The job of a manager is to get work done through the efforts of others, in line with the direction of the firm. Managers always remain accountable for the results, but often is it not feasible or desirable for managers to do all the work themselves. In a sense the manager has a role as an “air traffic controller”, connecting people with tasks that they are both capable of doing and that moves the organisations towards its goals.
Delegation serves a number of purposes including:
- Promotion of succession planning through giving others opportunities to manage aspects of delivery.
- Enabling more effective resources to focus on achieving specific ends.
- Enabling managers to achieve a wider set of deliverables.
- Enabling the effective use of organisational resources.
- Creating scope for more responsibility of the manager through an effective team.
- Teaching critical thinking, effective judgement and accountability to individuals, thus allowing them to express in their chosen mediums.
- Involving employees that are closer to the coalface in decision-making.
- Decreasing decision making time and increasing the speed of execution.
To make it practical it is possible to think of management in terms of 4 specific delegation levels.
- Accountable: Must achieve the final result.
- Responsible: Must do the work for a specific responsibility.
- Stakeholder: Is a key participant in terms of decision making.
- Informed: Is informed of the final result.
To effectively delegate a task you need to critically analyse which different role players are involved at different levels and whether they fulfil any of these specific roles.
You would then indicate who is accountable (must usually be one person or group), who is responsible, who are stakeholders and who is just informed of the outcome of the process.
The same person may carry more than one role and it is quite often the case that a person is both accountable and responsible for a task or result. Usually subject matter experts, or “political” contacts may become involved as stakeholders and the informed is usually superiors or downstream process owners.
For many people there is a critical flaw in the delegation of authority type of framework and this is primarily through not understanding that delegation of authority is about transferring authority to another person. By transferring authority, you are also transferring the role and responsibility for its achievement to that person. It does not mean that you are creating a long chain of sign-offs and the CEO needs to take accountability for every decision. The CEO is accountable for the profitability of an organisation or in the case of government for the achievement of a mandate. To achieve this goal they put in place a capable team to achieve this goal and support and coordinate the functioning of this team to achieve the end result. Each of these team members is accountable to the CEO and each of these teams accountable to their manager. Ultimately this then creates a framework in which each person carries his or her own accountability and responsibilities clearly and the end goal is achieved.
Take the case of a dysfunctional organisation in relation to expense management – which is quite typical in many organisations. Lets take the case in which a CEO signs off every expense. In a functional organisation the CEO would sign-off a budget and expenses will be managed in line with the budget. Anyone that does not respect the budget will be dismissed and someone put in place that does. This creates a functional devolution of power, authority and the enablement of business process that operate autonomously. If there are deviations in the budget either from a top down or bottom up level then this is dealt with in a specific process that may require additional approval from a higher level such as the CEO. This type of structure enables process efficiency and for CEO’s to focus on strategy to achieve profitability – while people understand that expenses gets managed in relation to a budget. It may be a simplistic set of circumstances described – but it highlights that effective processes are enabled through devolution of power.
When you give someone else a task you are assigning authority to that person and the scope and limit of that authority should be made clear. If they do however act within the limits of that authority – this must be respected. This is
An increasingly important idea in delegation is the parity principle. The parity principle states that neither the manager nor subordinate should be held responsible for things that is beyond their control or influence. While it is tempting to use this principle to say that “that was out of my control” – we must read it as a call to effectively transfer control. If you give a person a task – you must transfer control for all the variables that are involved in the delivery of that task, or else you should not be surprised if their delivery is dependent on variables not controlled and they do not achieve the task.
Another key point is that to give authority is to expect results. Authority is not a reminder service – it is a call to action that requires the participant to act and to enable others to achieve the same.
Effective delegation starts when some basics are in place:
- Explain why you are delegating. A person accepting a task must understand the bigger picture and context of what is being proposed.
- Set clear expections. A clear description of the outcome or deliverable expected is very critical.
- Give relevant guidance. You should be clear on what is expected as an outcome and provide any specific guidance on the process and any resources that may be useful in the process.
- Clearly define the standards and goals. Setting a goal requires clarity on what level or quality is expected to be achieved.
- Ensure clarification of authority and responsibility and that is clear where the scope starts and ends.
- Involve the person in defining the scope and limits of the task. Maybe the person that you are delegating to is open to taking on more or less of the task than expected.
- Request the completion of the task.
- Set a timeframe for completion that is realistic.
- Provide assistance with overcoming road-blocks. Often there are things that stand in the way of achieving specific outcomes. If this is the case it is the task of the manager to assist in overcoming these.
- Provide feedback. The manager must highlight both positive and negative aspects of the progress with the task and look at constructive ways to move the task forward.
- Always agree on the way forward.
There is a lot more to making delegation work properly but this short guideline should put you on the right path in terms of realising that delegation requires a lot of hard work and clear management of expectations at every turn. The benefit is that delegation allows everyone to achieve more and enables organisations to move closer to their goals at a more rapid pace.