Saturday, February 04, 2006

Managing the Art of Delegation

Delegation is often misconstrued as transfer of power from manager to subordinate for making critical decisions. Often subordinates grumble about the extremes of both type i.e. if a manager delegates complete responsibility of any assignment then there is a feeling of manager being incompetent and gives an impression that the onus is simply passed on to next level .Subordinates feel that their good work is often projected as the managers achievement. On the other hand if the manger controls and allows little freedom and responsibility then the question of lack of opportunity is raised.

Now the issue is how to balance this fine art of delegation which not only gives the manager the opportunity to develop his people and share the laurels of achievements but also ensure that growth opportunities are given to all subordinates.

Brendon Connelly of Slacker manager writes about Management hack: The sweet spot of delegation. He says “Delegation has a sweet spot and it lies somewhere between the tightfisted grip of the control freak who can’t give anything away, and the lackadaisical absentee manager who won’t accept responsibility. Somewhere in there is a place where a manager can offer a chance for expanded responsibilities, with a safety net. It’s the place where an employee can broaden their experience and know that failure is an option.

Delgation defined

Delegation happens when a manager offers an employee an opportunity take on a task or project. Delegation is an offer, not a demand. Delegated tasks are tasks that are part of the manager’s job description, though, so employees ought to know that they really can consider turning down delegated tasks.

The manager’s risks of delegation

Be clear about the fact that you’re sharing responsibility. You (the manager) will maintain as much communication as needed throughout the life of the delegated task. All success will be theirs. You’d like to say all failure will be yours, but that isn’t always true. If they make some really boneheaded decisions, you’ll both suffer. Otherwise, you can take the heat for their learning curve.

Another risk is that you’ll end up with yet another project to manage. Antidote: don’t fall into this trap. Hold on loosely. Keep an eye on things, have regular check-ins, but don’t hover like a den mother. You don’t need another project to manage, and they don’t need a micromanager breathing down their neck.

A related risk is that you’ll lose control of [insert your fear here]. Antidote: Get over it. You’ve got a job title that ensures your responsibilities. There should never be a question of who owns what. If there ever is a question, then it’s time for a hard conversation with either the person who reports to you, or between you and your boss. If it’s between you and your boss, bring a copy of your job description to the conversation. Go in with the best intentions, but get your resume polished up.

Failure is a reasonable risk. Antidote: Failure happens and by now all enlightened managers ought to understand that evidence of failure indicates a willingness to innovate. Doesn’t make it any easier to accept failures, but at least you know you and your folks are planting seeds for future success. Don’t fear failure; face it, measure it, fix the problems that caused it and keep on keeping on.

General delegation tips for managers

Set context. When delegating, setting context is a great idea. Let folks know why this is important, how it’s good for them and how it’s good for others.

Individualize. Don’t delegate willy nilly. Assess the skills of the folks available and match tasks to skills.

Remember responsibility. Don’t forget that the responsibility for the task or project ultimately belongs to you. Accept the risks. ‘Nuff said.

General tips for delegatees

Negotiate the delgation. Make sure you have sufficient information, authority and resources; negotiate when needed.

Consider saying no. There can be legitimate times when it’s not appropriate for you to accept delegated tasks. It’s rare, though, so tread lightly here.

Meet regularly. This is easy to let slide, so be aware. Regular meetings not only ensure you and your boss are on the same page, it also alerts you to changes on the landscape of your project. This is notice you might not get anywhere else.

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