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Delegation of authority

“If you want to do a few small things right, do them yourself. If you want to do great things and make a big impact, learn to delegate.” John C. Maxwell

delegation

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So what is delegation?

The importance of delegation

Ways to delegate authority

Six steps to effective delegation

Delegation case study 1:

Delegation case study 2:

Delegation case study 3:

Final thoughts

To be an effective leader it's important to learn the art of delegation. 

One of the most difficult transitions for leaders to make is the shift from doing to leading. 

This article will break down exactly what it (really) is, and how you can do it effectively.

So what is delegation?

The delegation of authority refers to the division of authority to the subordinate. It is the organizational process of a manager dividing their own work among all their people and giving them the responsibility to accomplish their respective tasks. Along with responsibility, they also share the corresponding amount of authority so that responsibilities can be completed efficiently. 

On one level, delegation is just dividing work into tasks that others can do. At its best, delegation is empowering people to do the work they are best suited to so that the manager can do other important work that might be more strategic or higher-level. 

In other words, delegation of authority is the sharing of authority, and the monitoring of their efficiency by making subordinates accountable for their doings. Delegation is about entrusting another individual to do parts of your job, and to accomplish them successfully. 

There are three central elements involved in the delegation of authority:

1. Authority: 

in the context of a company, authority is the power and right of an individual to use and allocate their resources efficiently, to make decisions, and to give orders to achieve the organizational objectives. 

This component should always be well defined – everyone with authority should know the scope of their authority. 

Essentially, it is the right to give command, meaning the top-level management always has the greatest authority. Because of the symbiotic relationship between authority and responsibility, authority should always be accompanied by an equal amount of responsibility if the task is to be completed successfully. 

2. Responsibility: 

This refers to the specifics and scope of the individual to complete the task assigned to them.  

Like the conflicts that can arise when someone is given too much authority with too little responsibility, responsibility without adequate authority can lead to discontent, dissatisfaction, and frustration for the individual. 

While authority flows from the top-down, responsibility flows from the bottom-up. Middle and lower-level management hold more responsibility. 

3. Accountability: 

Unlike authority and responsibility, accountability cannot be delegated. Rather, it is inherent in the bestowment of responsibility itself, and anyone who sets out to accomplish a task and take on a job in a company becomes accountable for the outcome of their efforts. Accountability, in short, means being answerable for the end result. Accountability arises from responsibility.

Authority flows downward whereas accountability flows upward. The downward flow of authority and upward flow of accountability must have parity at each position of management hierarchy. 

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The importance of delegation

Delegating has been shown to improve task efficiency and benefit the organization in ways that aren't obvious at first. 

A study by Harvard Business Review determined that delegating can actually increase the income and overall efficiency of organizations.

Not only does delegation empower others in the organization, it helps optimize the performance of the group. 

Delegating empowers your team, builds trust, and motivates. Thoughtful delegation, with support, is also a way to stretch and develop people within the work rather than through periodic professional development. And for leaders, it helps you learn how to identify who is best suited to tackle tasks or projects. As outlined in a Harvard Business Review article, one team leader adopted a strategy of delegation and made the shift from simply being busy to being productive.

Of course, delegating tasks can also lighten your workload, but according to Dr. Scott Williams, professor of management at Wright State University, delegating does much more than just get stuff off your plate. 

For one, the people who work for you will be able to develop new skills and gain knowledge, which prepares them for more responsibility in the future: “Delegation can also be a clear sign that you respect your subordinates’ abilities and that you trust their discretion,” Williams writes. 

“Employees who feel that they are trusted and respected tend to have a higher level of commitment to their work, their organization, and, especially, their managers.” 

Delegation therefore empowers employees by enabling them to demonstrate their capability to take on new work.

Ways to delegate authority

There are several ways you can transfer responsibilities to employees depending on the needs of your workplace. 

You can use the following types of delegation of authority to assign tasks to various team members in the workplace:

Departments

You can delegate the supervision of a particular department to another employee. For example, if you’re a CEO, you could delegate authority over the entire marketing department to the marketing director.

Projects

You can assign an employee or group of employees to complete a specific project from start to finish. With the marketing department, the marketing director could assign an advertising campaign to the project manager, who assembles a team of copywriters and designers to collaborate on the project.

Decision making

You can give one of your employees the power to make certain decisions so that you can focus on other work. For example, as a marketing director, you could delegate authority to the assistant marketing director to hire employees for the department when needed. 

Analysis

When you need more information, you can ask employees to complete detailed research on the topic. If you’re a marketing project manager, you can ask the department’s analysts to research demographic statistics for their advertising campaign’s intended audience. 

Administrative processes

You may also delegate administrative tasks, like data entry to other employees. As the marketing manager, for instance, you may assign client communications (scheduling meetings, follow-up emails, etc.) to a marketing assistant.

Six steps to effective delegation

1. Plan and prepare

Before delegating, take the time to think through the task and decide whom you will delegate to and the outcome you want. 

In addition, identify a goal and purpose for the delegation. Your goal will determine the approach you take.

2. Discuss the task to be delegated

Engage the employee in a specific conversation about the task you want to delegate, and then make sure you both are in agreement regarding the task and the outcome you desire. 

This step is useful to set expectations and state the quality of work that needs to be completed. 

It is also useful to state why you are delegating the task to that person. 

“When you select people to delegate to, tell them why you chose them specifically and how you hope to see this help them grow,” says Alex Cavoulacos, founder of The Muse.

3. Identify the deadline for completion

Make sure your deadline is realistic and achievable, particularly when delegating a stretch goal or something the person has not done before. 

If you think the employee might need some revision time, build it up front so that you do not end up at the deadline with an outcome that is different from the one you wanted. 

When setting the deadline, take into account where the delegated task fits in with the person’s existing job responsibilities. 

4. Outline the level of authority

Clearly outline the level of the authority you want the person to have. Different levels of authority include the following.

  • Recommend – If the risk associated with the task is high or the person has little experience you may ask the person for a recommendation on a course of action, but you make the final decision. 
  • Inform and initiate - If the risk associated with the task is moderate and the person has some experience the person will inform you before they take action. 
  • Act - The person has full authority to act on his or her own if either the risk associated with the task is low or the person has plenty of experience.

5. Build in checkpoints or progress reports

Set regular checkpoints right at the beginning to provide support and follow through. The checkpoints can be used to review the work and give feedback  or even provide encouragement and coaching.

6. Conduct a final debriefing

The final debriefing consists of a two-way discussion about how the delegated task went. 

Debriefing involves a mutual inquiry. Ask the employee how they think they did on the task or project, provide feedback on how you think they did, and  have the person provide feedback on your performance as a delegator.

Delegation case study 1:

Seth Kehne, owner of Lawn Butler in East Tennessee, started his company in 1999 and watched it grow slowly from a small side business, then suddenly he realized revenue had doubled. 

But because the growth was gradual, he never took steps to put a management system in place for a larger company. With everyone reporting to Kehne, he was stretched thin. It limited the company’s growth because managers didn’t feel they had the freedom to do their jobs without input from him. Plus, Kehne was working too many hours “managing instead of delegating.”

“By failing to delegate, I’d been holding back my managers. They didn’t have the complete authority they needed to do what they needed to do.” Kehne says.

Part of the solution was to implement an organization chart. It included managers’ new duties and responsibilities. 

It also reduced the number of people reporting directly to Kehne from more than 20 down to four. “To be honest, I thought I had already delegated a lot of my responsibilities, but once we had this organization chart in place I realized that I really hadn’t,” Kehne says.

As managers and employees assumed their new roles, operations became increasingly smoother, allowing for even more growth..

“Things just operate better now,” Kehne says, adding sales are up 50 percent since he implemented the change two years ago. 

Other improvements include better work hours thanks to more efficient operations (at least five to 10 fewer hours per week), positive customer response and better employee job satisfaction.

Delegation case study 2:

Anna is a senior manager at an IT Firm and has a team member Amanda who reports directly to her. 

Things have not been smooth for them for the last few weeks. The last project that Anna delegated to Amanda she started to feel she would be better off doing it herself. 

While Amanda is willing to take on additional assignments, she just doesn’t seem to be willing to be responsible for the assignment. She won’t do anything without first checking in with Anna. 

The last time Amanda came into the office, Anna told her to forget what she is doing and she’ll give it to someone else who can handle the assignment. After Amanda left, Anna realized she didn’t handle that well.

Anna later sat down with Amanda to discuss the situation further and figured out how best to proceed, in collaboration with Amanda. She apologized to Amanda for how she handled the last encounter and realized that she had to delegate the tasks differently to Amanda. 

She asked Amanda to help her understand why she feels like she cannot take steps to complete an assignment, making many of the decisions on how to proceed on her own. 

Through an honest conversation with Amanda, Anna learned how best to delegate to Amanda. 

Through a conversation, Anna learned more about her skills and experiences and where her comfort level is; which will enable Anna to more effectively manage assignments delegated.

Delegation case study 3:

Anthony was promoted to Director of Finance. He had been chosen because he had the ability to fill the role and his level of thinking and values matched what was needed for success in the position. 

Prior to the promotion, he had served as a team leader of purchasing. 

6 months later, after several of his staff had approached the VP of Finance with their concerns that he was doing too much of the work that could be delegated and the team felt that he didn’t trust them and that they were not learning or growing. 

Anthony was given feedback & coached to create action plans, including proper delegation of tasks to staff in line with their accountabilities and capabilities.

Anthony created plans, and appropriately delegated large portions of them. Staff members felt a welcome relief and reported that Anthony was now taking the time to coach them, explaining clearly and distinctly their results on work assignments. Anthony had more time to both complete his work and improve his department, creating an increase in employee satisfaction and retention.

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Final thoughts

Hopefully this article has given you a better understanding of the role that delegation can play in the success of your business, and why, sometimes, letting go is the best thing you can do.