A refresher in effective delegation

Gale Mote/Tree Full of Owls

A big challenge for individual contributors promoted to management is delegation. For so long, these super stars have been able to do the job themselves and do it well. I remember when I became a manager how difficult it was to watch someone else do what I loved doing, what I was rewarded for doing and operate in an area where I was most comfortable.

A manager’s job, however, is to transform talent into performance. William Feather once said, “Next to doing a good job yourself, the greatest joy is having someone else do a first-class job under your direction.”

Mary was promoted to manager of procurement in her company two months ago. Up to now, she has continued to function like a buyer, her former position. Recently, however, her boss asked her to take on the responsibility of managing the production control function as well as serve on two global sourcing project teams. Mary simply does not have the time to get everything done.

Determined to gain control, Mary calls her senior procurement specialist, Jason, into her office. She tells him that she needs him to begin representing procurement at the weekly production meeting. He needs to be prepared to discuss all purchasing-related issues including part shortages, quality problems and supplier issues. She hands him the minutes from the last meeting. “Look these over and let me know if you have any questions,” she says as she hurriedly exits the room, leaving Jason staring at the door in disbelief.

Put yourself in Jason’s shoes. What questions are running through your mind? Why me? What is the deliverable I need to prepare each week? How do I measure my success? How does this meeting fall into my other priorities and current workload? How much authority do I have? Who do I go to if I have questions?

Unfortunately, Mary has demonstrated how not to delegate. In her frustration and eagerness to get one more thing off of her plate, she has set Jason and herself up for failure. Effective delegation is not dumping, but that is exactly what Jason feels. He is not motivated to take on the responsibility and feels like his boss is using him to get ahead. Rather than seeing this as a development opportunity, Jason is updating his resume.

Let’s look at five important, practical steps to take when delegating a task or role to another person.

First – analyze the task. What are the critical outcomes and deliverables? Employees don’t want to be handed a manager’s busy work. What talents, skills and knowledge are necessary to be effective in performing the role? It is also important to ask yourself why you want to delegate the task or role – is it for your benefit or theirs? What is your motivation for letting go? What is their motivation for taking it on?

Next – select the right person for the job. Perhaps Jason was the right choice. Maybe Mary was grooming him to be her successor. If you are delegating a task to someone as a developmental opportunity, be sure to outline the skills and talents the person brings to the job as well as how you hope to help them grow in the process. Mary should have clearly explained to Jason why she felt he was the best person for the job, how he would benefit from taking on the role and her confidence in his ability to do it well.

Taking the time to meet is essential for effective delegation. Mary was not prepared and did not anticipate the many questions that Jason would have about taking on this new responsibility. She did not create context for the meeting or procurement’s role.  Jason was worried about how he was going to get his own work done, let alone attend this new meeting. She never addressed his concern nor did she invite his questions. She did not assure Jason she would communicate to others his new role and authority to represent her and the department. Delegation is a two-way street. Those who view it as a one-way often end up at a dead end.

Letting the person do the job is the next step in effective delegation. Be available for questions and set times to check in depending on the person’s skill level and motivation. Praise for great work and coach the employee through challenging situations. Ask them questions so they can find the right solution on their own.

Agree in advance how often to follow up and when. Imagine if Mary had said to Jason, “Let’s check in every Wednesday for the first month – just to see how things are going and so I can answer any questions you have. Then, we can check in monthly to see what you are observing and discuss ideas you have to improve the process. I’m looking forward to having your eyes and experience in these meetings.  You’re going to be a great addition to the team.”

Delegation is not micro-management or dumping. It is giving the right person the right responsibility at the right time in the right way for the right reasons. Do it well and everyone wins.

Gale Mote is a trainer, organizational development catalyst and coach in Cedar Rapids. Contact her at galemote@galemoteassociates.com.