Don’t tell me to delegate…It doesn’t work! – Part 1

When I think of which topics on management development programmes are most likely to be received with cynical looks from the learners, delegation quickly springs to mind.

Many managers don’t like to delegate, and resist it, for a number of reasons:

  • You lose direct control and that can be really stressful
  • You believe “if you want something doing well, do it yourself.” Or you feel that you have no-one that is up to the task
  • You don’t have the time to “waste” on explaining and coaching others. Much quicker to do it yourself
  • You’ve been on the receiving end of poor delegation and, remembering how that felt, you don’t want to “dump” on others

So why do we keep emphasising the need for it?

Because stakeholders and development specialists like me, know that effective delegation is essential in order to:

  • Free up your time so that you can focus on the areas of work where you add most value
  • Develop the skills of your team members, so they can become as good as you
  • Motivate them by demonstrating your trust in their ability to perform

If you’re convinced it is a good thing to delegate, you then need to decide what to delegate.

Here are my suggestions:

  1. The tasks that you did before you were promoted and are still doing. They helped you to develop, so give someone else the same opportunity. They are also easy for you to explain as you know them well.
  2. Areas in which others have more experience and expertise than you. Make the most of their strengths and skills without relinquishing responsibility. They still need to keep you informed on progress and decisions.
  3. There will always be mundane tasks that need doing. The key is to try and share these out fairly as you do with the more exciting, developmental tasks. One way to help your staff feel more motivated about taking on these tasks is to give them ownership for how they are carried out. Be clear on standards and deadlines etc. but flexible on how they chose to carry them out.

So that’s a brief run through the why and the what of delegation. Next week I’ll post my thoughts on how you should delegate and to whom.

Meanwhile, I’d love you to think about when you’ve been on the receiving end of poor delegation and share your strategies on how to be ineffective at delegating.

7 Responses to Don’t tell me to delegate…It doesn’t work! – Part 1

  • The issue really is this: when we delegate without giving “specific respoonsibilities and requiring specific accountabilities in defined areas: there are assumptions and
    often instructions are misinterpreted.
    Delegationworks when you:
    1.define areas of specific responsibility and
    2.require specific outcomes within defined times.
    3.in written form – so it gets done.

    Principle: what doesnt get inspected often gets half-done….
    interestingly most of the remarks that are negative are from “people on the middle or bottom floor of the organisation… ask a few people from the top.

    • finally sorry as a key manager one needs to learn :
      1.what to “manage and
      2.what to let go….

      leads to less stress and more productivity for both the leader and the follower.
      thisis what i require;
      this is by when i require it and
      if you dont produce the outcome… this will be the outcome.

  • I have seen issues with managers hanging on to work for dear life. What I’ve noticed is stressed-out managers with people reporting to them who are bored to tears and wish they had a piece of the action – more than just “busy work”. If the work is delegated, the hand-off is poor and the goal of the task is not communicated. When the work is not completed to satisfaction, the work is reclaimed by the already-stressed manager without any coaching or guidance to the direct report.

    • Hi Shelly. Thanks for your response. Yes I have seen the same and it leaves the direct report feeling worse that they did to start with, and less likely to step up for extra responsibility in the future.

  • To me, delegation is all about the future, and not the now. The first step is to admit, you can’t do it all. Coaching others will pay off big in the future. Get those that show “strength” on a topic, and an “interest” in doing it well. You can’t go wrong.

    • Thanks for your response Aidan. Yes I agree it’s about having that longer term vision, and you make a great point about reaching that realisation that you can’t do it all.

      Failure to admit you can’t do it all can lead managers to hanging onto work for far too long. When they reach crisis point and are forced to delegate, they may not have the time to do it in a planned way that sets it up for success (which I will talk more about next time.) When the process goes off the rails, they grab the work back, and continue on as before only now, they have had their beliefs about the ineffectiveness of delegation and / or their lack of trust in the ability of others confirmed. This results in them being less likely to delegate again and the team member who “failed” feeling undermined and less eager to “step up” in the future.

      So, our role includes helping managers to get to that first step of awareness and acceptance sooner rather than later.

      Wow, my reply is almost the same length as the original post. Thanks for providing me with a second bite of the delegation cherry!

      Over to you Aidan.

    • Excellent qteusions! Something that so many of us struggle with as we work with senior leaders who find it hard to ‘let go’. Thank you for posting.

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