The Art of Delegation

The main benefit of effective delegation from the manager’s perspective is that it frees you up to focus on the more strategically important tasks. However, despite knowing this many managers find delegation difficult. Poor delegation is a warning sign of poor management capability.

Effective delegation enhances the skills of the people in the team you manage. Effective delegation gives them exposure and stretches them in their current roles and so benefits the organisation by developing talent internally. We probably recognise these benefits, but we may still find it difficult to put delegation into practice.

There are two common issues managers have when faced with having to delegate.

First, even when absolutely forced into a corner, most managers would rather stay late and do the work themselves rather than take the time to explain the task to another person so that they can do the job. After all, they think, if it takes longer to get someone else to do it, I might as well do it myself!

This short-term thinking is reactive rather than pro-active. Taking time to properly brief someone on what you want doing will actually save you time later on. Time that can be more productively spent on more strategic managerial tasks and activities.

Secondly, managers naturally delegate based on the personality of the person they are delegating to. If the manager thinks that the person they want to delegate to is disengaged and potentially out to sabotage the project then the manager, naturally, does not trust them to deliver the delegated work.

Festo’s 3-Dimensions of Employee Engagement model suggests that the majority of a workforce, estimated to be between 60-65%, will not be engaged. Such people are tricky for the manager to work with. It takes time to communicate with them and bring them onside – and a lack of time is the reason managers need to delegate in the first instance.

When managers delegate only on personality, then there are a few positives but these are outweighed by the negative consequences.

The main positive of delegating on personality is that the manager gives all the opportunities to those who are aligned with the organisation and satisfied in their current role. Such people are already committed and engaged - so the manager knows that they can be trusted to do a good job.

The potential downside is that if the manager relies on only a few key people, ignoring the rest of their team, then they can quickly over-burden those they trust the most.

In addition, the manager’s actions can isolate their key people from the rest of the team as the delegation is seen as a form of favoritism. Such negative reactions can widen the gap between the engaged team member and those who are in the middle of the engagement spectrum, so splintering the team and destroying teamwork.

So for managers to get better at delegating they need to develop the right attitude towards delegation and the skills and knowledge to engage all their team members.