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Book Summary: “How To Delegate” by Robert Heller

Delegating is an essential element of any manager’s job, and it frequently comes up as an area of question and frustration for my clients. When done properly, delegating provides real benefits for everyone involved. Done poorly, or not at all, it can make an ineffective situation even worse.

So, what is delegation? Delegation involves entrusting another person with a task for which the delegator remains ultimately responsible. Although delegating takes time to organize, prioritize and manage, the manager who avoids it will seem disorganized, will work excessive hours, and basic processes can be undermined by poor quality of work, bottlenecks, and missed deadlines, impacting his overall performance.

 

When done properly, the manager increases his time for essential managerial tasks and the staff feels motivated and more confident as their responsibility and competence grows.

Barriers to delegating are often based on a manager’s insecurity and mistrust. A manager:

  • is often more efficient at many tasks than their staff or may only want things to be done "their way"
  • may feel too busy and that they do not have the time to properly delegate
  • may feel that their staff is too inexperienced or not competent enough
  • may not want to overburden an already very busy staff
  • may feel uncomfortable ceding direct control over the outcome of the task
  • may fear that the delegates will perform so well that they will challenge his own position
  • may fear "losing" a part of their job, thereby diminishing their own importance and job security

As you can see, there are many barriers to delegating. To help overcome these barriers and be an effective delegator, a manager:

  • must not feel insecure
  • has confidence in subordinates
  • uses schedules when planning
  • knows the value of delegating
  • ensures staff is trained.

The process of effective delegation involves five stages:

1)    Analysis: selecting the tasks that the manager could and should delegate, being careful to clearly define the parameters of the task so that an appropriate person can be identified. As a prerequisite, the manager should analyze their time to determine how their time use matches the areas or tasks for which they are responsible. Often it is determined that insufficient time is being invested in on the higher-level activities that only the manager can do. Heller suggests that ideally, 60% of a manager’s week should be spent on high-level thinking and 40% on operational detail.

2)    Appointment: selecting and naming the delegate. This person should have the capabilities or at least the potential of doing a very competent job with the assigned task. In addition to the requisite skills and knowledge, candidates should demonstrate self-confidence, initiative, and accountability. Selections should be made by the manager in an informed and objective manner such that personal biases do not negatively impact the process.

3)    Briefing: defining the task to the delegate so that there is no confusion as to what is required and expected. The most important part of the briefing process is defining the overall objective clearly and basing the objectives on required outcomes. Other areas to address include necessary or available resources, the desired schedule and appropriate review points, appropriate methods and procedures for progressing, and the delegate’s level of authority. The manager should allow for open communication and for the delegate to ask questions and raise concerns so that both parties feel satisfied with the briefing and there is agreement about how to proceed. 

4)    Control: monitoring progress is an important step to help the delegate be successful. It has been said that a good monitoring system consists of a light rein and a tight hand, meaning that a balance must be struck between interfering and micro-managing, and giving the delegate too much freedom and flexibility. This balance will depend upon a number of factors, including the delegate’s experience and abilities as well as the manager’s objectives for the delegation process. Using management by exception will allow each party to focus only on the items that are deviations from the plan. When monitoring the delegate’s progress, it is also prudent for the manager to identify and keep an eye on those areas of the task that he considers high risk. Both parties should be flexible and adaptable to adjust course along the way as circumstances dictate.  

5)    Appraisal: assessing how well the delegate performed and determining what changes, on both sides, need to be made to improve performance. The most effective way to review staff performance is to provide delegates with constructive feedback along the way and after each task is completed. Referencing the parameters and objectives of the task, review what went well and what could be improved. Remember to remain positive and avoid laying blame, and allow the delegate the opportunity to evaluate the process and his own performance. Never take satisfactory performance of a delegated task for granted, so recognize the delegate’s effort and reward delegates who have excelled. Failure to acknowledge the delegate’s effort and praise them for a job well done tends to undermine confidence rapidly.

Understanding and valuing the benefits of effective delegation can provide many benefits, for the manager, the delegate, and the organization. Focusing on the objectives of the task to be delegated, having a good attitude about the process, and keeping steady communication flowing between manager and delegate will help ensure that the delegation is successful.