Delegating with a Purpose

Here’s the scenario: You give an assignment to a direct report. They reply, "Why don’t I take a pass on that right now? Sue [or whoever, perhaps even you] can do it better than I can, and I have a lot on my plate right now."

If that’s a fair suggestion, fine. But if you had a reason to delegate specifically to them (and particularly if, in fact, they are handing it back to you), you might want to take a deep breath and give it back.

This doesn’t have to be a power struggle if the language already is there to define what you mean by "delegation."

Recently, Deb Laurel shared tips for how to effectively delegate. It’s just one management lesson she offers as part of her larger business consulting firm, Laurel and Associates. After the show, she sent a copy of her points on to me, which she credited, in part, to a university professor who wrote on the subject years and years ago (as have many business experts), and I’ve added a couple more ingredients to the batter, too.

In a nutshell, first you want to be sure that you should delegate, and here’s a quick checklist of when to delegate:

  1. When someone else can do it as well or better than you can.
  2. When you might do it poorly because of lack of time due to other duties.
  3. When another employee can do it adequately for the cost or time involved (most efficient use of company resources).
  4. When an employee cannot do it as well, but your doing it would interfere with something more important. Delegate, coach the person on how to do it, and expect less satisfactory results than you would achieve.
  5. When the project or task will be useful for developing an employee, if costs and time permit and you can afford the risk.
  6. When it costs too much for you to do it.
  7. When you are spending too much time on operations or technical work, taking away from your two primary supervisory roles of getting results through people and assisting your employees to succeed.

Now, what is the expectation when you delegate? If you have this discussion with staff ahead of time (I sent a copy to my staff), it helps define what you need and when, because it changes, based on the assignment.

Six Levels of Delegation (From most delegation of responsibility/authority to least.)

Directives to employee:

  1. Take action. No further contact with me is needed. (This is what you are hired to do, or I trust that you have skills/ability to do this without any supervision, or the action is not critical or expensive enough to monitor further. In which case, please do not report back to me).
  2. Take action and let me know what you did. I want to be apprised of final result, to assure myself that it is completed, or so that I can move on with another task, etc.
  3. Look into this problem: Let me know what you intend to do, and then do it unless I say not to. While I trust your experience and/or judgment on other things, I may realize something you won’t, or have new or additional information that could change a directive for this project.

    Now, we’ve reached the point where the supervisor wants to make the decision:

  4. Look into this problem and let me know what you intend to do. Delay the action, however, until I give approval. I don’t need to know all of the particulars unless I ask.
  5. Look into this problem and let me know alternative actions available, with pros and cons, and recommend one for my approval. I need the information you are using to make your decision so that I can check your judgment against mine — or the cost of the project (money, time, or resources) is too much to delegate the final decision without the facts.

  6. Look into this problem and give me all the facts you discover. I will then decide what to do. This is my decision alone to make and you are acting as my assistant, not my agent.

If this helps, thank Deb.

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