A guide to delegation in the workplace
Imagine you arrive at a hotel to check in. A valet greets you at the entrance, taking your luggage in. Upon entering the hotel a staff member offers you refreshments. The manager enters you into the system and allots your rooms, and finally, a bellboy leads you and your luggage to the rooms.
Imagine instead, if the manager tried doing all of this. From running to take in the luggage to sloshing the refreshment drinks, haphazardly typing in the details, and finally slugging the luggage upstairs. However competent the manager may be, they could not possibly do all of it at once.
Assigning parts of the job can make the whole process go smoothly.
Delegating the right tasks to the right people can prove to be enormously beneficial to both the organization and the employees. Acquiring this art, especially for those with considerable power and responsibility, is the key to not only working efficiently, but also what could make the working experience rewarding for you, and everyone involved.
Many often believe that getting tasks done yourself is the quickest and easiest way to go about it, and this could be true sometimes, but it is rarely the best method of using your resources.
Moreover, research shows a strong correlation between teamwork and firm productivity, finding a whopping 18% increase in productivity in one case study.
Workplaces have evolved from a means to earn a living, to places where employees look for personal and professional growth, and want to be engaged on various levels. Especially if involved in managing and supervisory positions, you can ride on this wave equipped with tools such as delegation, to enhance the performance of individual employees, and substantially increase the competence and efficiency of the team and organization.
THE WHATS AND THE WHOS
While it is easy to understand the benefits of delegation, actually going about the task is much more difficult. There are many aspects such as, what to delegate, how to choose the right people for the task, and how much and what kind of involvement should the delegator have with the project, that could pose issues.
When choosing what tasks you can delegate, make a list of your current responsibilities. Then, eliminating those you absolutely must do yourself will leave you with the things you can entrust others with. Decide which of these tasks would free up the most time for you to concentrate on your work, and ask some questions to clearly define the task .
- What is the scope, and how complex is the task?
- What are the likely problems one would encounter in doing it?
- What resources are needed to do the task?
By answering these questions, you already have the criteria on who to select for the task. Analyze your workforce: which of them are capable of doing it, who would be able to acquire the skill-set that is needed? You, the leader, must choose keeping in mind the competence and the level of motivation of your team members.
There are many types of responsibilities within the actual task that can be divided and assigned to the same or multiple individuals. Take, as an example, a promotional campaign that your company wishes to undertake. There are many smaller tasks within this larger goal, from which one or many can be delegated.
You could assign a subordinate to begin with research and analysis, create a report on their findings and recommendations. Another employee could employ this report to strategise on how the campaign should be conducted. A third responsibility would be become in-charge of the creatives of the campaign. A fourth could take up negotiation with partner companies or outsourcing.
The final responsibility of decision-making could be something you could also delegate, or retain your authority here and have all the parts of the team report to you.
DELEGATE, DON'T DUMP
Once the task and member are selected, the last important thing to decide is the team leader’s approach to the delegation. Are you delegating the entire task, or only a part of it? Should you take a full, hands-on approach, or sit back and let the team member assume autonomy?
Additionally, set goals and expectations for the task. How often should progress be followed up on, and what will success finally look like?
These are vital questions to ask, so that one does not run the risk of dumping too much responsibility without giving the adequate tools to do it. On the other hand, too much involvement could lead to micromanaging the task, leading to both parties being unhappy, and unsatisfactory results.
Once all of this is said and done, you’re ready to pass over the responsibility to your members, and enjoy the fruits of all the careful planning!
GET, SET, COMMUNICATE!
While it might seem like a no-brainer at first, there are a lot of aspects to the idea of ‘communicating’. Firstly, of course, one must notify of the delegation of the task. It is vital to be precise here: what is the member’s role in the process? How should they go about it? What are the milestones of progress, and what should they do if they hit a bump on the way?
What’s most important, next, is how you decide to communicate. Communication is already a complex task, and making sure you’re not misunderstood is even harder. Preparing beforehand, and keeping a keen eye on your body language, and that of your employee can ensure you pick up any potential problems right away. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Firstly, as much as possible, have the first conversation in-person, or at least face-to-face. This is where you will pick up important cues from your employee: are they nervous or confident? Do they feel up to the task? Are they enthusiastic about the opportunity?
- Secondly, maintain composure, and try to avoid any negative body language. Crossed arms, torso facing away from your employee, leaning away, or not creating eye contact could tell your employee that you’re not confident in their abilities, or not open to asking for help.
- Appear confident, but not too eager: while having an open body language is important, you must also convey the gravity of the responsibility, and also reassure them that you’re a competent and grounded authority figure who they can look up to for guidance.
- Finally, give the other person the time and space to process the responsibility and give their feedback. If their body language looks too nervous, such as: fidgeting, continuously looking away, making a lot of self-soothing movements, having trouble speaking clearly; reassure them by reiterating that you’re ready to provide guidance, and that they’re free to not take over the task if they feel they cannot do it.
Keep a clear path of communication throughout the process, and always be prepared to listen to the team member. Check up on progress regularly, and be sure to communicate whether things are going the right way or not! The team leader must maintain the balance, however— provide support wherever necessary, but do not let the member shift the entire responsibility back onto the leader.
Despite all of this things may not go according to plan. There could be miscommunication, or a mis-match of expectations. Perhaps the skills, or the training of the assigned member may not be adequate. Or, things could fall apart through no particular fault of anyone involved.
Like every skill, delegation too takes time and practice to master, both for the person delegating the task, and the one who the task is assigned to. Especially when both the leader and member are new to it, delegation can prove to be a learning experience for everyone involved.
When things go well, a precedent of good teamwork is formed, and the situation can be studied to point out the factors that lead to success. If things do not go as one wishes, taking the time to understand and explore what could have been done instead is what makes the experience valuable.
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