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Here's the next in our series of weekly managerial TIPS (Techniques, Insights, and Practical Solutions)
to help you better engage your team in the activities that lead to higher performance.

CORE Bites Issue #36

The SCIENCE (but mostly the ART) of Effective Delegation

The SCIENCE of delegation is made up of two parts, the why we need to do it and the what it is. The 'why' to delegate is fairly easy to understand ... you need to delegate because the job of managing is to ensure that all the work gets done—not to do it all yourself! The 'what' in the science of delegation is also not that complicated ... delegation is the transfer of authority from one individual to another to carry out specific activities, functions, tasks, and/or decisions.

So, if it's that easy, why is it that a surprisingly large number of managers don’t delegate well — or at all?

Do any of these "Delegation isn't possible in this case because ..." statements sound familiar?

"... it will take me longer to explain than it would to just do it myself."

"... my people are too busy already with their own work. I don't want to overload them."

"... I'm really not sure if anyone on my team is skilled enough to take on that responsibility. What if they fail?"

While I acknowledge this wouldn't qualify as pure academic research, but after training thousands of managers, I have pretty solid anecdotal evidence that one of the most difficult transitions for managers to make is the shift from doing to managing. And delegation is a powerful way to make that transition. But effective delegation can be a delicate dance—there is much more ART to delegation than there is science.

The 'science' of delegation stipulates that—as managers—we delegate downward to get work done by our employees. This 'pushing work down' can be challenging when people are busy, when they may not have the exact skills to perform the task, and when they may not know what results or outcomes are expected or needed (see the "Delegation isn't possible in this case because ..." statements, above).

The 'art' of delegation looks at delegation through an entirely different lens. Instead of focusing on the result or outcome, the focus shifts to delegating for development. This type of delegation lets the employee gain invaluable experience and knowledge for the future, providing him or her an opportunity to grow. But if you're thinking this will take more time, that's not really true—if you channel the time and intensity you would have devoted to doing the job yourself and redirect that same time into educating someone else, you now have someone who's prepared to take on more in the future. Sounds like a win-win to me ... what about to you?

High Value Activity (HVA) Action Steps

This week (starting today), look for ways to incorporate the 'ART of delegation' HVAs listed below:

  • Steal the Struggle ... Deny the Growth: If you don't delegate to your employees, they'll never have the opportunity to experience the stretch (yes, even the struggle) necessary before they can grow. Start slowly and limit risk or exposure as you delegate. Identify the new skills and know-how they might need and mentor your employees until they have the capability and confidence to perform the task. If you can’t delegate an entire task, delegate as much of the task as possible. Retain oversight in the remaining portion that still requires your attention.
  • Everyone Is Busy: Just because people are busy, doesn't mean that they've learned all of the techniques necessary to become time-efficient in their roles. The only way people will learn how to become more efficient is when you create the 'need' for them to learn more efficient methods. How did you learn to become more efficient? Probably when someone gave you new responsibilities that forced you to look differently at how you do your work which resulted in you becoming more efficient. If someone did it for you, then it's time for you to help someone else grow. It's time to delegate for growth!
  • No Drive-By Delegation: Make sure you follow up on your delegation in a frequency commensurate with the skill the person has—the lower the skill level, the more you need to build in follow-up. Resist the urge to take back what you delegated when a mistake occurs (which will happen!). Both of you will learn from the mistake as you continue to mentor. When it starts to feel difficult, remind yourself that not only are you helping your employees grow, you're exercising your own 'teaching muscles' at the same time. The benefit here is you will cultivate confidence and show our employee how much you value his or her continued growth.

Delegation can be a challenging process (at times) but despite how painful it may be, delegation is a critical skill all leaders must master to be successful.

I'd love to hear how this HVA works for you!

Neil Dempster, PhD, MBA
RESULTant™ and Behavioral Engineer

Quote of the Week

"If you want to do a few small things right, do them yourself. If you want to do great things and make a big impact, learn to delegate."

— John C. Maxwell —