Managers often have conflicting objectives, especially when it comes to giving the reins of the horse to subordinates –
- How to guarantee results and yet listen to employee complaints?
- How to inspire or motivate yet still make the decision not to delegate certain tasks?
- How to centralize business units while decentralizing business responsibilities?
- How to encourage participation yet communicate bad news when employees don’t perform?
In top-level management, the lines between efficient leadership and meddling in other people’s lives are often blurred. Leadership is influencing people by giving them direction and motivation. But, emotionally investing in employees can also be a risk. When employees don’t accomplish their missions, maintaining a leadership style that reflects positivity can be difficult.
That’s why many managers fail to forge ‘contracts’ with their employees. These unspoken workplace contracts keep employees focused and organizational progress constant. But, establishing these contracts while meeting day to day responsibilities as a manager can be extremely difficult. That’s why so many managers don’t take the ‘risk’ of delegation in important situations and instead focus on themselves.
Delegation – Is It Worth It?
If you’re an active or an aspiring manager who thinks delegation isn’t a skill worth having in your portfolio, you need to think again.
Delegation addresses the classic problem of – “Too much to do . . . too little time”
Burnout impacts every business, especially small businesses. A recent survey on the effects of workplace burnout revealed that 77% of small businesses experience some form of workplace-related burnout from time to time.
- Inability to delegate leads to poor output
Many managers consider themselves irreplaceable. They feel secure knowing no one in the organization has the qualifications to do their jobs. “Why delegate and advance someone else’s career chances?” Such thinking gets managers fired. Managers are always expected to develop subordinates, even if it isn’t mentioned in their job descriptions.
A study into workplace productivity by London Business School academics Julian Birkinshaw and Jordan Cohen revealed that if managers allocated at least 20% of their workdays to focusing on their actual responsibilities as managers, the ones that matter for the company’s long-term objectives, they could experience massive growths in productivity levels. Developing subordinates is one of those “actual” managerial responsibilities.
- Efficient delegation maintains the growth of collective workplace competencies.
A recent report by Bloom Leadership revealed that 79% of employees leave their jobs because they feel underappreciated. The lack of professional growth opportunities, inability to contribute to important company decisions and managers disregarding their potential are key reasons behind such feelings of underappreciation.
- Delegation reveals the shortcomings or virtues of employees
In 2014, Gallup examined 143 CEOs from America’s fastest-growing private companies that earned spots on the prestigious Inc. 500. Of the 143 surveyed CEOs, those with good delegation talent recorded 112% higher growth rates over a three-year period. During that period, the CEOs with limited delegation talent also generated 33% lesser revenue.
More importantly, the companies that were managed by proficient delegators, on average, created four more jobs in three years. Bear in mind, all the 143 CEOs were in similar positions when this three-year survey started. The CEOs with good delegation talent were able to rotate their workforce, separate the efficient employees from the inefficient ones, and record higher productivity levels.
Why Do Some Managers Still Hold Back?
It didn’t take long to establish the value of delegation skills. So, why do some managers still hold back? The key reason, according to this Harvard Business Review, is the manager’s inability to evolve from an employee into a leader. “I can’t trust anyone with this task. If they fail, I’ll look bad.”
They lack the psychological strength that it takes to become less involved in the day-to-day responsibilities. Plus, delegation isn’t just asking someone to do something and receive guaranteed results – it requires time and effort.
No wonder why managers feel it’s easier to do the job on their own. So, they’re more than willing to take the opportunity, cost, or time and continue avoiding higher-value activities such as building the competencies of employees.
Getting Out of this Trap – Adopting a Factory Mode of Management
The factory model of management can help managers be more efficient delegators. It essentially refers to viewing each employee as a factory. But, isn’t such thinking detrimental to management efforts like motivation and inspiration? Absolutely not.
Viewing employees as factories isn’t the same as viewing them as machines. When we judge the productivity of factories, we do so on the basis of their output, not their quantity of outputs, not their activities. We don’t care how many hours the factory runs; we care about what it produces.
Making this distinction between activities and accomplishments is very important before delegating any task. Other steps that can get your “factories” running include –
- Recognizing the Results Expected from The Employees –
The skirmish for better productivity has always circled around the competition between activities and accomplishments. A lot of work doesn’t guarantee good results.
The person you’re delegating to may work hard all day and produce very little because they don’t know what their daily accomplishments need to be. Just like how individual factories are given specific targets every day, employees need to know they’re responsible for achieving certain outputs every day.
That’s why they’re on the payroll – not to work, but to get results.
- Gaining Managerial Leverage –
Gaining “managerial leverage” is the art of multiplying your department’s output by getting much more done than what the average employee thinks he can achieve.
For instance, outsourcing certain parts of the customer service process to independent experts who can do it cheaper and better can give managers tremendous leverage. Similarly, when managers instruct employees what to do, they double their total output.
- Clarity. When employees are unclear about what managers want, they’re likelier to restrict their potential than make mistakes. They would rather do the obvious tasks in a simple manner than truly apply themselves.
Employees can only be more productive if managers are clear about what they need them to do, when they need it, and the level of quality they expect. Knowing what’s expected is the best motivator for employees. Not knowing what your boss wants leads to stress, discontent, and misplaced aggravation.
“Not knowing” isn’t the employee’s fault – the managers’ poor delegation skills are to blame.
As managers, making employee expectations crystal clear is the priority. So, in the spirit of clarity, here are some instances I’ve experienced where efficient delegation saved the day. I’ve highlighted the key lessons I learned from each of these experiences.
Issue #1 – The Manager’s Fear of Mistrust
When I was an intern at a marketing company, our manager feared giving up power. Her mistrust wasn’t mean-spirited. She simply didn’t assess our team of interns to find out what skills we possessed as individuals.
She found herself micromanaging us instead of delegating which only increased her responsibilities. Even though all of us interns liked our manager, she was always second-guessing herself and not trusting the decisions she made with the information that was available to her.
None of us interns could do her job – but we certainly could do more. Naturally, we felt she didn’t trust our capabilities, attitudes, or loyalties, at least not enough to give us the vote of confidence while assigning tasks. A few weeks into our internship, a new manager took over our department and our experience at the marketing firm radically changed.
The new manager broke down the projects we were handling down into manageable portions. Then, he gave these portions out in succession, delegating one task after the other without feeling any sense of mistrust.
My gnawing feeling of self-apprehension dissipated as soon as I received my first real job – not going through something my boss had already done, but something constructive.
When I asked this new manager how he was able to understand which intern was suited for what type of job, he said to me – “research starts with the ears.” Throughout our internship period, he had assessed our behavior at the workplace and then took a shot based on his instincts.
Sure, the ride wasn’t all smooth and many interns, including myself, made silly mistakes. But those experiences eventually led to better outcomes in the long-run and made me a better employee.
The Solution – What Worked for My New Manager?
Here are some highlights of my new manager’s efficient management style –
- He saw Himself as a Teacher. By teaching us interns how to do the job, the manager used delegation as a teaching tactic. At the end of each workday, there were many interns asking him questions about how to execute particular tasks.
Instead of naturally assuming that other people knew what the manager does, particularly the simple things, the manager took the time to explain his job in the department and how our output impacted his job.
Now that I’ve followed some of his tricks while managing interns, I realize that teaching us was his way of freeing up time for more important jobs.
- Never Assumed Our Knowledge in Advance. Our manager never assumed our knowledge. I remember my earlier manager at that internship asking me to prepare a “pro forma” for her. Despite being an aspiring MBA student, I had no idea what a “pro forma” was.
In my desperate attempts to discover that a pro forma is a basic document laying out a project’s revenue and cost structure, I failed to create a decent document. The new manager, however, never assumed my knowledge and always asked me if I was sure about a task before delegating it to me.
- Clarity and Specificity. The new manager told us what he wanted us to do and why.
- Encouraging Questions and Sharing Feedback. As stated before, the new manager had flocks of interns queuing up with questions and for feedback. He addressed each one of them very clearly.
- Setting Timelines and High Standards. As soon as our team of interns started doing good jobs, our manager invited us to share company goals and objectives. This little pep-talk is still in my mind, maybe because we achieved each one of those objectives before leaving the company with a good recommendation letter!
Issue #2 – Failing to Motivate an Employee
A junior colleague called Andre at one of my first real jobs was always good at his job. But he was also very career-driven and often let go of his jobs to partake in certain training courses.
Our manager didn’t want to let go of Andre but failed to realize that at a deeper level, he was just trying to further his career and stay up-to-date with industrial requirements. However, the manager was also hesitant to satisfy Andre’s needs by giving him more responsibilities.
He didn’t need a better-skilled employee – he needed the ever-reliable Andre.
So, the manager and I discussed the key threats we faced as department leaders in this situation –
- Andre might get frustrated for not being able to perform higher-value tasks.
- Senior colleagues might see Andre as a threat.
- The manager’s decision for sending him or not sending him to the training course may be perceived in the wrong way by other team members.
Here are the solutions we came up with –
- We assessed the positives and negatives of Andre attending the course. We decided keeping Andre was important but forcing him to stay wasn’t.
- We reassessed what other team members like Andre need from us as leaders – security, workplace acceptance, appreciation, and the feeling that they’re contributing to the team.
- We decided that satisfying all of their wishes was impossible but modifying our approach to motivating our employees can be changed.
- We launched a reward system for employees who met the concrete objectives we set. Andre was made aware that his performances will be acknowledged financially and will lead to better positions with more responsibilities.
- We continued focusing on creating conditions under which team members could optimize their efforts. Instead of forcing or pleading Andre to stay, we made it clear we view him as an independent, responsible, and valued adult.
After these steps, it didn’t take much supervision or convincing to make Andre dismiss the idea of quitting his position for his training program. Soon enough, Andre was drawing up new action plans and working side by side with us as we applied innovative management methods.
Andre was quickly promoted and we as managers learned that team members can be content by the work they’re given. As long as we gave competent team members like Andre the information they need to succeed in higher-value jobs, their competence always stood out.
As a relatively experienced manager, I’ve come to learn that “expect the best” is a good approach to delegation. Winston Churchill once stated – “If you would influence another, impute a quality to him that he does not have, and he will do everything to prove that you are right.”
Investing in the process of developing human capital comes with major risks, like any other investment. But, the rewards, i.e., the development of qualities and characteristics in employees, make this investment absolutely worth the risk.
So, the motto “expect the best” also applies to us when we’re assessing our delegation responsibilities – we can only give our best to expect the best!