When to delegate and when to do it yourself

DelegationDelegation is such an integrative part of Management that it seems everything has already been said about it. We all understand its benefits for grooming potential Leads and know how to redistribute the load of responsibility according to people’s natural tendencies.  However, in real world we sometimes find it hard to apply our knowledge for the simple reason that delegation basically means trusting people with important things, and having some actual experience in dealing with employees sometimes makes trust a very rare resource.

So what can we say to a Manager who knows from experience of dealing with his employees that it would be much more practical to do as much as possible himself, than to delegate and to find that everything has to be redone from scratch?  What can we say to a PM who tries to delegate something as small as sending an e-mail only to find that it wasn’t done at all because everyone thinks it’s her job to coordinate?

Everyone likes to tell others how things should be done properly, but most abstain from telling them what to do when things are not done properly and that’s the reality to be dealt with. Let’s try to be more helpful than that and provide a list of thumb rules for when to delegate and when not to that will take into account the possibility of things being less than perfect.

First of all,

  • Never delegate out of ideological or emotional considerations!

We all know that delegation has an intrinsic value beyond the level of its actual usefulness in every specific case. We also know that delegation is one of the most powerful tools to let your employees grow. Even if so, it’s still wrong to apply it universally! Our main goal is not to follow some ideological principles and beliefs, but to get the job done, so this should be the only parameter to decide when to turn to delegation as a managerial tool. If in your specific case delegation would slow and degrade the projects instead of moving things forward – there is no ideology or emotional belief that can justify it!

  • Find the right person to delegate to.

People are not equal. There are some who are suited for more responsibility and there are some who’re struggling with one they already have. An attempt to increase the burden of someone who has no desire and/or ability to carry more on h is shoulders will usually result in failure and not growth. On the other hand, there are people who always want to do more and have the skills and the energy to do it. Find those people and do your best to reward them for any extra they’re willing to accept. If you don’t have such people in your department – don’t just delegate to anyone out of frustration – may be it’s time for some reshuffling in order to free more place for new blood to flow into the system.

  • Know the limit of your ability and delegate everything beyond it.

Try to have a critical look at the full extent of your today’s responsibilities: how far are you from your limit? Because if you feel you can still do more and there is no one around to delegate to or it will take too much time to explain and supervise, it may be logical to do it yourself. Alternatively, if you are already approaching your limit, you should accept the fact that you are not going to be the one to do it, and then do your best to delegate. Regretfully, Mangers who forget this simple rule sometimes pay with their health, and it seems too costly a price by any scale.

  • Assess the complexity of the task: your goal is to decrease this complexity through delegation.

Sometimes, delegation is not about sharing responsibility but about dividing a complicated task into smaller ones. For example, if a decision is to be made – no one can do it for you, but a member of the staff whose judgment you trust can make the job much for you by reviewing the raw data beforehand and presenting it to you in a summarized manner. Another member of the staff can be trusted with communicating your decision to others both formally and informally. This way the overall complexity of the task decrease as it’s being divided into smaller ones, but not in a blindly hierarchical manner, where tasks are assigned without taking into consideration people’s abilities and inclinations.

  • Delegate only if saved time and resources justify the time and resources spent on supervision.

Basically, delegation doesn’t mean that you’re now free from responsibility for the task. On the contrary, now you have to monitor and supervise how things are being done and are they done at all! Delegating too many tasks may create a need to monitor too many processes simultaneously, thus overloading your attention and negating the benefits expected from delegation. This means you should delegate only when sure that the saved time and resources would not spent on supervision of the same task, but on other, more important tasks.

  • Don’t delegate beyond the point where your own workload would be considered as too small.

It’s important to remember that every Manager is also a Leader, and Leadership has its own rules to be followed. Having a reputation of being busy, doing more than everyone else around while still having times to address their problems is important for Leadership. This means that delegation should not get over the point where people start to ponder about “what their Manager is actually doing” in the department. When delegating, remember to be transparent regarding everyone’s role and responsibility –  including your own :- )!

I hope you’ll find these thumb rules helpful for the situations when you’re thinking about delegating part of your own tasks to others. Let’s not be a part of the club of those who constantly complain they’re “surrounded by morons!” 🙂

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