Contributed Column

The Manager's Corner

Optimal delegation

Mary, a mid-level manager, is told she “is not working as efficiently as she should be.” William, a lawyer, is having difficulty achieving his billable hours target. Susan is asked to manage several team members, but does not give them adequate instructions and supervision. Frank, an accountant, complains he is given insufficient work to develop his skills. Karen, a senior manager, finds herself working crushingly long hours.

What do the above have in common? You might say the common thread is that these individuals have work management issues. In fact, Mary, William, Susan, Frank and Karen’s supervisors are not practicing optimal delegation. Although the symptoms are manifesting in different ways, delegation is the underlying problem.

Why do excellent delegation skills matter? What is optimal delegation and how can you incorporate it in your work?

Why does delegation matter?

Poor delegators are:

Chronically overworked and feel they are “running on empty.”

Often “wheel spinners” who work long hours, accomplish relatively little, and struggle to meet their financial goals.

So busy doing their work that they don’t have the time/energy to build their business.

Their teams can suffer from “feast or famine” workflows, low morale, high turnover, poor communication, dysfunctional competition, inadequate training, and a general lack of collaboration and collegiality.

People who optimally delegate are often the most successful professionals. Of course, some people do not have the opportunity to delegate or have no one to whom they can delegate. If that’s the case, so be it. However, if you have opportunities to delegate and you fail to do so optimally, then that should concern you.

The components of optimal delegation

Stripped to its essentials, optimal delegation consists of:

Getting the right people, with the right training and the right attitude on your team. This will not happen by chance; you must identify, cultivate, and retain these people and you must do it day in and day out.

Analyzing every piece of work that comes across your desk to determine whether a portion or all of it can be delegated. Your comfort level about delegating the work will directly correlate to the level of confidence you have in your team members.

Having a reliable and user-friendly system to keep track of the work so no “slippage” occurs, combined with excellent ongoing communication.

Being confident that you will have enough work coming through the pipeline so that, even if you delegate what should appropriately be delegated, you will still have more than enough work to do yourself, in addition to supervising the work of others.

Incorporating optimal delegation skills in your workplace

Take a look at your work style preferences and determine where the delegation slippage is occurring within your team. Typically, the slippage occurs either because 1) the delegator is not “triaging” the work appropriately, quickly, and consistently; 2) one or more team members are weak links in the chain (and therefore the delegator lacks full confidence in their work); and/or 3) the delegator is insecure about having enough work left to do him or herself. I’d suggest you determine where the problems lie in your work style and then consider how you want to address those. It’s critical to examine your own attitude about delegation and make sure you endorse delegation as an important component of your professional success.

Like many non-technical skills that are important in your professional success, delegation is likely one you were never formally taught. However, it is never too late to examine your delegation skills, make changes as appropriate, and incorporate best practices. It’s not rocket science, and it does make a difference.

Emily Morrow (www.emilymorrow.com) of Shelburne provides tailored consulting services to business owners, professional practice firms, executives, and HR personnel.

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