Successful managers are – or need to quickly become – effective delegators. Many managers convince themselves, and sometimes others, that they are effectively delegating by assigning many tasks and giving many orders. Unfortunately, however, this is most often indicative of an antithetical situation. Effective delegation is a skill, like any other, that can be learned, practiced, and honed. To do so, managers must understand the difference between delegating and dumping.
To thoroughly develop this understanding, it is useful to consider the differences between delegating and dumping as they relate to five phases: Assignment, Support, Follow-up (or Progress Check), Feedback, and Recurrence.
To begin this discussion, we shall consult dictionary.com for definitions of the key words “delegate” and “dump:”
delegate [del-i-geyt] (v) – to commit (powers, functions, etc.) to another as agent or deputy
dump [duhmp] (v) – to transfer or rid oneself of suddenly and irresponsibly.
While the definitions above allude to the magnitude of contrast between these practices, the discussion below elaborates on the five stages mentioned above to further elucidate the “Dos” and “Don’ts” of effective delegation. The remainder of this post focuses on descriptions of effective delegation, contrasting them with characterizations of dumping.
The assignment phase of delegation consists of the literal act and includes all communication required to define or explain the task, process, or outcome for which the delegate is to be responsible. An assignment can be given verbally, in writing, or pictorially; any medium that conveys the intended message is acceptable.
The support phase is mostly self-explanatory. Receiving an assignment – even a clearly-defined one – does not ensure that a delegate possesses all the resources necessary to successfully execute it. Support begins during the assignment phase and continues throughout the delegate’s execution of tasks. It is of particular importance when the assigned responsibility is a growth opportunity for the delegate.
Follow Up (Check Progress)
Follow-up is closely related to support, but remains a distinct phase of delegation. The delegate’s progress is compared to expectations, or otherwise evaluated, and support needs are reassessed. Feedback, discussed later, is also provided on the delegate’s performance to date.
As suggested previously, the feedback phase begins during follow-up and continues throughout task execution and beyond.
The recurrence phase of delegation returns the process to its beginning and the cycle repeats.
The overlap of the five phases of delegation can be visualized with a simple Gantt-type diagram, adapted to depict its cyclical nature:
The relative sizes of the phases in the diagram are not intended to convey more than the overlap. Relative importance, durations, or ratios should not be inferred from this diagram; these differ with each delegate and each assignment.
It should be clear by now that effective delegation leads to greater success for individuals and teams in the short term and the long term. Successful leaders recognize this and strive to improve their skills. Subordinates of effective delegators experience greater job satisfaction than their dumped-upon colleagues. This typically results in a more cohesive and more productive team with less turnover. Who wouldn’t want that?
If you’d like help becoming a more effective delegator, or need help dealing with a dumper, feel free to contact JayWink Solutions. We’ll get the right person on it right away!
PS: Since this post was written, I have encountered additional articles with similar themes. For example, two columns published in the February 2019 issue of Plant Services express similar concerns with delegation and dumping.
“The Hazards of Lazy Leadership” echoes concerns of effective delegation, explicitly requiring managers to retain accountability for delegates’ performance. Several other issues associated with delegation are also mirrored in the column.
“Totally Poor Management” satirizes the frustration many of us feel with the state of leadership in our organizations. While snark and sarcasm are the hidden gems of “The Third Degree,” this column employs them in a frontal assault. Bravo, Captain!
Jody W. Phelps, MSc, PMP®, MBA
JayWink Solutions, LLC
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