How many managers in your organization are wasting their time and talent performing tasks that they should be delegating? Research shows a startling 41 percent of activities managers are working on are actually items that could and should be performed by the people that report to them. While it may feel good to roll up the sleeves and knock out these tasks, it’s a disservice to the people who should be developing their capabilities by performing them. Lead at your level or get out of the way and let someone else do it.
To delegate means “to commit decisions, power and functions to another.” When working on delegation with executive leaders in strategic coaching engagements, we begin by identifying which types of tasks typically can be delegated. Here is a partial list of things to consider for delegation:
- Recurring decisions and actions that others can handle
- Priorities that you don’t have time to handle but others can
- Tactical aspects of projects
- Meeting attendance
Meeting attendance is an obvious but often overlooked area of delegation. Consider the past month of meetings you attended: how many included yourself and one or more of your direct reports? Eliminate the duplicative nature of people from the same area attending meetings. Research shows that 20 percent of meeting participants shouldn’t be there. Should you?
As you delegate tasks and decisions to others, the following four elements should be present:
- Authority: power and autonomy to make relevant decisions has been declared.
- Capability: person possesses or can acquire the knowledge, skill and resources to get the job done.
- Accountability: responsibility for completing the task or making the decision has been clearly communicated and accepted.
- Assessment: taking time after completion of the task or decision to review the outcome.
Too often, leaders become bottlenecks to their organization’s activities and resources because of their failure to delegate. With the speed of events and communication in today’s business environment, having to wait for several levels of approval or a leader with too much on their plate is a killer. As Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said, “Companies rarely die from moving too fast, and they frequently die from moving too slow.” An effective exercise to overcome this issue is to visually map out the tasks and decisions in your group and then determine who should optimally be responsible for each.
Hold up: before you start in on deciding which of the activities and decisions to delegate, first consider the following: are all of these activities and decisions still necessary? There’s no sense in delegating items that shouldn’t be there in the first place. Take a chainsaw to your day planner and cut out the stuff that isn’t continuing to drive value and help you reach your goals.
The most common delegation trap is to always delegate to the same person. While I understand most leaders have their go-to person, sliding everything their way is a recipe for burnout. Avoid the temptation of delegating the majority of decisions and tasks to the same person. This will ensure that they have the capacity and energy to assist with the truly important matters. It will also help you develop others to become the future go-to people and ensure they don’t feel alienated by not having the opportunity to show what they can contribute.
Once you’ve successfully delegated decisions and tasks to a wider group of people, offer high-level guidance but do not micromanage how they complete the task. The power of diversity of thought is that others may have different approaches and techniques that you can learn from and add to your tool kit once you get to the assessment phase of the delegated task. Also, be on the lookout for people who have been delegated to, but continually seek to bring you back into the mix. Don’t allow reverse delegation to occur.
As you initially spread your delegation wings, it may be helpful to complete a Delegation Action Plan. This is a simple one-page overview I’ve created to help ensure that the delegation goes as smoothly and successful as possible. It includes a checklist of the key delegation criteria, items such as “capability is sufficient” and “accountability is in place,” to provide a game plan for success.
Effective delegation enables leaders to invest more of their time thinking and planning for the business. A picture of the inability to delegate is the leader running on the activity treadmill, taking on more work than they need to, sweating every little task, and stinking up the place. Step off the activity treadmill, inventory tasks, decisions, and meetings, and create a delegation action plan to ensure an effective cool down. Lead at your level.