What is exactly is delegation?
Not a silly question, many think they know and don’t. Delegation of a task or activity to someone in our team or department, even though it is a central function of management, is often a greatly misunderstood process. Recently I read a paper by a gentleman with a PhD who stated that delegation was basically the act of “sharing the responsibility for a project’s outcomes”. This is a typical, however incorrect, assumption about delegation.
In a course I facilitated in the past the definition we used was, “delegation is the granting of all or part of your authority to decide or act where you the delegator always retains responsibility for the outcomes”. This delegation definition exposes one of the problems managers have with delegation, as obviously many managers are happy to pass on responsibility, however most them/us want to retain or protect our authority.
The big issue here for many managers I have trained is the issue of having, or developing, the trust in the person to whom they are delegating.
The reasons for delegating are obvious: efficiency, effectiveness, staff training and preparation for succession. The ultimate benefit of delegating is that the delegator, through developing efficient and effective staff will eventually release themselves from their current position so they can move to higher positions. If advancement is a goal it follows that effective delegation is probably the most important competence a manager can develop.
Practical aspects of delegation
Bearing in mind what I have said above the first issue to address is that a manager must be prepared to let go of the desire to undertake the tasks or the implement the actual project him/herself. Secondly, the staff member must be prepared to accept the delegated tasks. Issues of ‘I’m the best at this job’ from the manager’s perspective and ‘why should I do extra’ from the staff member need to be addressed at the outset.
Delegation is not simply asking somebody to perform an activity to help the delegator get his or her work done or finish a project. True and effective delegation requires that the manager explain the purpose of the delegation and conduct the necessary skills assessment or training to ensure the receiver can perform the tasks adequately. The key as I said is to hand over the necessary authority to get what is required done to a fully competent staff member.
The keys to successful delegation are: planning and prioritizing tasks, effective time management, setting of proper agreed deadlines, follow-up at half and three quarter time, giving up favourite tasks particularly after you have been promoted and ensuring the appropriate skills are present in the person being delegated to.