What are key delegation skills managers need to feel comfortable enough to delegate ?
It is not wrong to “stretch” people’s capabilities by giving them assignments that are slightly harder than what they’re used to.
It is very wrong to make mistakes on the “slightly”. If the gap between capabilities and challenge is too big, chances are real that your delegation turns into a negative experience. All involved parties will feel like loosing. It does not matter what kind of follow-up, monitoring, coaching, and so on you may have planned.
Appropriate delegation is a very important, highly valuable exercise, but also a very delicate one.
Therefore I suggest the following as preparation before a manager ever delegates:
- Good observation of what an employee has already achieved and how (s)he has done that.
- Good listening to the questions, the enthusiasm and reasoning the employee is producing about ongoing missions. Is (s)he already processing facts, ideas, insights, opinions, etc. that are strictly spoken not part of the actual mission ? Does (s)he go beyond the task?
- Good reflection about the development opportunities the delegation may bring for the employee. Are the skills (s)he’s going to practice right for him/her ? Do they fit into ambitions, career paths, etc.?
- Asking feedback from the appropriate colleagues about how the employee has been doing, to challenge/confirm the manager’s observations.
Ideally, the practice of these skills can help to build a conviction about the commitment and the capability of the employee. And also about the development opportunities the challenge could bring for him/her. If the stretch is a “healthy” one, the delegation will have very positive consequences for his/her development. Nothing beats learning on stretching assignment.
Now that you are well prepared and as sure as you can be, you need to talk about your intentions with your employee.
I have good experiences with this overview of topics to be covered. I have built it up through practice and it was also inspired by Stephen Robbins’ “Interpersonal skills handbook”.
- What and Why
Explain what you are delegating and why you have chosen him/her for this mission. It’s in this part of the conversation that your preparation will be of high value. It is perfectly ok to share with him/her parts of your own preparation process. That way you make clear in a very authentic way what has brought you to your delegation decision.
Agree on the Goal and the Performance Standards (KPI)
Probably the achievement of the delegated job will somehow become part of the yearly objectives of your employee. Even when objectives have limited freedom or interpretation, try to agree on them and on the way they will be measured.
Define the resources: time, information, budget, people.
This is a very important part of delegation that is often neglected. The “extra” project will cost extra time, energy and resources from you employee. Quite often, manager and employee are very enthusiastic about the delegation opportunity they’re discussing. And they “forget” these aspects. Later on, it will become clear what kind of extra efforts or sources are needed. And that it cannot simply be done above all the rest. Then a lot of talking will take place between manager and employee to maybe finally come to the conclusion that no fundamental solutions are available.
If there are possibilities on creating extra resources, I strongly recommend to discuss them at the very beginning. At that moment you may still be able to get extra support. Once the project is ongoing, this becomes far more difficult.
You may delegate something 100% but you may still want to build in certain limits.
- Can your employee decide alone about any kind of amounts?
- Can (s)he decide alone about hiring and firing people?
- Can (s)he inform/communicate towards all stakeholders anything (s)he wants?
- Can (s)he escalate eventual conflicts to higher levels of the organisation without your agreement?
These are very important questions. If things go wrong here, they may very seriously damage reputations. Your own, your employee’s, your department’s, etc.
You may delegate something 100%, you as manager remain the end responsible.
- Follow up
Agree on the follow-up, on how the progress will be monitored
Delegation does not mean saying: “All the best, I fully trust, and we see each other back in a year for the results”.
It means that you agree on how to follow up at regular moments. It means that you listen to the progress made or not made and try to support or coach where needed.
Besides “usual” matters that need follow-up, there can of course be real problems.
What you may expect in a delegation scenario, is that your employee comes to you in case of real problems. And not the other way around. As your employee will be much more “in the situation” than you , you will probably not be aware of all the eventual problems that may arise. At least I recommend so, because if you are aware and ahead of everything, you have not truly delegated.
If (s)he is not doing so, or way too late, there’s interest to question the delegation. And maybe also the collaboration and trust between parties in general.
Whatever the nature of collaboration, delegation or autonomy , they can only be successful is there’s trust. A trustful, safe environment. A context where people feel comfortable to work on delegated missions. Where they know they will not be “shot down” if the result is not entirely achieved due to errors, to follow-up, or whatever problem.
A trustful relationship between you and your employee is necessary here.