When you delegate, you entrust someone else with your power and responsibility to perform a task, mission, or action. It requires that you communicate your needs and your consent, but that you also give up control.
An anecdote from my work
While leading a workshop with about thirty managers, we discussed how delegating has an impact on the level of autonomy of employees. To help the participants understand and get comfortable with delegating, I opted for a simulation exercise.
In smaller groups, participants were asked to play the role of a manager responsible for an overseas mission to penetrate new markets. They were instructed to plan, organize, direct, and control the mission and then present the PODC to the group.
After a while, I announced that the mission was about to begin, but that the manager in charge could no longer make it. The instructions were now to quickly and efficiently delegate a new manager for this important mission.
How did the participants do? As expected, some were very good at delegating whereas others were less so. Here are a few things they did wrong:
- They assumed that they had chosen the right person, in other words, that the person:
- was available and interested,
- had the skills and knowledge to carry out the mission, and
- had the means to carry out the mission.
- Due to a lack of time, they overlooked the reason for the mission, what needed to be achieved, and the goal.
- They forgot to ask that the mission be expressed in other words (rephrased).
- They dictated rather than allowing perceived issues, risks, or critical elements to emerge.
- They assumed that everyone knew the ins and outs of the project because they had heard about it.
- They failed to plan or keep notes.
- They were not aware of or did not communicate the project’s limits and guidelines.
This simulation exercise made managers quickly realize that, too often, in the heat of the moment, they fail to create the right conditions for their employees to be autonomous and carry out what was delegated to them.
In addition to promoting understanding, here are a few reminders to help you delegate successfully:
The level of delegation (and autonomy) is created little by little.
In the beginning, you can divide up the tasks to be delegated to make sure you can keep track of them.
The more confident the employee feels, the more you can space out the follow-ups and increase the level of complexity of the task.
Don’t delegate your “boring” tasks to others just because you find them annoying. They won’t be any less annoying for your employees.
Accept that some tasks cannot be delegated because they are part of your management responsibilities due to their confidential, sensitive, or strategic nature.
Don’t give in to the temptation to not delegate to buy peace. This may work in the short-term, but it denies your team opportunities to grow and learn.
Don’t delegate everything to the same person even if they can handle it. It may seem appealing when you have a star on the team, but this strategy can alienate others.
In closing, delegating is an ongoing process. Continue identifying what can be fully delegated, what can be divided up, and what cannot be delegated because it is your responsibility as a manager, and then go for it!
Remember that when you delegate, you are giving someone else the responsibility to complete a task or mission, but you are still accountable for the results. So, expect that it will be done differently than if you were doing it yourself, and that there may be mistakes along the way.
As Oscar Wilde said, “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.” By delegating and accepting this, you will be cultivating autonomy among your employees.