Five ways to successfully improve your poor delegation skills

Wednesday 02 September 2020
No manager can do everything all the time, including you. This is where delegation comes in, but increasingly people find it difficult to allocate key tasks to staff effectively.

Much like learning to ride a bike for the first time, or sitting on your first rollercoaster theme park ride, delegation requires managers to give up an element of their control. And if you’re a meticulous individual who likes everything to be ‘just right’ or perhaps a cautious manager who wants to impress senior executives, this can be scary thought.

Then there’s the doubts that can enter a manager’s thinking; do I really want to take the time to explain this to someone else? Or would it just be faster to do it myself? I love doing the designs for the website, won't I miss it if I give it up?

This is primarily because delegation in the workplace often involves giving your colleague the right to make decisions that are officially tied to your role and for which you are ultimately responsible.

Typically, a lack of time and resources, or the desire to give someone else the opportunity to prove and improve their capabilities on a particular task, are the main reasons leaders delegate.

But for managers used to making the same decisions and approach to tackling work duties, from preparing and delivering a key sales pitch to training a new recruit, they resist delegation, or, even, worse, fail to designate tasks appropriately – a recipe for failure.

Recent research carried out by human resources development consultancy H2H shows that 35% of managers struggling with delegation feel unable to let go of control. Furthermore, 35% said they didn’t feel they had the necessary resources and 29% that it didn’t feel fair to ask someone else to do the task.

How managers get delegation wrong

You wouldn’t necessary ask your technical computer whizz to spend the Thursday afternoon making cold calls to prospective clients for your business’ services, while your bubbly sales superstar does the accounts, would you?

Effective delegation is more than just offloading rudimentary and menial work assignments to your team, it is about matching the demands of the task with the skills, experience and workload of the person you nominate to takeover.

Managers who get delegation wrong often do so by failing to make sure the staff member has:

  • An understanding of the task
  • Knowledge of why the work duty is important
  • The required skills to finish the job satisfactory
  • The tools and resources needed
  • The support for dealing with any challenges
  • The desire to even want to do it

Great managers also use delegation as a way of developing colleagues, by making different decisions about what to delegate, who to delegate to, and how to handoff the delegated work.

Over a long period of time effective delegation should give the leader more time for other matters and boost the competency and capability of their individual team members.

Five steps to advance your managerial delegating

Prepare employees

Although time may be limited, great managers typically stand back for a few minutes and map out what the task is, what it demands and what the expected outcome is.

Assign to appropriate employees

In smaller fast-paced businesses, this maybe more challenging, however, top managers are able to select individuals who are most suited to the task based on their skills, stage of development and interests. Moreover, employees are helped by clear information on timing, budget, and context, and set expectations for communication and updates.

Don’t assume employees understand

Don’t be afraid to spend two or three minutes asking questions about employee understanding of the delegated duty. A way of avoiding confusion among your team, and wasting valuable time, is to confirm the individual selected for the task has full understanding of the job in hand, and what’s required.

Avoid taking tasks back

Managers often end up completing tasks they had delegated to others, because those tasks somehow end up back on their plate. If an employee reaches an impasse, treat it as a learning opportunity. Coach the employee through it, making sure he or she has the resources and knowledge needed to complete the task. That way, you’ll still be free to focus on other things, and the employee will be better equipped to carry out similar tasks in the future.

Communicate openly with employees

As with most managerial duties, two-way communication is a key component. Many great managers don’t turn your back on individuals after delegating tasks. Instead, they stay in regular communication with their teammate about the status of the deliverable and the timing of delivery so that there are no surprises at the eleventh hour. A simple ‘how are you finding that spreadsheet task? Any problems?’ is a prime example.

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