Delegation is the transfer of responsibility for a specific task from you to one of your employees. It can either be a one-time or a continuing responsibility. This means that you’ll depend on the employee to handle that task and meet the required performance standards. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? It isn’t! When you delegate, you must make sure the employee thoroughly understands the new responsibility and has the knowledge and ability to successfully handle the new task.
What’s in it for you to delegate?
You can devote more time to important management matters because some of your other functions will be handled by your employees. Most managers feel that they don’t have enough time to perform all their job functions. By delegating work, you’ll be able to devote more time to those matters that require your attention.
You can challenge and motivate employees. Many talented employees feel underutilized. Assigning challenging responsibilities to them will often bring about increased interest in the job. Many times, these employees show enthusiasm and ability that previously had not been apparent.
You can develop employees and make them more valuable. Additional responsibility may increase an employee’s value. New job responsibilities provide additional job experience and training and enable the employee to contribute more. Just feeling more valuable to the organization can be motivating.
The Four Key Questions
There are four key questions to ask when giving someone a work assignment. Most managers, interestingly enough, ask none of the four questions:
1. Will you do it? Amazingly, most managers just say, ‘‘Here’s what I want you to do,’’ or ‘‘Do me a favor,’’ and they never ask for a commitment. To significantly increase the likelihood that the person will actually do what you’re asking, get the person to say out loud that she will do it. Don’t just assume she will. Also, if the employee says something like, ‘‘I’ll try,’’ then respond the way Master Yoda did in The Empire Strikes Back. Yoda asked Luke Skywalker to levitate the spaceship out of the swamp. Luke made the mistake of saying, ‘‘I’ll try.’’ Yoda responded just the way a good manager should:
‘‘There is no try. There is only do. Do or not do.’’ So, like Yoda, don’t accept any ‘‘maybes.’’
2. How will you do it? It’s one thing to agree you’re going to do something and quite another to put together a plan on how you’re going to accomplish it. A good manager will always ask for an action plan. Many managers have foolish, worthless conversations. ‘‘I need you to cut down on your errors,’’ the manager will say. The employee says, ‘‘Okay, I’ll try to do better.’’ The manager says, ‘‘Good. I’m glad we had this little talk.’’
That talk was worth nothing. A smarter manager will say, ‘‘What exactly are you going to do differently?’’
3. What could prevent you from doing it? Excuses after the fact aren’t worth anything. But, before the fact, they’re very useful. Ask the employee all the things that could go wrong. If he doesn’t know, have him talk to those who have worked on similar projects or assignments. Have employees give you all the excuses for failure before they even start on the task.
4. What could you do to overcome that problem? For each of the excuses, have employees think through what they could do to take preventive action. If the preventive action doesn’t work, then ask them what they could do to get back on track. Very early in my career, I thought my job was to get my manager’s approval to do something and then get out of his office as quickly as possible. I would be barely out the door when things would start to go wrong. That’s the way life is. Murphy had it right: ‘‘If anything can go wrong, it will.’’ My people would say, ‘‘What do we do now?’’ I’d have to say, ‘‘I don’t know.
Let me talk to my boss.’’ Wasted time! But I got a little smarter and began to say to my boss, ‘‘These are all the things that I think are likely to go wrong, and these are the actions I’d like to take if these things do, in fact, go wrong.’’ That way, I got advance approval and was empowered to take a variety of actions. I’d be barely out of my manager’s office when my people would tell me things were going wrong, only now I’d immediately be able to tell them what to do. They’d say, ‘‘Don’t you need approval to deviate from plan?’’ I’d say, ‘‘Don’t worry about it. It’s taken care of.’’ What a difference!
The best managers are devoted to two things—meeting the needs of the organization and meeting the needs of their employees. To do just one of these things is not being a complete manager. To do neither one of these things puts you in the category of taking up space and not really having any added value. To do both of these things makes you invaluable to your organization. You’re never done with the effort since the needs of the organization and the needs of its employees are constantly changing. But, if you’re good, you walk the tightrope and somehow never fall off.