Delegation: dishing out the jobs, assigning people to tasks, entrusting a task to someone else for which you remain accountable. If done regularly and correctly, delegation can be a beneficial process for all concerned. A manager can empower their team, make them feel trusted and valued, and free up their own time to get other jobs done.
But how do you delegate successfully?
When you delegate, try to follow this managerial motto: Eyes on, hands off! What does that mean? Delegate tasks and then just monitor and observe (eyes on), whilst trying not to interfere and just let them get on with it (hands off). Being eyes on tells you when you need to be more hands on, e.g. if you observe someone really struggling, you could offer your assistance.
With some employees, you’ll need to be more hands on, with others you can be more hands off. It’s what we call situational leadership, and the only golden rule is: it depends! A manager needs to be adaptable and flexible, and often the big question is: how much are you prepared to let go?
If we apply this to the delegation process, we can identify a number of levels:
- Do what I tell you: a highly directive style, totally hands on, and can be perceived as an aggressive approach. It shouldn’t, and can be done in a polite and respectful way, but it is the one-way flow of instruction, from manager to employee. You say it and they do it, no buts. It is the right style to use in certain situations, e.g. in a crisis or emergency when swift decisive action is needed, or when the deadline is imminent and there’s no time for a discussion. Sometimes also with new starters who know nothing about the job and need instruction, or when you’ve tried every other approach and nothing has worked!
- Have a look and tell me what you think. Then I’ll decide: now we’re involving the team more, asking for their thoughts regarding getting the job done. The manager is letting go a bit, but still has the power and will make the final decision about task completion.
- Give me recommendations, pros and cons. I’ll let you know the best way forward: the manager is letting go even more, requesting greater input from the team, but is still heavily involved when deciding how the job gets done.
- Decide yourself, but wait for my approval: the manager is getting more and more hands off, allowing the team members to make their own decisions about doing the job. However, they still need to check with the boss before proceeding.
- Decide and take action. Let me know what you did: a real shift in delegation style here. The team can make their own decisions and get the job done. The manager is no longer consulted beforehand, instead they are informed afterwards.
- Decide and take action. There’s no need to check with me: the team is now totally empowered and the manager is completely hands off! Not many managers are happy delegating at level 6! However, if you have a high performing team, who are self-sufficient, autonomous and trustworthy, then why wouldn’t you operate at this level?
When deciding how to delegate, all of the above levels are available to you. Any of the levels 1 to 6 could be the right approach for the best outcome. Consider the situation and the type of job (complex or very straightforward?), who is available to take it on (new starter or very experienced?) and the time available (the deadline is in 5 minutes, or 5 hours, or 5 weeks?) and then make an informed decision.
That way, if anyone ever questions your delegation style, you can justify it with solid reasoning. Happy delegating!
To learn more about delegation take a look at our Introduction to Management course, where we cover the fundamentals of good delegation alongside lots of other great management skills like giving feedback and team building.