Delegating: Learning to Let Go
By From the career experts at Robert Half
It's a common sight in many companies: the supervisor who stays
long after the staff has left and carries home a bulging
briefcase each weekend. Managers often avoid taking their full
allotment of vacation time because they know the longer they're
away from the office, the larger the pile of catch-up work will
be when they return. In some cases, the cause may be overwork,
but in others it's that these individuals do not properly.
All managers know that part of the job is to delegate
assignments to their staff, but many supervisors, particularly
newly promoted ones, find it harder to practice than to
preach. In fact, one of the toughest parts of managing is
learning to effectively delegate.
Here are a few common
issues associated with delegating:
Why managers avoid delegating
There are many reasons
managers do not delegate, including the following:
Supervisors may fear being perceived as lazy, ineffective
or unable to keep up with their work. But managers
who delegate appropriately are more valuable to the
organization because they can spend their time on strategic
initiatives and higher-level projects.
Many managers assume it takes more time to tell someone how
to complete a task than to do it themselves. But if
work is delegated to the right person, a period of initial
training will allow the worker to eventually assume all
responsibility for the assignment, saving the supervisor
significant time over the long term.
Many supervisors think that no one can do the work as well
as they can. But when a manager adequately trains a
worker and gradually introduces him or her to additional
responsibility, the employee is often able to complete the
Some managers may fear that a member of the staff could do
the work better; by delegating, supervisors worry they are
potentially endangering their jobs. But by not taking
advantage of the talents of their employees, managers limit
the productivity of their teams. In addition, a
strong group of employees often reflects positively on the
supervisor who oversees them.
Because they bear the ultimate responsibility for the
outcome of a project, bosses may worry they will suffer if
their subordinates make mistakes. But with adequate
checkpoints and controls, managers can be sufficiently
apprised of progress to recognize trouble early enough to
The case for delegation
Effective delegation can
provide you with the following benefits:
You can often accomplish more by delegating because you can
assign routine tasks, such as gathering data for a monthly
report, to others. Doing so gives you more time to
focus on planning and strategic initiatives.
Staff members become better trained and, by exercising more
authority, more confident and competent. They also
remain engaged at work and are less likely to pursue other
employment opportunities. Furthermore, the experience
and skills enhancement employees gain prepare them for more
challenging projects and eventual promotion, allowing them
to provide even greater value to the company.
A well-trained staff that is able accomplish more helps
build your reputation within the firm. Senior
executives may consider you for further promotion,
especially since you have developed a pipeline of confident
performers who are able to step in for you.
How to begin
Deciding what to delegate and to whom can seem
overwhelming. Here are some tips to help get you
Make a list of projects others on your team are qualified
to handle, but avoid the temptation to simply offload the
chores you don't like and hold on to the ones you do.
Evaluate the talents, strengths and weaknesses of your
staff and consider which ones would be most appropriate for
each task. For example, if you have a team member
with PowerPoint expertise, you could assign that person to
draft a presentation for a quarterly meeting. You
might ask for volunteers if you are in doubt.
You can delegate different levels of authority. A
very experienced staff member may be able to handle an
entire cost-benefit analysis with little supervision.
A person with less experience could work on a portion of a
project, such as gathering cost data, while you check
periodically on progress and make suggestions. New
people may need more guidance and coaching, but over time
they will gain confidence and experience.
Before handing a project off, be sure the staff member has
a proper understanding of the assignment's background,
including priority level, deadlines, available resources,
expectations and how performance will be evaluated.
The more information you can provide at the beginning of
the task, the better the chance the employee will do well.
Be supportive without hovering or micromanaging. If
you wind up doing all the work, staff members will not
develop the ability to do it themselves and you will not
have delegated anything.
Resist the temptation to take an assignment back if trouble
arises. If an employee comes to you about a problem
with the project you delegated, don't take on the problem
or present a ready-made solution. Instead, give the
person some approaches for attacking the issue him- or
Inevitably, some projects will not go smoothly, and staff
members will make mistakes. Instead of using these
instances as a reason for holding onto assignments, focus
on what went wrong and how an issue can be avoided in the
future. Consider the episode a learning opportunity
for both you and your team.
Finally, always show your appreciation for your staff's
efforts. Give them due credit, and praise those who
exceed your expectations.
Founded in 1948, Robert Half Finance & Accounting, a division of Robert Half International Inc., the world's largest specialized financial recruiting service and a leading authority on workplace and management trends. The company has more than 350 offices throughout North America, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific region. Learn more at www.roberthalf.com.
Copyright 2008 Robert Half International. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without prior written authority.
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