solutions. When employees bring you questions, ask for prospective answers.

Quantify objectives.
Delegation becomes easy once you begin to establish concrete and measurable objectives with your employees. If you’ve agreed on clear and specific objectives, your employees will feel much more comfortable acting on their own; the objectives will serve as a road map.

Assume a nondirective style when dealing with problems.
A nondirective supervisory style assumes you’ll be willing—and eager—to listen to employee problems, even problems the employees cause. But because you’ll make problem solving an open team effort, you’ll give your people the confidence they need to attack problems on their own.

Focus your attention on critical benchmarks.
Be clear to your employees that they don’t have to report back to you at every turn. But if you have special concerns about a project, or if you want to be consulted at certain stages of an activity, let your people know the “critical moments” you’d like them to focus on.

Use your reporting systems to keep abreast of detail.
Get your feedback from reporting systems—monthly reports, statistical summaries or sampling. And what about employees who want to apprise you of all the daily details? Suggest they include them in their reports.

Make your desired level of delegation clear when confronting an issue.
How much authority and responsibility do you want to delegate on any given issue? You may wish an employee to handle the problem totally on his own, in whatever manner he chooses. Or you may wish him to address the problem, and eventually advise you of the course of action he takes. You might look to an employee to propose solutions to a problem and recommend a course of action. Or you might want an employee to simply research the issue and lay the facts out for you. By pinpointing the level of delegation and employee feedback you desire on any given issue, you’ll make your delegation style much more effective. Remember, however, that the level of delegation may vary from issue to issue and even from employee to employee.

Offer realistic deadlines.
If you delegate responsibility without offering a clear end date, no one will be specifically accountable for completion of the task at hand. Give strict deadlines along with assignments and objectives, and you’ll be better able to control the flow and pace of work activities.

Keep a delegation log.
When you make an assignment, jot it down in your log. You'll be able to refer to the log when it comes time to monitor employee progress or check up on the status of any given project.

Richard Ensman is a frequent contributor to AdvisorToday.com.

 


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