In his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” Stephen Covey talks about the correct way to delegate to other people. If you do delegation well, you will achieve a tremendous increase in your ability to deliver. If you adopt the wrong approach you will end up fighting fires created by other people. Ignore the fundamentals of good delegation at your peril!
The most powerful way to leverage your time is through delegation. As an individual you only have 24 hours in any day to create the results you want. By delegating responsibility for tasks to other people, you can increase the number of man hours you control in each day.
Delegation, particularly for people who are learning to manage other people is often one of the most difficult things to do right. If managed poorly, rather than creating more time you will end up spending more time solving crises created by other people or using their time ineffectively and inefficiently.
Stephen Covey identifies two main styles of delegating, to which I will add a third. In today’s sophisticated work environment, only one of these styles will produce the desired result of multiplying your effectiveness.
In this style of delegation you give the person detailed instructions for every task they have to perform including when and how to do the tasks. You end up telling them “go for this, go for that…” hence the name! You’ve probably come across someone like this – the micro manager who wants to know everything you’re doing and control every aspect of your work.
This style of delegation works up to a point. The micro manager can manage several people all of whom can be performing specific tasks which if suitably co-ordinated can lead to a greater result than any one person on their own.
However there are several limitations to this approach. The micro- manager can only manage as much as he can control during the space of one working day. His team have little room to contribute their own ideas and creative inputs. If properly managed these inputs could deliver a far greater result.
This is often the first style of delegation people adopt as they start supervising others. It is a simple extension of their approach to managing themselves.
Delegation by Abdication
I think name tells you that this is not a good approach. This is often adopted by people who lack self confidence, who have had a bad experience with a micro-manager, or don’t have a clear plan for what they want to achieve.
It is often mistaken for true delegation by stewardship that we will discuss below, but it differs in a number of critical ways.
In this style the manager tells his team roughly what he wants done and then leaves them to get on with it. Sounds ok? Well, there are plenty of potential problems:
The team members may not know what to do and may end up doing their own thing.
Unless the people being delegated to are used to working in teams with each other for a long period of time, there is little chance that the activities will be co-ordinated and produce coherent results.
There are no expectations of results so no-one knows where they are going. They’ll get somewhere sometime, but there’s no guarantee they will produce anything that is useful or that they will do it in a reasonable timescale.
Essentially, the person delegating has abdicated their responsibility.
Delegation by Stewardship
Delegation by Stewardship, as advocated in the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” takes the best of the two methods you’ve read about so far and fixes their weaknesses. It does not dictate the methods – those are left to the person, but it does focus on delivering specific results.
This process starts with a clear vision of what is to be achieved at the end of the process. This can be a project goal or it can be a clear set of metrics that describe the output of a particular task.
The manager shares the vision with the person who is going to be doing the work and they jointly develop a plan and identify the gaps in the persons knowledge. If the person doing the work does not have much experience, the manager may have to do a lot of this on their behalf.
The next step is to set up the ground rules for the work – when it has to be done, how you want progress to be reported, important things that should be avoided, any problems that you can foresee, what resources are available…
Finally the person should be given clear performance standards that have to be achieved and the consequences of both good and bad performance should be explained.
As the person carries out the work, you will encourage them to report progress and problems and also to ask for help where they need it. However, you will give them the latitude to carry out the task within the guidelines, provided that they meet the agreed objectives.
Stephen Covey advocates the method of delegation by stewardship in the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. This method empowers members of your team to achieve outstanding results while at the same time ensuring that they stay focussed on the big picture. It enables you to maximise the leverage that you can achieve from delegating to other people.