Often, there comes a time in a manager’s life where the workload is too much to be able to handle it efficiently and well on their own. That is the time to start thinking about hiring people and delegating tasks to them.
Delegating is, as per Oxford’s definition, to “entrust (a task or responsibility) to another person, typically one who is less senior than oneself or send or authorize (someone) to do something as a representative”.
For some, this is a difficult step, as it feels like giving up power or control. For others, the relief of less workload and the ability to harness the skills of others to close a task is mind-blowingly positive. Not to mention the time-saving potential of delegating!
To make delegation easy for the manager, there are 5 levels of delegation to follow – it’s kind of a step-by-step transfer of tasks and responsibilities. It is also vital for the employee to know which level of delegation is being aimed at. If not, then misunderstandings are bound to happen, like missing the baton in a relay race.
Levels of delegation
Source: 5 Levels of Remarkably Effective Delegation | Inc.com
- Assess and Report
- Develop Action Plan
- Makes The Decision
- Full Delegation
Assess and Report
A first step in moving tasks over to somebody less senior is to ask them to research a topic and collect information. It should be clear what the task is, and when it should be completed. This way the manager still has complete control over his or her delegation. The employees’ findings will be presented and discussed with the manager. The result of such an assess and report step can be used to see how accomplished the employee is in solving tasks on their own. It can be used to see if it is necessary to further train the employee or go ahead to the next step.
This step of delegation requires the employee to not only research a topic but recommend the best solution out of potential outcomes. This level of delegation aims at decision-making, not only presenting results. Managers can assess if the employee is capable to make the right choices.
Develop an Action Plan
The third level of delegation takes assessing and recommending one step further: the employee needs to choose the right way to move forward and implement a plan to solve the issue at hand. The manager will still need to define tasks or steps needed to make it work, based on the recommendation of the employee. He or she will need to create a timeline and make sure it is clear which part is to be taken over by the employee, and which part will be handled by the manager. There should be no questions related to responsibilities – the manager still decides. The manager can still choose to delegate the plan’s implementation or intermediate steps of the plan as the plan progresses.
Makes The Decision
When managers have seen that their employees can assess and plan a task satisfactorily, they can easily move to the next level of delegation. They trust their employee to make the right decisions and finish the work. At this level, managers step aside and let the employee handle the tasks on their own. Managers are available for questions and feedback, but other than that they entrust their employees to fulfill the task. Regular check-ins by the manager are still recommended, though. Check-ins are necessary not only to stay on top of the tasks but also to be able to give the employee feedback and point out if anything is heading in the wrong direction. At this point in the delegation process, the manager should already feel the gift of saving time by delegating!
The final level means managers have completely delegated or outsourced a task to somebody else. They are still available for questions, but the success or failure of the tasks lies in the hands of the employee. The employee is fully in charge, and they should feel the trust of the manager in their skills and unique abilities. They should also be rewarded for the successful completion of such delegated tasks.
Four Risks of false delegation
The theory of delegation sounds doable, right? Where does it go wrong if it does go wrong?
Don’t want to delegate
One problem could be the unwillingness of a manager to delegate because knowledge is perceived as power. These kinds of managers tend to overload themselves with work because they want to do everything themselves. They do not want to share anything they have learned, sometimes out of the fear that somebody younger might overshadow them. So they sit on their knowledge. These kinds of managers lack the skill of leadership and will, over time, burn themselves out. They don’t understand that they need to delegate to move from being involved in a task to being essential for a task.
If they would follow the 5 levels of delegation, they could get a soft start on moving tasks that don’t require their expertise to somebody else. They would see that there is no danger in letting somebody else assess a task, then potentially recommend a plan, and so on. And with each level comes a win in terms of time saved and maybe even a better or at least a different result because somebody else might have a different way to solve a task.
Level of delegation not defined
Another problem that comes with the wrong kind of delegation is not making clear from the start how far the delegation goes. The level of authority needs to be set. Expectations have to be made clear. That way, the employee will have a clear view of how far the delegation should go: e.g., am I assessing an issue and collecting information about it, or am I already making decisions on how to move forward? The worst thing that can happen, especially if the manager is less inclined to hand anything over anyway, is that the employee oversteps the level of delegation and makes decisions he was not supposed to. The manager will feel kicked around and probably never delegate again!
At The Cecily Group, we are planning to create The Entrepreneurial Tool, which will include the usage of the levels of delegation as well. A task – which is a step inside a project – will always be assigned to one or more people. It will be possible to switch the task owner, i.e. change the face or name of the task’s owner, and thereby move the task to someone else. Our idea is to include the level of delegation as a side note as well. That way, when handing the task over, there will be written documentation of how far the tasks need to be handled by the new person. Having this visible in The Entrepreneurial Tool also enhances the transparency of a task. With our tool, anyone can see who is in charge of a specific task, and with the level of delegation added to the task, how far being in charge goes.
Communication is as always the key: discuss the level of delegation so that it is very clear. Also, the feedback loop needs to be set. It is just like with project follow-ups: don’t assume that the other one knows what is going on. If a manager should be relieved of a workload, and their time should be freed up by delegating, the progress of the work needs to be fed back to the manager. Otherwise, there is no freeing up of anything, as the manager will be constantly thinking, maybe even worrying, about the progress of the delegated task. In the worst case, it could look like the open-file syndrome shown in The Team Success Handbook by Strategic Coach on page 54 (The Team Success Handbook – Your Team Success): the manager who delegated a task will constantly be thinking about the task if he gets no feedback on the progress.
Not harnessing the skills of employees
Delegating does not mean asking employees to solve a task exactly the way a manager would have done it themselves. A manager comes with a certain set of skills, they carry experience and knowledge. But so do their employees. Delegating a task makes sense for the following reasons:
- It is a time-consuming task that anyone could do and the manager does not have the time
- It is a task that requires research into new fields that the manager is not familiar with
- It is a task that an employee could be good at based on their experience
- It is an opportunity to discover new unique abilities in people by giving them new tasks
- Managers procrastinate over tasks which could indicate that they are not within the unique abilities of a manager
- Not looking to motivate employees
It should be in the interest of managers to retain their competent employees.
Delegation of tasks to employees that show potential also indicates that a manager sees their potential and wants to see them grow. If managers start with easy tasks at a low level of delegation, they can provide employees with time to learn in a safe environment. It will be easy to grow from there.
A manager can increase employees’ bandwidth through delegation. Let employees try out things outside their comfort zone – the higher the level of delegation is, the broader the bandwidth will be. Giving employees more responsibility enhances their productivity. The manager needs to be in charge of the resources needed for delegated tasks so that the employee can pull it off: enough budget (be it in man-hours, office space, travel, or simply money), the right amount of accountability, and the support they need.
A new task will increase the interest of an employee in his or her job and give the job a new flavor.
A manager, a leader, will only need to shape the thoughts and ideas, not dictate them. And delegating tasks in the end also means that projects are kept running even when managers are not available. Who does not love the idea of things moving smoothly while they are away?!?
The delegation has many good sides to it; both for the delegator as well as for the delegatee, dividing up tasks can bring real benefits to managerial relationships. Following the levels of delegation as a guideline and using delegation to:
- harness unique abilities
- build employee skills
- motivate employees
- free up time for tasks of a leader instead of a doer
should be motivated enough to go try it out!
Go ahead, I dare you to!