Delegation and Time Management

Why Managers Must Learn to Delegate Effectively

By Don Jacobson

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"Lions cannot afford to hunt mice because they literally will starve to death, even if they catch them. Lions and all large carnivores have to hunt game large enough to justify the investment, so they have to hunt antelope and zebra. Why is this important? Because most senior executives are really big on chipmunks."
                                                                      -- Newt Gingrich


Delegation skills may be one of the most neglected supervisory competencies in government. This is unfortunate, because supervisors who do not delegate effectively are usually so busy putting out the fires in their inbox that they are too busy to develop their people, too busy to plan, and too busy to think about how the big picture impacts their work. In short, they are too busy to lead. Consequently, it is critical that supervisors at all levels learn good delegation skills and practice them consistently. Delegation is not rocket science, but mastery does require deliberate practice. And it's never too late to learn.


Many supervisors have little patience for delegation because they have had too many instances of assigning a task only to have it completed incorrectly or not at all. This often leads managers to conclude that “If you want it done right you have to do it yourself.” Other supervisors fail to delegate because they have trouble letting go of the kind of work they did before they got promoted to management. By not delegating effectively, these managers get pulled into a vicious cycle of being too busy to help their team members learn the skills they need to take on higher level work.


Why Delegated Tasks Don’t Get Done

Over the past few years I have had several discussions with groups of managers about delegation. I usually have them brainstorm about why tasks they have delegated do not get done (or done right). The list is always the same:

The employee does not:
  • understand the task;
  • have the skills to complete the task;
  • have the tools or resources needed;
  • understand why the task need to be done;
  • know how to deal with an obstacle;
  • think the task is important; or
  • want to complete the task.

How many of those reasons could be precluded or mitigated by better two-way communication about the task?


How to Delegate

There are several excellent books and articles that provide a simple methodology for effective delegation. My favorites are If You Want It Done Right, You Don’t Have to Do It Yourself by Donna Genett, Delegating Effectively by Clemson Turregano and The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey by Ken Blanchard and William Oncken. They are all quick reads and quite helpful.


Some of the keys to effective delegation include:

  1. Assigning the task at the appropriate level;
  2. Being clear about the task (in your own mind and in how you explain it);
  3. Ensuring the person to whom you are delegating understands the task;
  4. Agreeing how often or at what stages you will meet to discuss progress (if needed); and
  5. Holding those follow-up conversations.

At first blush, this might sound like micromanagement. It most definitely is not. A key part of the process is to calibrate these steps to the capabilities and experience level of the employee to whom you are assigning a given task. Some employees will be quick at understanding the task or will have the skills and judgment to get the job done with no further follow-up. Others will need more explanation at the beginning and support along the way. These factors will be easier to gauge as you get to know your team members and their capabilities better. And the time required tends to diminish as employees gain experience. The level of follow-up required should be agreed upon during the initial conversation when the task is first assigned, but the employee should always feel welcome to ask for clarification when needed.


Delegation as a Developmental Tool


"Leaders who are strongest at delegation are those who are dedicated to using the tasks that come across their desks as development opportunities for others."
                                                                           -- Clemson Turregano


When you are first promoted to supervisor, it is critical to think through how your role in the organization has changed. Instead of being a star performer, you must learn to get work done through others. The role of the supervisor is to develop the capacity of their employees, create an environment where they will be highly motivated, and forge them into a strong team.


It is helpful to think of delegation as an opportunity to develop the job skills of your team members. Most employees find it motivating to have opportunities to learn and grow. And those new skills will make them more effective employees.



So by learning to delegate effectively, the piles in your inbox will get smaller, the capabilities and motivation of your team members will increase, and the time you have to think about big picture issues, to plan, and to develop the capacity of your team will expand. What’s not to like about that?


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