When Should A Manager Delegate?

Managers should delegate, except when they shouldn't
Managers should delegate, except when they shouldn’t
Image Credit: BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt

Attend just about any manager training seminar and you’ll be told that in order to be a more effective manager, you have to get good at delegating tasks. Since your time is so valuable, you need to get good at handing your work off to those people who work for you while still making sure that it gets done. This is actually good advice, most of the time. However, there are times when you should not delegate your work. Can you determine when you should or should not delegate a task?

Delegating Is Good, Except When Its Not

When you ask a manager about delegating their responsibilities to someone else on their team, the discussion can become a little heated. More often than not what you are going to find out is that they have tried to delegate, but every time they do they end up getting an unpleasant surprise about the task, project or process they was trying to empower someone else to do.

I think that we can all understand just how frustrating this can be. All too often what we discover is that when it comes to managers who are trying hard to delegate somehow, rather than saving them time, it seems to take extra time. If it makes any of us feel better, it turns out that there is a lot of mythology about delegation, as well as a lot of nuance. Even very seasoned managers can have trouble with finding the right balance between empowerment and supervision.

How To Delegate Correctly

When you decide that you have a task that you want to delegate, you have to start things off by asking yourself how much experience does the team member that you want to delegate to have? The question that you are going to have to ask is just how much time are you expecting this person to spend on this task? Should it be a quick task or something that will take a while to complete? You need to be careful to not treat the team member that you are delegating tasks to the way that you would one of your executives by giving them a high-level framework but not walking them through what you had in mind or asking if they have questions.

If you don’t do this, then you may discover that the team member is thrilled to get the assignment and won’t want to showcase their naiveté by asking questions. In the end, they also didn’t have the experience to know what to ask, so they will do their best. What managers need to realize is that employees of various experience levels needed more or less supervision. This means that we have to begin to ask ourselves what skills and experience people have and to tune our management to their level when we delegate.

Next, we need to be very clear about what “done” looks like? When you delegate a task to a team member, you need to have a quick discussion about what the finished project should look like. If you take the time to think it through, you will realize that it is important to share your vision of what the completed task will look like along with how long you think that it will take. Deciding in your mind’s eye what “done” looks like helps you to clear up confusion before it happens.

Forgetting to clarify what “done” looks to the person that you are delegating to can show up in various ways. When you delegate something, you need to take the time to think through what you think the finished product should be, especially when you are delegating to someone less experienced. If you happen to be delegating to a more senior person, you need to agree together on the outcomes you’re asking your executive to achieve, and then let them figure out themselves how to achieve them. Clarity on the end result may take you extra time, but it ultimately will save you time and energy by aligning expectations up front.

When delegating, the last point that you need to be clear on is just exactly what’s the deadline? Many managers delegate without agreeing on a clear deadline. If you don’t have a deadline, then you condemn yourself to having to follow up yourself when you’re wondering when the project will be done or what the status is. The impact of not doing this is that you can’t really check it off your own list, which, if you think about it, is part of the point of delegating. Sometimes managers assume a timeline without asking the team member. Or perhaps they just forget to discuss what the deadline is. Or, in other cases it’s uncomfortable. If you and your team member agree on deadlines that will immediately take some of the stress away from your delegation strategy because both of you will be much clearer on the timeframe.

What All Of This Means For You

The goal of every manager is to find ways that we can get more done. Our schedules are overloaded, we have people constantly asking us to do things for them and there never seems to be enough time in the day to get everything done. In order to boost our productivity, we are often told that we need to get better at delegating what needs to be done. It turns out that this delegating stuff is actually quite difficult to do. What is the right way for a manager to go about performing delegation?

The problems that managers run into with delegation is that we ask people to do things for us, but all too often this ends up requiring us to spend a great deal of time to make sure that it gets done properly. Prior to delegating a task to a team member we need to determine how much experience our team member has. Have we told them how much time we believe the task that we are delegating to them should take? We also have to very clearly spell out what we believe “done” should look like. We also have to take the time and make sure that the person that we are delegating the task to understands when it must be completed by.

The key to being a productive manager is finding ways to maximize the value of the team that we have working for us. One of the most important tasks that we have to become good at is finding ways to successfully delegate some of our work to members of our team. If we can do this, then we will be able to get more done during a day. However, in order to successfully delegate work, we need to make sure that we understand how to do this correctly. Once we get good at delegation, we will be able to become the manager that we’ve always wanted to be.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: What tasks do you think that a manager should never delegate?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

In order to be a successful manager, you need to be a good communicator. What this means for most of us is that we need to know how to do a good job of keeping our teams up-to-date and aware of everything that is going on. One way that we’ve all found to go about doing this is to hold an “all-hands” meeting in which we invite everyone to attend. Thanks to the pandemic and its aftermath, more and more often these all-hands meeting have gone virtual. This creates a very special set of circumstances for managers. How can we make sure that we don’t lose control of these meetings when they are online?