Delegation is a skill that should be front and centre in a manager’s arsenal, but more often than not this skill is not utilised. The reason for this is simple – effective delegation is hard. While effective delegation can reap momentous rewards, ineffective delegation can cause widespread frustration and inefficiency. These negative consequences have led many managers to ditch delegation altogether in favour of less contentious management styles, however this is not sustainable.
Delegation must occur in every team and organisation. As a manager, delegating saves you time, helps to increase your productivity (as both an individual and when considering your team) and increases your value as an effective manager. Delegation also increases the efficiency and flexibility of the organisation as a whole, while enhancing teamwork and aiding to more fairly balance workloads. There are also benefits to the person receiving the delegated task, such as the opportunity to develop new and existing skills, and increased self-confidence from feeling like the manager trusts in their abilities.
When delegating tasks to employees there is always a learning curve, particularly if the employee has never performed a similar task before. While sometimes this learning curve can be overcome quickly and without difficulty, most often it will take some time before an employee is competent with the new task. This frequently leads to managers becoming frustrated when the output is not what they wanted and changing the work themselves, making the delegation redundant. The employee also becomes demotivated and believes that their work will never be good enough for the manager.
For delegation to be effective and to reap the rewards it ought to, it must be paired with coaching. Coaching is necessary for followers who have some degree of task competency but are not fully confident in their own abilities. The manager may take on a ‘showing’, ‘teaching’ or ‘supporting’ role depending on the existing competencies and confidence of the employee.
If the employee has no experience with the task the manager must take on a showing role by working through the task, with the employee shadowing the manager’s actions. This will allow the employee to see how the task is supposed to be done and model the manager’s actions when engaging in this task again in the future.
If the employee has some familiarity with certain aspects of the task but is unsure of how to complete the other steps then the manager must take on a teaching role. In this role, the manager should model the actions that need to be done, similarly to the showing role, but also emphasise why these actions are being done. This will highlight the underlying reasoning behind your approach and will aid the employee in better being able to approach tasks independently. The manager should also teach through questions, by asking the employee what he/she thinks the best approach is and why, which will encourage problem-solving and task reflection.
Once the employee is fully competent and able to complete the delegated task independently, the manager must still provide a level of guidance. The employee must be made aware that the manager is there to support them. This will ensure that employees can complete the delegated tasks to the best of their ability and do not feel overwhelmed by the extra work. While support is crucial, ‘reverse delegation’ must be avoided, wherein the work is given back to the manager. If an employee is at an impasse, it is the role of the manager to coach the individual through the problem and to a solution, not to take on the problem for themselves.
While difficult, delegation can optimise team and individual performance and is a tool that should be in every manager’s repertoire. When used effectively, delegation will lead to increased productivity, more balanced workloads and a more positive, competent and challenged workforce.