The do's and don’ts of delegating

2004

Considering that not too many schools offer classes in delegating, a few key points may help sharpen our ability in this area.

To get a balanced perspective, I asked several well-respected managers from a cross-section of the workplace to provide their thoughts. Interestingly, their answers had much in common, and they were in line with what I’ve been hearing from managers nationwide for years. Therefore, I trust that what is offered here holds true for most managers.

Delegation Defined
According to Stephen Covey, two types of delegation exist: Gofer Delegation, and Stewardship Delegation. The first is pretty easy to understand: “Go for this, go for that.” Being a “delegatee” in gofer delegation doesn’t require much thought.

Stewardship delegation, on the other hand, involves many more facets, so it’s here where I want to focus this column. After all, it’s in stewardship delegation that managers tend to make mistakes. Let’s consider a framework for stewardship delegation:

1. Trust.
Delegation of any project requires trust. According to Robert Chapman, who works in manufacturing environment, when you delegate, “you have to trust your subordinates with your authority, and in some cases, your career. This is because when you delegate, your subordinates take actions or speak in your name.” Interestingly, Chapman adds, “you also have to trust your superiors to be understanding when your people make mistakes.”

Another manufacturing manager, Bill Schow, builds trust by first delegating small projects to new workers. He wants to see that they can do the job. Then, as success occurs, he delegates increasingly larger projects.

2. Get “Repeat-Back.”
Delegating requires a good communication structure. “Make sure that the person to whom you are delegating ‘speaks back’ the item to you – so you both know you’re on the same page.” This from James Bono, Associate Dean of the College of Pharmacy at the University of Illinois. “You are never as clear as you think you are,” he says.

Monica Janikowski, a manager for a large retail chain agrees. “Get feedback right away,” she says. “Clear up any miscommunications before they occur.” Also, Bono says “make sure you are clear with deadlines, if any, and what type of feedback you expect."

3. Give the Big Picture.
Nothing causes more mistakes or more frustration than someone being assigned a project without knowing how their work fits in with the big picture. “Always clearly communicate how the task or project furthers the larger goal,” says Scott Holmes, a senior manager for a large wholesale operation.

4. Get Others Involved and Take Your Hands Off
Delegating without input from the person to whom you’re delegating is either gofer delegation or micro-management. Holmes says, “when you ‘delegate with value,’ ask about how the task or project being delegated will further the recipient’s skills and learning. Ensure that it aligns with their career or personal development goals.” When this happens, commitment levels go way up.

Bono agrees. “Understand that delegating is not the same as doing something yourself. If you expect the person to be psychic and to anticipate your every move then you aren’t delegating – you are looking for a clone. Good luck.” Bono also says, "Let others put their own stamp on a project or task when you delegate. After all, you want them to gain skills."

Chapman says, “Often, the people to whom I delegate do not do things the way I would. Still, the outcomes are usually successful – and usually more successful than if things had been done my way!"

5. Give Credit
Bill Schow says, “I know that for a delegated task to be successful, the individual involved has to take ownership of the task, be able to put their signature on it, and get credit for it.”

Scott Holmes holds the same opinion. “Agree on the desired outcome and general guidelines and then step back - do not micromanage. It may be your project, but if portions of the project were completed through delegating - delegate recognition, too."

Delegating Dangers
1. Dispersing your workload just to get it off your plate can send negative messages.

2. Avoid delegating over the phone or by Email—especially for complex projects or when delegating to someone with whom you have a new relationship. Phones and Email misplace the nuances of communication.

3) Don’t mess with due dates and/or priorities you establish with the person to whom you are delegating – unless it is beyond your control. This act creeps into micromanaging.

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About The Author

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Dan Bobinski is a training specialist, author, and an accomplished keynote speaker. He's been providing management and leadership training to Fortune 500 companies as well as smaller, regional concerns for more than 20 years.