In today’s world, delegation is one of the most important management skills you can learn. But what is there to learn about delegating, you ask? You simply tell someone what to do and they go do it.
Delegation involves so much more than just giving someone a task to do. It involves assigning accountability for a specific outcome and explaining the results that are expected to be achieved. How this happens is up to the person or team involved. Since most of us crave trust and responsibility in our work, effective delegation provides a way for us to meet our needs in order to produce good results and be successful.
The Art of Letting Go
Are you an effective delegator or do you tend to get bogged down in the details of every project? If you relate better with the latter, it may be time to analyze your delegation skills and learn that letting go doesn’t have to mean losing control. Instead, management by delegation means using the power of those around you.
While accounting firms and company staffs range in size, you are most likely working in small groups. As a result, getting involved in daily business tasks is a given. This may be fine in the beginning, plus it is a great way for you to quickly learn and become submerged within the practice and industry. However, these daily demands may begin to bury you when you could be pursuing other opportunities and projects. By effectively delegating your workload, or at least the “time-stealers,” you can free yourself to do more: plan growth strategies, provide staff development and find new clients.
Here are eight guides to help you lead, organize, and measure your effectiveness as a delegator.
- Define the task. Confirm in your own mind that the task is suitable to be delegated. Mind Tools recommends you ask yourself five key questions in determining the suitability of a task for delegating. If you can answer “yes” to at least one, then the task will be well worth handing off:
- Is there someone else who has, or can be given, the necessary information or expertise to complete the task? Essentially, is this a task that someone else can do, or is it critical to the practice that you do it yourself?
- Does the task provide an opportunity to grow and develop another person's skills?
- Is this a task that will recur, in a similar form, in the future?
- Do you have enough time to delegate the job effectively? Time must be available for adequate training, questions and answers, opportunities to check progress and rework if necessary.
- Is this a task I should delegate? Tasks critical for long-term success, such as recruiting additional people for your team, really do need your attention. Understand that you can delegate some responsibility, but you can’t delegate away ultimate responsibility. The buck stops with you!
- Select the individual or team. Start the process by identifying the work to be done and the desired outcome, and matching tasks with the right person or team. An organized, yet simple look at who does what in your practice can help you along in making these decisions. What is each person going to get out of the work, or what is the opportunity for advancement or recognition? What are you going to get out of it—can you devote time to a more critical project? A review of employees’ current tasks and responsibilities, strengths and weaknesses, and genuine willingness to learn new skills and take on new projects—and the actual tasks to be delegated—will help you make your decision. Where possible, empower team members to participate in the delegation process. Remember to delegate to the lowest possible organizational level. The people who are closest to the work are best suited for the task. They have the most intimate knowledge of the detail of everyday work. This also increases workplace efficiency, and helps to develop people.
- Explain the reasons. Does everyone involved understand what needs to be done? It’s important to explain why the project or responsibility is being delegated, and why it is being given to that person or team.
- Provide adequate support. Provide training if necessary and be available to answer questions. Ensure the project's success through ongoing communication and monitoring, as well as provisioning of resources and credit. Think about who else needs to know what’s going on with the project. Keep your own manager informed if the task is important and it is of sufficient profile. Expect those involved to make some mistakes as they learn the new duties, but if you emphasize a supporting atmosphere and your willingness to work through common mistakes or misunderstandings, you can make the transition easier for everyone. A key to making this letting-go process work is to be very specific about what you are asking the employee or team to do. Just saying, "Handle this now" without any discussion of expectations can lead to confusion and ultimate failure.
- Agree on deadlines. When must the project be completed? Or, if an ongoing duty, when are the review dates? If the task is complex and will be completed in phases, what are the priorities? This is a good time to confirm understanding of the task and solicit ideas. In addition to showing you that the job can be done, this helps reinforce the commitment on the part of those involved. Agree on a schedule of checkpoints at which you'll review project progress so any monitoring of the project won’t be seen as interference or a lack of trust. Make sure everyone is clear on how you intend to determine that the job is being successfully done.
- Focus on results. While measurements along the way are necessary, it’s also important to concern yourself with what is accomplished in the “big picture”—rather than micromanaging the details of how the work should be done. Remember, your way isn’t necessarily the only way or even the best way. Allow those involved to control their own methods and processes. This facilitates success and trust.
Suggestions should not be seen as criticism, but as a justification as to why you delegated the task in the first place. Saying, "We have always done it this way," will only stifle constructive feedback.
- Avoid “upward” delegation. If a problem comes about during the course of the project, don't allow the person to shift responsibility for the task back to you. Instead, ask for recommended solutions and help correct the course rather than simply provide an answer. It’s important to remain in control without being pulled into the project.
- Build motivation and commitment for the future. Hopefully, employees will welcome the chance to add to their duties and enhance their skills. Discuss how success will impact financial rewards, future opportunities, informal recognition, and other desirable outcomes. It’s essential to let the people involved know how they are doing and whether they are achieving their goals. If not, review with them why things haven’t quite gone according to plan and deal with the problems. As a manager and delegator, you must absorb the consequences of failure and pass on the credit for success. Good delegation creates a positive, motivating environment—and an environment for learning.
To delegate effectively, choose the right tasks to delegate, identify the right people to delegate to, and delegate in the right way. Although it may seem like there’s more to this than is achievable, you'll soon realize that you will gain so much more once you learn to let go.