Delegation is the act of assigning work to other people, generally people who report to you. It’s supposed to be a way to ensure that the right people are doing the right jobs, and that large pieces of work will ultimately be completed. It’s something every manager will ultimately encounter, and their effectiveness at delegation often reflects the performance of a team (or department).
In many ways, it’s more art than it is skill. You have to know a lot about other people: their knowledge, their abilities, their sense of dedication, how much information they need before starting a project, their trustworthiness. It’s not something that comes easily.
Which leads to a sobering fact: some managers don’t delegate well, or even at all.
Everyday work is like a pyramid scheme, with you (as manager) at the top. (There may be people above you, but we’re not talking about them right now.) You’re responsible for everything that you’ve been assigned to accomplish, including being accountable for work you don’t do yourself. It can be a heavy burden, and it can be very intimidating.
Where most managers fail in delegation is with one thing: trust. One of the hardest things for most people is to have faith that the same quality of work they perceive in themselves can be done by someone else. A lack of trust often means that the manager takes on too much responsibility. This leads to managers trying to do too much, and often doing a worse job overall. It’s a loss of learning opportunity for others — they’re not even given the chance to learn from mistakes. And you also increase your risk by not spreading your knowledge to others — if you’re absent, it might be very difficult (if not impossible) to handle a given problem.
On the flipside is trusting someone too much, and assigning them work they’re not capable of delivering effectively. This leads to missed deadlines, unhappy clients, and often far more stress than either manager or member really needs to experience.
These are the things I am aware of when I delegate to someone on my team. And they are things I struggle with constantly. Over the last few months, I’ve done a very poor job of it, too. I’ve had issues with both lack of trust and too much trust: not believing someone else can handle well-defined (but risky) processes, and not following up to ensure that things I’ve said are understood and that people know how to deliver the assignment.
Yes, Torin, you can repeat all the things I’ve said to you over the years right back to me.
It’s important as manager to delegate work. For those of you just starting out in this role, it might not be obvious yet. So allow me to throw out a few points:
- Education. By assigining work to other people, you’re allowing them to grow their skills.
- Responsibility. It won’t develop within a person until they’ve been tasked with it.
- Volume. You cannot do the work of 10 people, no matter how important or desperate a situation might be.
- Point of View. As a manager, you get to see the big picture and help direct the actions of many. It’s very rare that a more junior person can see the big picture properly.
- Sanity. Unless you’re looking to burn out with 16 hour days, seven days a week, you need to throw work at someone else.
- Trust. Show your team you trust them by giving them the hard work.
- Support. Similarly, show your team that you’re there for them to make sure they can deliver.
No, I don’t have all the answers. But I do have some experience, and a moment to sit back and review allows me to look at where I’ve gone astray and what I need to correct it.
First step? I’ve got two Senior developers now. It’s about time I put them to work.