How to Delegate to Employees

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    What is Delegating? How Is It Different than Work Directing?

    © Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD

    Delegating is a critical skill for supervisors at any level. Delegating involves working with an employee to establish goals, granting them sufficient authority and responsibility to achieve the goals, often giving them 1) substantial freedom in deciding how the goals will be achieved, 2) remaining available as a resource to help them achieve the goals, 3) assessing the quality of their effort and attainment of the goals, 4) and addressing performance issues and/or rewarding their performance. Ultimately, the supervisor retains responsibility for the attainment of the goals, but chooses to achieve the goals by delegating to someone else.

    Delegating is different than work directing. Work directing is telling someone what to do and how to do it. There usually is much less freedom as to how the employee does the task, and many times is much less ownership, participation and learning on the part of the employee, as well.

    Delegation can sometimes be a major challenge for new supervisors to learn because they are concerned about giving up control or struggling to have confidence in the abilities of others. Supervisors that can effectively delegate can free up a great deal of their own time, help their direct reports to cultivate expertise in learning, and can develop their own leadership skills — skills that are critical for problem solving, goal attainment and learning.

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    How Well Do You Delegate?

    What do you want to improve about how you delegate? Consider the many guidelines in this topic.

    How to Delegate for Growth and Performance of Your Employees

    Thomas R. Horton, in Delegation and Team Building: No Solo Acts Please (Management Review, September 1992, pp. 58-61) suggests the following general steps to accomplish delegation:

    1. Delegate the whole task to one person.

    This gives the person complete responsibility for doing the task and increases the person’s motivation to do the task, as well. It also provides more focus for the supervisor when working with the person to understand that the desired results should look like.

    2. Select the right person to delegate to.

    Assess the skills and capabilities of the person to be sure that individual can actually accomplish the task. Does he/she have the knowledge, skills and abilities to do the task? If not, the person might need training. Or, perhaps the task should be delegated to someone else.

    3. Clearly specify your preferred results.

    Provide information on what the results should look like, why those results are desired, when the results should be accomplished, who else might help the person, and what resources the person has to work with. You might leave the “how to accomplish the task” to be decided by the person. It is often best to write this information down.

    4. Delegate responsibility and authority – assign the task, not the method to accomplish it.

    Let the person complete the task in the manner that he/she chooses, as long as the desired results are likely to be what the supervisor specifies. Let the person have strong input as to the completion date of the project. Note that you may not even know how to complete the task yourself – this is often the case with higher levels of management. Make sure that others in the organization understand that this person has both the responsibility and the authority to complete the task.

    5. Ask the person to summarize back to you, a description of the results you prefer.

    Explain that you are requesting the summary to be sure you effectively described the results to the person, not necessarily to be sure that the person heard you. That explanation helps the person to not feel as if he/she is somehow being treated as if he/she is untrustworthy.

    6. Get ongoing non-intrusive feedback about progress on the project.

    This is a good reason to continue to get weekly, written status reports from the person. Reports should describe what he/she did last week, plans to do next week, and any potential issues that might arise. Regular meetings with the person provide feedback, as well.

    7. Maintain open lines of communication.

    Do not hover over the person to monitor his/her performance, but do sense what he/she is doing and do support the person’s checking in with you while doing the task.

    8. If you are not satisfied with the progress, do not do the task yourself!

    Continue to work with the person to ensure that he/she perceives that the task is his/her responsibility. Look for the cause of your dissatisfaction. For example, is it lack of communication, training, resources or commitment of the person?

    9. Evaluate and reward the person’s performance.

    Evaluate achievement of desired results more than the methods used by the person. Address insufficient performance and reward successes.

    Additional Perspectives on Delegating

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