When kingdoms were in crisis, kings had to heal the kingdom by tying its scattered fragments into an amicable whole. Cries of panic sent the body politic in disarray, and all existing voices would only echo a sense of fragmentation.
It is in such times that kings had to delegate by administering seemingly unpleasant medicines to restore the health of their kingdoms. Since some of the problems of the kingdom could only be resolved by extremely technical criteria., particularly when it came to economic policies, his decisions had to be politically shielded against societal resistance. Hence, the king was torn – address the rumblings in the society or listen to address the problems that only a few can see?
Modern-day management isn’t half as dramatic but can be just as difficult. Why? Because in most competitive organizations, everyone’s under pressure, especially the managers. There’s never sufficient time or resources.
To make matters worse, 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 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.
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.
Problem #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!
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!
Let me know your thoughts below or drop me an email.
Thanks for reading.