Effective delegation provides a powerful coaching tool for developing people while meeting organizational needs. Deliberate, conscious, and artful delegation empowers individuals and teams to make quantum leaps forward in delivering impressive results. Effective leaders clearly understand the power and psychology of artful delegation.
Two types of delegation occur: 1) delegating to “strength” and 2) delegating to “stretch.” When delegating to “strength,” the individual has already demonstrated competence. Management can count on that person being knowledgeable, completing the project with quality and accuracy, and getting the project done quickly.
Consistently delegating similar projects to the same, qualified person, however, may deprive others from learning, may repeat mediocre habits, and may even stifle organizational creativity. Additionally, what if your favorite expert gets hit by a Mack truck or leaves the organization for a better job? If back-up talent has not been developed, you get the opportunity to deal with an immediate productivity crisis!
Delegating to “stretch,” however, provides a different set of disadvantages and advantages. In this case, the individual does not know how to do the assignment. Delegating to “stretch” comes with a number of disadvantages: count on consuming more time and resources, making errors, experiencing initial quality discrepancies, and possibly even negatively impacting customer service. On the other hand, engaging new people in assignments can stimulate their interest, infuse new ideas, and develop a broader base of expertise to provide qualified backup.
When delegating, determine in advance which strategy -- “strength” or “stretch” -- will produce the best overall results. Pausing to make an informed decision and engaging your associates will assist in creating deliberately successful outcomes for both the individual and the company.
Effective delegation starts with a clear picture of the desired outcomes and links those results to the overall mission and vision of the company. Associates need to understand the “what” and “why” while giving them sufficient latitude about the “how.” Most people, particularly when they have developed expertise, tend to do better with broad guidelines rather than specific instructions in the delegation process. Additionally, establish clear accountability for results with appropriate progress reports measurement criteria.
“Instead of giving them an order, ask:
‘What would it take to be able to do this yourself?
Let's work together to have that happen.’
This infuses you with authentic power
rather than external power.”
To assure long-term success, encourage and empower your associates to function at their best. Linking coaching tools with empowerment principles enables your associates to gain competence and confidence with their expanding responsibilities. Continuing to “push the envelope” stimulates people to tap into their passion, release their potential, and perform in service to a shared mission. To load your delegation strategies for deliberate success, consider the following delegation “Traps & Tips:”
People need to understand where you are going and why it’s important. Don’t leave this up to chance. Provide clarity up front. Poorly delegated assignments consume unnecessary time, talent, and treasures. Additionally, without purpose, it’s almost impossible to tap into their passion. And without passion, performance suffers.
Trust is the foundation of empowerment. How can you empower those you do not trust? And if associates cannot be trusted to perform consistent with the vision and values of the organization, they should not have been hired in the first place. Demonstrating that you trust an associate to perform well encourages her to rise to your level of expectation.
If you cannot trust because of a competence issue, then provide additional training. If you cannot trust because of a confidence issue, then provide encouragement. If you cannot trust because of a character issue, then clarify values. Willingness to trust and let go is fundamental to people development. If trust remains an issue, what do you need to do differently to create a trusting culture based on competence, confidence, and character?
“If you want a job done right, you have to do it yourself!” This approach assures that the manager will be overloaded while stifling growth of associates. This form of self imposed, upward delegation stifles creativity and trains people to look to their manager for solutions rather than looking within for generating creative options.
If a manager continues inappropriate involvement with details of a previously delegated assignment, the result can both demoralize an associate and undercut their authority. Taking opportunities away from others detracts from developing their confidence and competence.
“It is a misuse of our power
to take responsibility
for solving problems
that belong to others.”
A significant difference exists between delegating and dumping. Last minute dumping of assignments on an associate tends to produce poor performance results and often generates resentment. Since “haste makes waste,” a small investment of time up-front to effectively delegate significantly improves the probability of achieving the outcomes you are seeking.
The associate must be able make appropriate decisions and to take action. Withholding authority from associates, however, ultimately results in even more work for the manager while limiting growth of associates. We hired people for a reason -- let them earn their salary.
Holding on to a previously delegated assignment communicates a lack of trust and contributes to employee frustration. Instead, delegate and let go.
Managers need to be assured of both timely progress and quality work. If feedback loops are not built into the assignments, communication barriers often result. Clarifying expectations at the time of delegation and building in follow-up checkpoints keeps things moving and applies creative tension to perform.
Items perceived to be urgent are not necessarily important. If the activity does not take you closer to your vision and goals, don’t assign resources to it. If something does not add value, don’t delegate it -- dump it.
People thrive on feedback -- particularly encouragement and acknowledgement. Yet, some managers still practice the old “management by exception” methods. They believe that as long as things go well regarding a delegated assignment, no feedback is necessary. If someone makes a mistake, however, the boss swoops down like a hawk for the kill. Associates soon learn that, if the boss has reason to talk with them, they are in trouble. In this environment, fear immobilizes creativity.
“The greatest danger for most of us
is not that our aim is too high
and we miss it,
but that it is too low
and we hit it.”
1. Identify a compelling purpose
Link the value of an assignment to serving a larger purpose. Every job at Disneyland, for example, focuses on bringing smiles and joy into the lives of guests.
2. Identify who is best suited for the assignment.
u Is the situation best addressed by delegating to one who has the strengths to do the job effectively?
u Might long-range organizational needs be better met by assigning this to stretch an individual into new levels of performance?
3. Load the assignment for success
u EXPLAIN the “big picture” context of the assignment
u EXPLORE both goal and method options.
u ENCOURAGE associates to use their talents and to experiment when appropriate
u EMPOWER associates by giving them appropriate decision-making latitude
4. Clarify desired “deliverables”
u Identify the tangible targets or outcomes
u Clarify the intangible or human element outcomes
u Give associates the latitude to determine how they will achieve the desired results consistent with the vision and values of the company and with their current level of competence
5. Establish an accountability system
u What progress reports are needed to complete the communication loop?
u What measurement criteria do we need to address? (Consider such measures as quality, customer satisfaction, cost, and timeliness.)
u By what date does the project need to be completed?
“My grandfather once told me
that there were two kinds of people:
those who do the work and those who take the credit.
He told me to try to be in the first group;
there was much less competition.”
6. Clarify appropriate authority level
You do not want people holding back on achieving results because of lacking authority. Untapped talent results in both tangible and intangible losses for the company. To assist people in creating deliberate success, clarify what authority level they have related to their responsibilities and release them to function at their best. Talk through the following authority levels with your associates:
Level 1: Act
Level 2: Act, then report
Level 3: Consult first, then act
Level 4: Advise and recommend
Even within the same job role, several levels of authority might be identified. For example, the Director of Marketing may have Level 5 authority to call a departmental planning meeting, and Level 3 authority to implement a new national marketing strategy. Periodic exploration of changing authority levels builds trust, clarifies expectations, and facilitates getting the job done.
7. Clarify consequences up-front
Associates need to understand the benefits and consequences of completing -- or not completing -- an assignment within time, cost, and quality standards. If you have effectively engaged them as “partners” in co-creating the mission and vision of the organization, they will already have a good sense of this element. Nevertheless, delegation provides a great opportunity to link the importance of what they do to the success of the company.
8. Provide appropriate coaching or training
Providing increasingly challenging assignments continues to stretch people and bring out their best. When the assignment, however, is outside of their confidence or competence level, you need to assure deliberate success by providing appropriate coaching or training.
In most cases, people will not tell you that they feel incompetent to do a particular assignment. They may demonstrate their concerns by procrastinating, criticizing, or even exhibiting passive-aggressive behaviors. To achieve deliberate success, build appropriate training tools and coaching methods into the earliest stage of the delegation process
9. Debrief results of completed assignment
At the completion of a delegated assignment, engage your associates in an open coaching process that addresses the following:
Strengths: What went particularly well?
Stretches: What could have been done differently to have produced even more effective results?
10. Celebrate successes
Pay attention to successes -- even the “small” successes. Don’t underestimate the power of a pinpointed “thank you” to encourage associates to function at their best. Sincere and periodic acknowledgements reinforce efforts by individuals and teams to deliver impressive results.
Empowering others with accountability necessitates further exploration of the authority factor. A common point of frustration relates to decision-making authority, or lack of it. I frequently hear both managers and employees say: More often than not, however, people do have the authority, but lack to use it.
During my former career in hospital administration, one of the department directors experienced frustration with my decision making style. While I am a quick decision-maker, I was not quick enough for him. Sometimes I took three days to get back to him with a response to his proposal -- far too long a wait for him. As an action-oriented executive, he came up with a creative solution. The next proposal he sent in for my approval included a note that read: “Unless I hear differently from you, I intend to implement this plan in two days!” And he did! I had a superstar on my hands -- and I needed to learn how to get out of his way and to support him. My job, as his “coach,” included clearing a path through the red tape to facilitate him getting his job done.
“Much of what we call management
simply gets in the way!”
The late Admiral Grace Hopper, near the close of her brilliant career in the US Navy, worked with young officers to teach them how to circumvent the Navy bureaucracy. She role modeled empowerment by encouraging officers to use their talents, trust their judgment, and demonstrate courage in dealing with issues calling for attention. Admiral Hopper coined the phrase:
I encourage leaders to give associates as much authority as they can handle -- and then stretch them even further. Work with your associates. Expand their authority as rapidly as they can demonstrate competence in the decision making process. Encourage them to use their knowledge and skills. Stand behind them when they make a mistake, and look for the learning rather than the culprit. Above all, commit to tapping into and using their talents at the highest level in service to the organization.
“There is no such thing
as a well adjusted slave.”
Steve Clifford, President of National Mobile Television, retained me to work with this leadership team to enhance individual, team, and organizational results in what was an already effective company. At the conclusion of the first of a three-day leadership development workshop, he and I assessed our progress and plans for the next two days. I carefully outlined my content and process intended to achieve his outcomes. After reviewing my action steps for the remainder of the workshop, he looked me in the eye and asked: “Is that the best you can do?”
“Is that the best you can do??!!” Never has a client asked me that question. My self-talk kicked in as I silently reviewed my resume of accomplishments: “Do you know whom you are talking to? I am a seasoned, international consultant. I have been responsible for hundreds of employees, managed multi-million dollar budgets, and consulted with some of the best companies throughout the country.” My defensiveness peaked as I silently recited my resume of accomplishments. I couldn’t believe the audacity of his question.
At that point, I finally paused and reconsidered his question. What a great question! “Is that the best you can do?” Why am I not always asking myself that question? He challenged me to be my best in service to his company --and he had every right to expect my best.
I then looked him in the eye and said: “I would like to have breakfast with you tomorrow morning before the session starts, and I will answer your question then.”
In my hotel room that night, I tore the seminar apart. I re-examined his outcomes and expectations. I tested my approach, my strategies, and my content to assure that they served the client at the highest level. I prepared myself as never before for a meeting with a chief executive officer.
At breakfast the next morning, I again looked Steve in the eye and confidently said: “Yes, that is the best I can do!” His response startled me: “Good, that’s all I wanted to know!”
That CEO challenged me to be and give my best. What a powerful and important lesson! What if everybody in your company challenged themselves with the question: “Is that the best I can do?” And, what if you continually challenged yourself with that same question? In the long-run, both you and the organization win. Consciously doing your best results in “Deliberate Success.”
Thanks for the great lesson, Steve.
In this competitive business climate, sharpening your competitive edge is not an option -- it’s a necessity. Your job, as a leader and coach, is to bring out the best of your associates -- not to solve their problems and not to assume their responsibilities. Use delegation as a means of creating giants out of your associates. You can’t afford to settle for anything less than your best -- and their best.
"The best managers start with a radical assumption:
Each person's greatest room for growth
Eric Allenbaugh, Ph.D.
2002-2003© -- All rights reserved
Dr. Eric Allenbaugh is a seasoned leadership consultant, executive coach, and keynote speaker. To find out more about creating a “deliberately successful” culture, read his most recent book titled DELIBERATE SUCCESS: Realize Your Vision With Purpose, Passion, and Performance (Career Press, 2002). For more information, contact www.allenbaugh.com.
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