Helping managers delegate

‘Getting things done through others’ requires effective delegation

Brian Kreissl

By Brian Kreissl

One common definition of management is “the art of getting things done through others.”

Yet, many managers struggle with just how to do that by effectively delegating work and responsibilities to their team members.

Let’s face it, most managers were appointed to their roles because they were good technical or functional specialists, and not necessarily because they were particularly good at managing others. Nevertheless, they usually know what’s necessary to get things done and how to be successful in the roles that report up to them.

However, that can sometimes be a problem because managers who are functional specialists often have a tendency to want to try to do all of the work themselves or micromanage others. It’s also possible they could be perfectionists or they may be rather set in their ways.

Managers often have specific ways they would prefer to do things. But if they are going to let go and have others perform the work, they need to have tolerance for people doing work their own way.

There is often no one “right” way to complete a task. But even if some ways are better than others — or if a manager is more highly skilled at doing the job than her direct reports — sometimes she just has to trust her team members and accept that the task won’t be completed quite as well as if she had done it herself.

There is often a great deal of truth to the axiom that “done is better than perfect” — and a lot of managers would do well to remember that when delegating tasks to their team members. Managers can’t do it all themselves, so they need to develop, equip and empower their people, delegate and assign work to them and then get out of their way so they can complete their work with minimal interference.

Of course, a manager should always be there to provide training, support and adequate context to her employees. It isn’t usually acceptable just to provide some ambiguous and rudimentary idea about what’s expected because that’s likely to lead to disappointment with the end results.

But micromanagement doesn’t help either. In most situations there’s a happy medium somewhere between being too hands-on and prescriptive on one hand, and having too laissez-faire an attitude on the other.

Knowing when to delegate

We’ve been hearing a lot recently about how we should focus on developing our strengths and focus less on our weaknesses. But if we don’t try to do something about our weaknesses we’ll never overcome them or move beyond our comfort zones.

For that reason, I believe we should apply the “80/20 rule” when it comes to strengths and weaknesses. Eighty percent of our development should focus on existing strengths, while 20 per cent should be about improving weaknesses or areas we’re less familiar with.

It’s the same with delegation. Managers should mainly be delegating tasks to their team members that play to their strengths. There’s no point delegating a project to an individual he’s likely to fail miserably at.

However, if people are never challenged or stretched they’re unlikely to develop and grow. And sometimes there just isn’t anyone else to delegate to.

With appropriate guidance, instruction and feedback — as well as a healthy dose of encouragement — it can be appropriate to delegate tasks that move individuals beyond their comfort zones. This requires more upfront work on the part of the manager, but it’s likely to save time in the end and contribute to an employee’s development.

Yet, there are still times when a manager is better just completing the work herself, especially if it’s particularly important, challenging or time-sensitive. This is especially true in the case of hands-on leaders with “real” work assigned to them on top of their managerial duties.

What can HR do?

HR in most organizations has a mandate to help enhance managerial capability. This includes helping managers delegate.

Some of the ways HR can help managers delegate include:

  • Offering training on effective delegation.
  • Holding managers accountable for developing their direct reports and delegating work to them.
  • Empowering employees and helping to foster a culture where it’s safe to move beyond one’s comfort zone, take risks and even fail once in a while.
  • Ensuring that appropriate policies, procedures, workflows, processes and job descriptions are in place.
  • Ensuring that managers provide adequate training, coaching, feedback and performance management to employees.

Latest stories