By necessity, most supervisors delegate work to others. By doing so, they free up more of their own time to focus on higher-level work.
Highly effective supervisors go a step further. They delegate for development. In assigning work, they weigh the needs of the team and consider both the current capabilities and the untapped potential of each individual.
The word “delegating” is defined as “the transfer of authority or responsibility by one person to another.” When you delegate, you give an assignment (and the autonomy to complete it) to someone else. When supervising, you assign tasks. When delegating, you assign outcomes.
That’s why delegating requires trust. It’s also why so many opportunities to delegate for development are overlooked.
While it is relatively easy to assign tasks, especially when others have demonstrated an ability to complete them, delegating for development is less straightforward. There is a learning curve involved and an inherent risk of a slowdown during the adjustment period.
So why delegate for development?
When you become a people builder, team members will be more fulfilled and more productive. The challenges you offer will convey trust, support and your commitment to dignifying others. You will be continually growing the capacity of your team and increasing the team’s contribution. Challenged, trusted, fulfilled employees are motivated and dedicated.
Secondarily, you benefit, too. By building new skills in others, you enable yourself to become more productive. You will have more time to invest in higher-level work, on additional people development (including your own!), and on cross-functional learning and growth.
Overall, your team will become more efficient and more effective when you delegate effectively.
Yes, but how can I be sure this will work?
Delegating must be done well in order to be effective in developing others and to ensure work gets done right. Failed delegation lacks one or more of these critical steps:
- Selecting an able delegate for an assignment.
- Granting sufficient authority to delegate.
- Setting clear and specific goals, protocols.
- Enabling the delegate to achieve the goals.
- Being a resource to support the delegate.
- Assessing the delegate’s performance.
- Giving recognition for contributions made.
- Maintaining responsibility for outcomes.
Employees who fail at a delegated task typically report being micromanaged or abandoned. Their managers did not see delegating as a gradual handoff process. Instead, they went to the extremes of being over- or under-involved in the work.
Using this step-by-step approach and maintaining the role of enabler, available as needed, will improve your delegating outcomes.
Otherwise exceptional managers sometimes fail because they fail to delegate.
Whatever it is that keeps you from delegating – that your team is too busy already, that it takes more time to teach and coach than it does to do it yourself, that it’s too important to entrust to anyone else, that you enjoy the work, that being the only one who can do it gives you job security, that you don’t know how to delegate – whatever it is, you need to ask yourself these questions:
What is the cost of doing this work yourself? In other words, what are you giving up to do this task? And what are you depriving others of by hoarding this work for yourself?
Delegating for development requires you to set aside your justifications for not delegating. The higher purpose of people building (which includes self-development) trumps every one of those excuses you may be making.
Which tasks should I delegate and to whom?
This is exactly the paradigm shift to make. It’s not about who has time to do it or who can already do it. Instead, you’ll know who to delegate to if you routinely ask these five questions:
- Who needs to learn how to do this?
- Who will benefit from practicing this?
- Who can offer new ideas about this?
- Who will do this when I’m not here?
- Who is interested in doing this?
Don’t wait for new work to come your way before asking these questions. This is the perfect place to practice. Jot down a list of 25-50 work tasks you do in a typical month. Then ask yourself these questions about each task on your list and identify tasks you can delegate right away.
Is this the right time to delegate?
Timing is everything when it comes to delegating for development. You’ll want to be sure the person you are delegating to is ready, willing and able to meet the challenge. You’ll also want to minimize the risk of delegating.
Here’s a simple box model to help you evaluate the timing of your delegation and decide how involved you will need to be in any given scenario.
What’s represented are just two variables.
1) Is the delegate ready? Delegate Ready (DR) or Delegate Not Ready (DNR) will have some bearing on your level of involvement.
2) What’s at stake? The stakes are high (HS) or the stakes are low (LS) will also help you determine how essential your involvement is.
When you combine these two variables, there are only four possible scenarios.
When the stakes are low and the delegate is ready, there’s no reason to be involved. Delegate without reservations or hesitations.
When the stakes are low and the delegate is not ready, you have the perfect opportunity to delegate for development.
With high stakes and a delegate who is not ready, you also have an easy choice. Delegating is likely not appropriate in this situation. Development, however, could involve taking the lead and teaching.
Finally, with high stakes and a delegate who is ready, you will also want to consider delegating without reservation. This is where you demonstrate trust and empower your employee.
The more delegating for development you do, the easier it will be for you and for your delegates. As their capacity grows, yours will, too.