Even in small businesses, great delegation is a vital skill for any business person who wants to expand or increase turnover. However, the problem is, very few have formal training in it. Many folk lurch along, doing their best, often overwhelmed by their own work as well as the needs of their people, trying not to feel resentful at the time it takes to train others.
If we carry on doing tasks that others at a lower pay rate, lesser skill set, or less responsibility can do as well, many of the following consequences happen.
1. We’re effectively paying ourselves that lower rate
2. We’re an expensive resource for our firm
3. Those tasks could be a job for someone else
4. We’re blocking growth and learning opportunities for someone else
5. Our company will plateau in growth
6. We may well burn out from exhaustion, trying to do everything
7. We’ll probably work longer hours than we should be (with consequences for health, relationships and profitability of the firm)
8. It has an impact on the nation’s productivity.
One of the hardest things to learn, when you first become responsible for other staff, is to get out of the way and let your staff get on with the job. Good delegators give their subordinates as much responsibility and authority as they are able to accept but at the same time maintain control. Paradoxically, they increase their own power by sharing it with others.
‘People do what you inspect, not so much what you expect. Set timelines and check up on them.’ – Owen Hoskin (a well-respected NZ educator and contributor to ‘About Time for Teaching – 120 time-saving tips for teachers and those who support them’.
A common mistake in delegation is passing work on too quickly and not setting enough relevant inspection points. Many would-be delegators don’t realise it’s a four-stage process, not a single action. If you don’t work through each phase with your delegatee, at some point you’ll almost certainly have to backtrack.
The four stages of delegation:
1. Directive delegation. Initially a new person needs clear instructions and lots of guidance, not the opportunity to use their initiative. They don’t know enough to need much support, so they won’t yet make many decisions. Your behaviour therefore needs to be highly directive, rather than supportive. In fact, the level of support is quite low. There will also probably be quite a bit of positive correction and adjustment, depending on the complexity of the task.
2. Coaching-style delegation. They start to understand the process. You encourage them to come with questions; you give plenty of explanations, continue to instruct, have lots of reviews, and also support them in learning and applying new skills and knowledge. You’ll be providing high levels of both direction and support.
These first two levels are where you do a lot of the inspecting Owen mentions above.
3. Supportive delegation. These folk now have a good grip on the process. You’re weaning both yourself and them off lots of ‘telling’ – direction is low. Instead, you mainly give them high support in making their decisions. Your role is to help where needed, review their actions and oversee results as they increase their level of responsibility. If you’ve got someone reluctant to take that next step, still constantly coming for assistance, ask them to bring two solutions for each question they come with. You’ll cut down their queries by at least half; you’re forcing them to think first, instead of ask first!
4. High-level delegation. Now you’re free! Your delegatee not only has an excellent understanding of the task, but they have the confidence to get on with the job. They can still come for help if they need it, but that’s a rare occurrence. You can now give only low support and low direction, and only need to review their work occasionally.
[This 4-step process is expanded in a couple of Kenneth Blanchard’s books, including ‘Leadership and the One Minute Manager‘.]