Tuesday, December 12

Delegating Responsibility: Are You Up to It?

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My boss hired me at a good salary to work for him. But he won’t let me do anything! Why can’t bosses learn to delegate responsibility?

For some people, giving a job over to someone else to complete is like sharing half their liver. “It will be easier and quicker if I do it myself, and I can make sure it’s done right,” they think, or perhaps even say – in which case, they’re likely to have an insulted employee on their hands – solved one problem, created another. More likely, what lies behind their reluctance is fear. Good old garden variety fear. They fear what will happen if they don’t oversee everything, right down to when the receptionist takes her lunch. Without their guiding hand on the tiller, their business will surely sink!  Or they might be understaffed, either because they don’t want to spend the money to hire and train new people, or because they don’t want to grow too fast, or they haven’t figured it out themselves yet or for a hundred other reasons.

Meanwhile, they’re swamped with work, with no time to do it right the first time. And when they come dashing out of their office on their way to a power lunch or some meeting across town, they’re annoyed to find their employees sitting around looking like they’ve nothing to do. They become so involved in minutiae that the big tasks – the money-producing chores like planning strategies and growth for the future – don’t get done. The staff feels the pinch, too. No one can get in to see the boss, they have to shake their brains to try to look busy when they’re not; they call in sick when the real problem is frustration and the feeling of being useless.

Somewhere out west there’s a big hole in the ground, brimming over with collapsed corporations. The sign says: “Could not delegate authority.”

Some of the benefits of effective delegation are:

     Employees feel more involved in the progress of the company, have a vested interest in it 

     More work gets done, and employers perform more cheerfully and willingly – promotes morale

     Employees develop better leadership qualities faster

     The business runs more smoothly and with less productivity lost.

 Personal benefits to the manager include:

     Less chance of burnout from being spread too thin

     The satisfaction of seeing valuable employees happy and growing

     Reduced stress and perhaps more time to spend with family

It is particularly appropriate to delegate when:

     A backup exists

     Routine but necessary matters are sliding falling into the cracks at a furious rate

     An employee has a particular interest in a task 

     Too much time is being devoted to picayune details, slowing things down

Is it within the realm of possibility that you might be one of those DIY managers? Jan Yager, Ph.D., author of Creative Time Management for the New Millennium, has created just for you a self-test designed to reveal your reluctance to let go of some of the reins. Answer yes or no:

1. Are you working much longer hours than everyone else you know who is doing the same kind of work that you do?

2. Are you spending an inordinate amount of time each day on tasks that could easily be delegated such as routine correspondence, non-priority phone calls, and subsequently feeling yourself spread too thin?

3. Have you been feeling overwhelmed by how much work you have to do or as if you’re heading for an ulcer?

4. Do you doubt you could select competent people to delegate to?

5. Do you dwell on past delegating mistakes or disasters?

6. Are you a perfectionist?

7. Has anyone told you that you always need to be in control — of others, of situations, of tasks, of work or have you ever dreamed or wondered about how life could be more enjoyable if you could do everything yourself?

8. Are you unwilling to delegate the responsibility for the entire job, along with a specific task?

9. Are you missing too many deadlines even though you are working constantly as well as efficiently and effectively because there is simply just too much for you (one person) to do?

10. Have you been reprimanded or even fired over the issue of delegating?

If you answered yes to even one of those questions, you’re a candidate for help with delegating. The good news is that delegation is a “time management skill that can be learned,” according to Dr. Yager.

The last thing any business needs is an office full of employees who have lost their initiative. Initiative is destroyed by – among other things – destructive criticism. A middle manager you have just called a “stupid lazy dolt” is not likely to come up with any creative money-saving ideas for you anytime soon. Also, people like to do their jobs their own way. Of course, giving them this leeway means that every once in a while they will put a foot wrong, but if they are on the right track, the mistakes they make will not have nearly the negative impact that will result if supervisors seek to micromanage their work.

So how can managers delegate more efficiently? Dr. Yager has these suggestions to make:

If your fear is great, start small. Pick out one task you have been doing yourself – the one that takes the most time and causes you the most annoyance, and delegate that.

  • “Decide what you should be delegating as well as what you are willing to delegate.”

  • “Take the time to carefully evaluate potential job candidates, whether for part-time, freelance, full-time, or even unpaid internship or volunteer help, so you pick the right person to delegate to. One good strategy is to present these candidate with a problem and ask them what they would do to solve it, if they were the manager. Listen carefully to their answers — do they show responsibility and creativity?

When you are ready to delegate, it is a good idea to call for volunteers. This will bring out employees who have a genuine interest in the project. The disadvantage is that it’s a little impersonal, has an air of  “if you don’t volunteer I’ll draft you” about it – which may  indeed happen, in which case, you will need to suggest someone. This employee may be interested in the project, but be too shy or for other reasons reluctant to step forward. You might also delegate through a committee, although if the matter is urgent there may not be time. Projects that are particularly interesting and enjoyable should be spread around as evenly as possible.

  • “Unless proven otherwise, trust those to whom you delegate.” This means trust them going in. Make a conscious decision to do this. Give clear and detailed verbal and written assignments and instructions.

      There is no use in assigning a task unless you empower the employee to complete it. Put it in writing so the employee can refer to it as they complete the project.

  • “Have definite “check points” for completion of a specific task or job and some system of on-going communication with those you delegate to.”

Follow through on this. If you fail on your end, how can you expect them to succeed?

  • “Give praise and credit to the person to whom you are delegating.”

This is critically important. Regular and reliable acknowledgement of the good work employees do gives them the strong emotional grounding necessary to take initiative. If you can’t find anything good to say about the employee, give them the opportunity to move on, and hire someone you can honestly praise.

  • “If possible, delegate responsibility for a specific job that could be done from start to finish, not just one small task that would require your constant supervision.”

The tasks you delegate should be simple 1-2-3 step procedures the employee can finish without consulting you, rather than some complex, critical job you will have to supervise anyway.

If you need more information and/or help, a course in delegating authority can be found at http://bell.computer.org/distancelearning/free/free_catalog.jsp?TitleName=Delegation as a Management Tool.    

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