Delegation: An Engagement Tool

A few months ago, a software developer was caught “delegating” his entire workload to China. The man sent off each of his work assignments, while he spent his days goofing off on the Web and looking at videos of cats. Delegating his work in this way was well worth his time: he continued receiving his six-figure salary and paid only a fifth of that amount to a company in Shenyang. You gotta hand it to him; the guy had audacity. I’m not sure his use of delegation would go over well in many companies, but it certainly was effective, that is not the delegation we would like to talk about.

So let’s talk a little bit about how delegation should be used. The level of an employee’s engagement is often directly related to how work is assigned to them. If work is assigned to a direct report for the purpose of their development, the individual will be engaged. Delegation with the mindset of employee development will keep your direct reports engaged.

And that’s not all. If done right, delegation will result in several big benefits for you and your direct reports. For example, effective delegation will:

  • Engage your employees
  • Save time
  • Increase your value
  • Achieve more
  • Prepare you and your direct report for promotion

There are several reasons when and why you should delegate:

  • A direct report has equal or greater expertise or the potential to achieve a goal.
  • You want to develop the capabilities and judgment of a direct report.
  • Your business situation is very dynamic, so fast action and decisions are necessary.
  • You are over-loaded and letting too many tasks or activities slip.

The first two reasons are easy enough for most managers to recognize and often result in delegation efforts. As a manager, you should always be aware of these two situations, and take delegation action whenever possible. The last two reasons are more difficult for managers to judge accurately, and they are often situations in which insufficient delegation occurs.
In general, though, managers tend to under-delegate. Why? It is common for a person who is newly promoted to a management position to have difficulty delegating? Often times, this is the case. Many times, employees are promoted to management roles because they are good at what they do. They carry-over this trait to their management role and end up completing tasks and making decisions they should be delegating.

 

Here are some common excuses for not delegating:

  1. Lack of time:
    Delegating tasks does take time. You might think something like this: “By the time I explain it and deal with questions and issues along the way, I could have done it myself.” This may be true, but you should only use this excuse if taking the extra time to delegate will have serious negative consequences. If all the other reasons for delegating are right, this is not a valid excuse.
  1. Perfectionism:
    Not everyone considers themselves a perfectionist, do you sometimes think, “I’d like to let him/ her do that, but we need to get this right, so I need to do it”, or “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself”? These kinds of rationales are often signs of perfectionism rather than rational reasons for not delegating.
  1. Enjoy “getting your hands dirty”:
    By doing work yourself, you may get the enjoyment you seek, both in the actual doing of the work, as well as in the satisfaction of an outcome you contrived. But this is by far the worst reason not to delegate.
  1. Fear of surrendering authority:
    Some managers do not delegate decisions because they like being the one making the call. The feeling of power and importance is self-affirming. Again, few managers would admit to this being the reason for not delegating. But many do not delegate simply because they have always defined their role as making that kind of decision.
  1. Fear of becoming invisible:
    When your department is running smoothly, with almost all work effectively delegated, it may feel like you have nothing to do. You may worry that others, including your direct manager, may be saying to themselves, “He doesn’t do anything!”
  1. Belief that your direct reports are not up to the demands of the work: Good people will often under-perform if they are bored. Delegation can bring the best out of them. At the same time, people who are not so good won’t get the chance to become better and more effective unless you invest time in them.

Ask yourself whether you have any of the above feelings in regards to particular tasks, decisions, or direct reports. Challenge yourself on any judgments that hold you back from delegating. To be an effective manager, you must accept the fact that delegation will sometimes result in your direct reports making mistakes. Learning occurs best when people make mistakes. Organizations can improve only if people become more capable, which requires learning, which requires mistakes, which requires delegation—even when there may be reasons (like the above) that make you hold back.

Your challenge as a manager is to learn to overcome these reasons not to delegate. Just as with engagement, delegation is a matter of trust; trusting your direct reports will make them feel valued and trusted themselves. They will respond accordingly. The secret is to delegate to develop instead of delegating to free your time.

Luis Velasquez MBA, PhD

Luis is a leadership coach, employee engagement expert, and management trainer. Formerly a University professor and research scientist, Luis holds a dual Ph.D. from Michigan State University; and an MBA in Organizational Leadership.

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