Wikipedia tells us that delegation is the assignment of authority and responsibility to another person to carry out specific activities. However the person who delegated the work remains accountable for the outcome of the delegated work. Delegation is supposed to empower a subordinate to make decisions, i.e. it is a shift of decision-making authority from one organizational level to a lower one. Sounds good but at this point you “control freaks” are ready to slit my wrists for sharing this stuff! But, in the face of this danger, I’ve decided to keep going.
Wikipedia goes on to state that delegation, if properly done, is not abdication (ok, control freaks now say with passion”yeah right!”). The opposite of effective delegation is micromanagement, where a manager provides too much input, direction, and review of delegated work (control freaks are now thinking – “Is there any other way?”). In general, delegation is good and can save money and time, help in building skills, and motivate people. Poor delegation, on the other hand, might cause frustration, and confusion to all of the involved parties. Or, to say it another way – when done poorly, “It can be a living hell”!
In his book The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey Ken Blanchard talks about the Four Rules Of Monkey Management:
1. Describe the monkey: The dialogue must not end until the appropriate “next moves” have been identified
2. Assign the monkey: All monkeys shall be owned and handled at the lowest organizational level consistent with their welfare
3. Insure the monkey: Every monkey leaving your presence on the back of one of your people must be covered by one of two insurance policies:
a. Recommend, then act
b. Act, then advise
4. Check on the Monkey: proper follow-up means healthier monkeys. Every monkey should have a checkup appointment.
This is probably the best book on delegation that I have found and at some point in my executive/business coaching client work, I give it to my clients to read. In every case, the lessons in the book “hit home” with each client. The concept of “insuring the monkey” takes away all of the excuses you “control freaks” use as to why you cannot (or is it will not) let go.
One of the dark sides of delegation I had to deal with in my career is called “upward delegation”. The book describes it when a subordinate comes to you and utters these bone chilling words – “we have a problem” and your response is “I’ll handle it”. Sometimes you take it on because “it’s easier if I do it myself” or “I don’t have the time to show you so I’ll do it this time”. Regardless of what excuse you use (and make no mistake, they are excuses), the monkey is on your back and you are now a victim, that’s right a victim of “upward delegation”.
Over time I learned to fight and eliminate “upward delegation” by qualifying my “open door policy” by adding two mandatory requirements when someone came to tell me ” I need your help” or that all-time favorite “we have a problem”. They were –
first, tell me what you tried and why it did not work;
or second, tell me what you are thinking of trying that you want to brainstorm with me before you take action.
When you, as the leader, lay out performance expectations and stick to them, your team starts to do their homework and are better able to identify, understand and solve the challenges they confront. In essence, they become active participants in finding solutions – without having to be told. This simple approach encouraged my team to think about solutions before they raised the “red flag” and not to be fearful of offering up suggestions. When your team starts to think, speak and act in this way, they begin to grow and the growth of your business follows. In addition, you have more time to focus on the things you as the leader need to focus on – the strategic issues that will move your business (and you) forward.
So how do you get started? First and foremost, you’re going to have to break out of your comfort zone. If you are a so-called “control freak” you’re going to have to get comfortable feeling or being uncomfortable. Or as I have often said, “you need to Be Fearless; Step up and Play Big.” After that, following these simple steps will get you going in the right direction:
- Define the task – describe clealy what the output needs to be
- Delegate to a person with demonstrated competence
- Explain the task clearly, in writing if necessary
- Invite/encourage questions and feedback
- Give a schedule and deadline for completion
- Periodically inspect what you expect
A warning – the first time you follow this approach, may not go as smoothly as you might hope. That’s ok. Learn from the bumps in the road and apply that knowledge to the next time. Guess what? The next time may not go smoothly either. Just don’t quit on this or yourself. Keep working at it. Delegation, done the right way (and you can do it the right way), is probably one of the most effective tools a leader has in his leaders toolkit. So ask yourself, do you really delegate or do you just collect (and get swamped) other people’s problems? If the answer is you are a “collector” then stop right now and change course. Your career, buisness and quality of life depend on it.