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Effective delegation

"I not only use all the brains I have, but all I can borrow." – Woodrow Wilson

The hallmark of good management is effective delegation. Delegation is when managers or supervisors give responsibility and authority to subordinates to complete a task, and let the subordinates figure out how the task can be accomplished. Effective delegation develops people who ultimately become more fulfilled and productive. Managers become more fulfilled and productive themselves as they learn to count on their staff members and are freed up to attend to more strategic issues.

Delegation is often very difficult for new managers, particularly if they have had to scramble to start the organization or start a major new service themselves. Many managers want to remain comfortable, making the same decisions they have always made. They believe they can do a better job themselves. They don't want to risk losing any of their power and stature (ironically, they do lose these if they don't learn to delegate effectively). Often, they don't want to risk giving authority to subordinates in case they fail and impair the organization.

However, there are basic approaches to delegation that, with practice, become the backbone of effective management and development. Thomas R. Horton, in Delegation and Team Building: No Solo Acts Please (Management Review, September 1992, pp. 58-61) suggests the following general steps to accomplish delegation:

1. Delegate the whole task to one person. This gives the person the responsibility and increases their motivation.

2. Select the right person. Assess the skills and capabilities of subordinates and assign the task to the most appropriate one.

3. Clearly specify your preferred results. Give information on what, why, when, who and where. You might leave the “how" to them. Write this information down.

4. Delegate responsibility and authority “assign the task, not the method to accomplish it . Let the subordinate complete the task in the manner they choose, as long as the results are what the manager specifies. Let the employee have strong input as to the completion date of the project. Note that you may not even know how to complete the task yourself “this is often the case with higher levels of management.

5. Ask the employee to summarize back to you, their impressions of the project and the results you prefer

6. Get ongoing non-intrusive feedback about progress on the project. This is a good reason to continue to get weekly, written status reports from all direct reports. Reports should cover what they did last week, plan to do next week and any potential issues. Regular employee meetings provide this ongoing feedback, as well.

7. Maintain open lines of communication . Don't hover over the subordinate, but sense what they're doing and support their checking in with you along the way.

8. If you're not satisfied with the progress, don't take the project back . Continue to work with the employee and ensure they perceive the project as their responsibility.

9. Evaluate and reward performance. Evaluate results more than methods. Address insufficient performance and reward successes.

Developed by Carter McNamara, Free Management Library

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