Management by Delegation – Leadership Insights

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Consider you are given a new task to do. Is your first instinct as a manager to hand it forward to your subordinates or to think you should do it yourself?

You’ll encounter plenty of these situations as a manager and one of the ways to deal with managing and getting things done is by using a method called management by delegation. Let’s look at what this style and process entails, why it is important and how you can delegate efficiently as a manager.

WHAT IS MANAGEMENT BY DELEGATION?

Let’s start by examining the concept of management by delegation. The easiest way to understand the style is simply by looking at the two concepts it’s made of: management and delegation. Management is “the process of dealing with or controlling things or people”. This is perfectly illustrated by the video below:

You are essentially ensuring different tasks are done by controlling, managing and directing different types of resources. The resources can be people or finances and equipment you can use to achieve your objectives. All of it also indicates to another essential element of management: power or authority. Management involves a position of authority, in which the person in charge or the manager has the power to make the decisions of controlling, planning and directing. Management is about hierarchy and a framework of authority and control.

What about delegation then? The Business Dictionary defines the concept of delegation in terms of management as, “sharing or transfer of authority and the associated responsibility, from an employer or superior to an employee or subordinate”.

So, you need to have a specific position of power and due to this, you are able to share or transfer parts of your authority to someone else. In effect, you are taking your managerial position and distributing it to another person or persons. In this sense, delegation is usually a one-way street, flowing from a superior to a subordinate. You can’t really delegate a task or process to someone above you in the hierarchy and terms of power, since you most likely won’t have the authority to do this.

Management by delegation is therefore the act of managing by emphasizing delegating. You use the functions of management and instead of doing it all and holding all the power to yourself, you distribute and share the managerial burden and power with your subordinates. For example, instead of planning the tasks to get a new product developed on your own, you might delegate some of the decision-making power to your subordinate. Instead of you setting the deadline for the tasks you’ve established, you tell the team to do this.

It’s crucial to understand that management by delegation is by no means just the transfer of doing the tasks to others. Management is about telling Person A to perform Task B, while delegating is telling Person A to be in charge of Task B, including any decisions it might involve. Delegating always requires a transfer of power and the responsibilities that come with it.

Nonetheless, there are different levels of delegation. The freedom and responsibility you transfer can differ from the low levels to the highest levels. You might expect the person to perform A by using specific methods or by delegating full decision-making. Here are some of the examples of different levels of delegation and the distribution of freedom:

  • ‘Follow the instructions’ – Delegation style where you transfer the responsibility to perform a task, but provide clear instructions on how to perform it.
  • ‘Provide input’ – You transfer the responsibility of performing the tasks and the decision-making involved with it, but provide input on methods, ideas and so on to guide in the process.
  • ‘Let’s decide together’ – You share the responsibility of decision-making involved with the tasks, although the performance is on the other person’s shoulders. Both have equal say in how things are done.
  • ‘I’ll provide support’ – You transfer all of the responsibility and power to the person, but you are providing any kind of support and guidance the person might want in order to perform the task.
  • ‘You decide on methods, but I’ll have final say’ – Under this delegation style, you provide the person the ability to present you with ideas and suggestions, but the final decision-making authority remains in your hands. The person can suggest you to use a method A, but if you feel B is better, you can go with it.
  • ‘You have full power’ – The transfer of completely power and responsibility to the other person.

WHY SHOULD YOU DELEGATE?

But why waste time and effort to delegate? You might be thinking that doing things on your own is easier and more efficient. Even if you need other people to perform tasks, why would you hand out responsibility or authority? However irreplaceable you might feel, there are clear benefits to delegating tasks.

First, you will find delegating an effective tool for focusing your efforts. Being a manager is not an easy role. Management has five common functions, which on its own shows that managers have plenty on their plates. There are plenty of tasks to perform and many responsibilities to look after. The more things you have on your mind, the harder it can be to focus on the most important tasks.

By delegating, you are essentially reducing some of your tasks and therefore, creating more room for focusing on the key jobs. Not all tasks are the same in terms of importance or impact. As a manager, you want to focus on the most meaningful roles – the ones that help you and the team to achieve better results. By reducing your tasks and handing out the less important roles for others to deal with, you ensure your undivided attention is on achieving the deepest impact.

Furthermore, you aren’t just reducing your workload and somehow taking ‘the ease route’. You can also use delegating as a way to boost productivity and employee engagement. When you delegate authority to another person, you are essentially telling them you trust them. You are handing out authority – you are telling them they can have more power.

This matters because you wouldn’t let anyone do the task or have that power – there is always a reason for picking a certain person and in terms of allocating power and responsibility, the reason is typically positive. For the employee, the increased responsibility and the sense of being trusted by the management can lead to a boost in motivation. Think how you have felt when your manager has told you to be in charge of a project or a task? You probably felt proud, sensing the opportunity to show you are worth this trust.

In addition to a powerful boost in motivation, delegating can help improve subordinate knowledge. Delegating a bit of responsibility and power to subordinates can act as a development and training tool. The subordinate is able to experience added responsibilities and get a feel of what it might feel like to perform new roles or tasks, without changing positions altogether.

In effect, you are only adding slightly to his or her role and providing an opportunity to experience more responsibility. Why does this matter? Well, in terms of succession planning, developing your subordinates in management can guarantee you have a pipeline of talent ready at all times. By delegating some of the managerial responsibilities, you are essentially preparing your next generation of managers.

Overall, delegating can help enhance decision-making times. Not only does productivity go up as employees might feel more motivated, but also decisions are made faster as the power isn’t as concentrated. If you, as the manager, are in control of all the decisions, things won’t get done until you agree on the actions. So, if you are the manager in a café and all orders need to be approved by you, you can end up in a situation where there’s not enough products to sell.

Let’s say you suddenly have a busy day and you run out of sandwiches faster than you thought. The employees have to first contact you, explain the situation and you need to take the time to order more. On the other hand, if you had just delegated the task of ordering for the senior employee on shift at any point, they can just take note of the situation and order more sandwiches. This would save a lot of time, as well as ensure you don’t need to take the extra time from other work to place the order.

WHY DON’T YOU DELEGATE?

If the above is true and the benefits are so clear, why is the act of delegating a difficult thing for many of us? Return to your reaction to a new task. Was it that of “I’ll just do it myself” instead of thinking who else might be able to take on the task? Delegating can be so difficult, mainly because we so easily think things are easier if we just do them rather than delegate them forward.

This isn’t just about your arrogance, although I will discuss about the self-enhancement bias we have. But we can actually think delegating is a lot more time-consuming than just doing things on ourselves. This is because delegation requires plenty of initial preparation.

You need to take the action of deciding to delegate, then figure out who you are going to delegate to, and plan the way you are going to delegate (all of the power/responsibility, timetable, etc.). This does seem like a lot of work and it’s easy to think it might be easier to just get it finished yourself.

But as I mentioned earlier, we also tend to suffer from the self-enhancement bias. This is essentially the nagging thought we all occasionally have “I can do this better than others”. It’s not necessarily always even wrong. In fact, you might be able to finish things better yourself, but management by delegation was also about developing your subordinates.

By doing everything yourself, you aren’t giving anyone else the chance to shine and improve. Therefore, when it comes to delegating, the question shouldn’t necessarily be “Am I the best person to perform this task/role?” but rather, “Is this the best use of my time?

THE 3 CORE QUESTIONS TO GUIDE DELEGATING

How does management by delegation work in practice? The whole process of delegating can be set up and organized by focusing on three essential questions: when to delegate, who to delegate to and how to delegate.

When to delegate?

While delegating has clear advantages to you as the manager and to your subordinates, you shouldn’t assume all tasks are worth delegating. So, the first question to answer deals with the topic of when to delegate. To find out whether the situation is suitable for delegation, you should ask a few questions.

First, you should determine the suitability of the task for delegating purposes in terms of the value the process of delegating might provide for your team. To figure out the value of delegating versus not delegating, you should answer three questions:

  • Does the success of the task depend on me doing it? Not all thoughts of “I can do it better” are about self-enhancement bias. Sometimes things need your input and full attention as the manager. Therefore, you need to look at the task and honestly examine whether the success of the task requires you to be in charge. Think about the consequences of you doing it on your own or delegating parts of it to someone else.
  • Could someone else be better equipped for doing this task? While you are pondering the first question, you need to start thinking whether or not someone else might be more suited for the role. Perhaps it requires a particular set of skills that someone in your team has. Think about this both in term of information and skills.
  • Does the task create a good training opportunity for someone in the team? But tasks should not just be delegated based on someone’s current skill levels. As I’ve discussed above, it can be useful to consider tasks as a learning opportunity for your team. Therefore, look at the team and the skills the tasks might teach. Perhaps it’s a small job of dealing with third party suppliers and by delegating it to a junior team member, you help them develop negotiating skills.

You also need to think about the particular task and its suitability for the process. A task might be a useful development tool and even be performed better by another member of the team, yet still be unsuitable for delegation. This is down to two main considerations:

  • Time constraints. You need to examine the timeline for the task. Delegating takes a lot of initial input. Does the task suffer from taking this time to delegate properly? Do you have enough time to properly delegate it or will it be easier to simply finish it as you can?
  • Impact on organization/team. You should also think about the tasks impact on the organization and its success. Is the task a low- or a high-priority task? If things don’t go according to plan, will the impact be devastating for the business or team? If you have a high-priority task at hand, delegating might not be a good idea, unless you know someone else in the team can perform it better than you can.

Who to delegate?

Once you’ve determined the task is suitable for delegation, you need to think about whom to delegate. You don’t want to just pick a random team member and tell them, “ready, steady, go”. As a manager, you have two key options for delegating tasks: you either delegate to someone who is well suited to guarantee excellent results or you pick someone who can deliver and gain experience from the process.

In both instances, your starting point should be in determining the person’s skillset, availability and willingness to perform the task. So, start by examining the person’s experience, knowledge and skills. Does he or she have the right skills for the role or experience in delivering results in similar tasks? What are the transferable skills he or she can use to get the job done? Even if you use delegation as a development tool, you need to ensure the person has a basic understanding of the task and on getting it done. This step will further help you identify the kind of guidance and support you need to provide.

You then need to start examining the person’s availability for the role. Are they currently busy with another project? Would they have enough time to perform the role within the required timeframe? You don’t want to hinder their ability to perform their other tasks or jeopardize the success of the process by burdening them with more work than they can handle.

And finally, don’t forget to consider the person’s willingness for performing the task. Would he or she thrive under this added responsibility? Are they looking forward to new tasks and how motivating would they find the experience? You want the person to commit to the delegated process, not feel like it’s a massive burden on them.

Brian Tracy, the sales training and personal success coach and author, suggests using task-relevant maturity as a determining factor for effective delegating. This means looking at the maturity of your team in terms of how long they’ve been a member of the team/organization and their competency in the current role. If they have low task-relevant maturity, they are probably new and inexperienced.

For these situations, a direct delegation style works the best. You want to pick these people if you can or are able to tell exactly what to do and to provide enough support to get things done. When task-relevant maturity is at medium levels, the person has some experience in the role.

For these, Tracy recommends delegating with management by objectives approach – showing what you want to achieve and allowing them to pick their chosen methods for completing the job. Finally, people who’ve been in the role for a long-time have a high task-relevant maturity. In these cases, you can delegate in any way you like. You can learn more about Tracy’s methods from the below video:

How to delegate?

You’ve now determined the task is worth delegating and you’ve started the process of finding the right person for the role. All that’s left is the actual process of delegation. There are three steps to effective delegation: determining the scope of powers, selecting the person, and supervising and controlling the process.

First, you need to establish the scope of powers you are delegating. There are three principles for the process:

  • Identifying the desired outcomes. What do you want to achieve from the delegation? Think this in terms of the goals for the tasks and the objectives for the delegation, i.e. is the emphasis on the result success or in improving the subordinate’s skillset.
  • The constraints of the process. What can the person do without your acknowledgement and authority? In case of trouble, do they inform you first or act to salvage the situation? It’s important to define the boundaries of the person’s authority in relation to the goal at hand. You want to inform them of the rules and regulations that govern their decision-making and performance.
  • The boundaries of the task. Furthermore, define the boundaries of the task and their authority. You want to make them aware of what they need to do and when they need to do it.

You essentially want to match the responsibility of the task with the correct level of authority. So, if the job requires little responsibility, it isn’t going to have a big impact no matter what the result, you want to match it with the appropriate level of authority. The ultimate accountability will always be on your hands as the manager.

Selecting the right person is almost done, as you’ve already looked at the who of delegation. It’s crucial to remember to ensure you choose a person, who is suited for the role in terms of his or her skillset or who can learn a lot from the role. In addition, as eluded abode, you want to delegate authority to someone at a lower level than yourself.

The final step is about supervising and controlling the process. You need to make the level of supervision clear to all parties. How often are you checking up on the progress? Will you want status updates regarding the progress? If so, how often? It can help to clarify the guidance and support available to ensure the person won’t feel left out in the cold or be unaware of when and how to seek help.

It’s essential to remember that even though you are delegating responsibilities and authority, the ultimate power remains in your hands. You, as the manager, are ultimately responsible and accountable for the process, even if you have delegated certain tasks to other people.

HOW TO SUCCEED WITH MANAGEMENT BY DELEGATION?

So, you are now able to start delegating and using the management style to your advantage. While the above shows you the essential steps that lead to delegation, how can you ensure management by delegation is effective? What are the building blocks of success? You need to keep in mind four guiding principles to ensure you don’t just delegate, but do so efficiently. These are:

  • Include people in the delegation process. No matter how much authority or power you are delegating as a manager, you want to involve your subordinates in the process. Delegating shouldn’t be decided just by you and then announced to the subordinates. You need to make sure your subordinates are aware of your desire to delegate and aware of the kind of tasks you are thinking of delegating. You want subordinates to have some kind of say in the responsibilities they should take on and perhaps even be able to agree or disagree with the amount of authority and power they should have. By involving people in the delegation process, you ensure they are engaged in the process from the start and guarantee they are aware of the new authority or power they have.
  • Focus on the results not the process. Although you want to be aware of the success and proceedings of the tasks along the way, you shouldn’t be too involved with the micromanagement – after all, you are supposed to be transferring responsibility elsewhere. The key to remember is the result, the so-called big picture. You can give suggestions, but learn to let go a little. Your way of doing things might not always be the best. If you are willing to delegate, you need to be willing to accept different ways of achieving the same results.
  • Motivate and create strong commitment structures. Focus on ensuring delegating is motivating and not fear inducing. You want your subordinates to feel encouraged and engaged to make the extra responsibilities and power a development tool. How can you guarantee this? Ensure successful delegation is rewarding. So, when your subordinate takes on a new responsibility and performs it well, you need to reward them. It doesn’t need to be financial, just proper acknowledgement of a job well done can be enough.
  • Provide feedback along the way. Another important part of management by delegation is feedback. Not only is it key for motivation and commitment, it can also ensure your employees make the most out of the process. Feedback ensures they are able to learn from the experience and use it for improving their talent. But you don’t just want to provide feedback as the manager, but also ensure the people who are part of the whole delegation process are able to give feedback about it. You can improve and enhance the delegation framework and process by asking participants to talk about the good and the bad.

FINAL THOUGHTS

When things get busy, it can be easy to just pass on tasks to other people to do them. On the other hand, you might think you are the only person to clear certain tasks and you find it hard to delegate tasks for other people. But a manager’s role is filled with different things to do and you can’t get everything done on your own.

Furthermore, you also can’t just give tasks to random people, as it can be harmful in terms of the success of the project. To ensure things run smoothly and delegation has a useful purpose as a management function. Management by delegation helps use the power of delegation as a tool for achieving better results and helping people improve their skillset.

It gives a lot of focus to your tasks and can ensure a more motivated workforce, as employees are challenged with new responsibilities. So, if you want to make better use of your own time and ensure your subordinates learn new skills, start delegating!

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