Two years ago, the BI Norwegian Business School surveyed 2,900 Norwegian business managers about the daily stress that they feel in their jobs. 62% of respondents reported that they experienced job stress either often or all of the time, with most of the stress being due to time pressures and heavy workloads. Among the researchers' recommendations for managers were learning to manage time more efficiently and increasing knowledge of staff skills so managers would feel more confident to delegate tasks.
Delegating tasks remains a major challenge for many managers, who fear losing control and who aren't confident that their employees will do the job right. In other cases, managers worry that too much delegating can threaten their own job security, and in technically-oriented disciplines like IT, there are managers who just don't want to let go of tasks that they personally enjoy doing.
Nevertheless, the most effective managers use delegation while keeping a handle on how the work is going. If these managers are saving time by delegating day-to-day tasks, they can redirect this time to meet with key corporate stakeholders. When they do this effectively, managers show that they are keeping their fingers on the pulse of the business and that they are active in business strategy formulation. High visibility in both of these areas promotes managers' value and also the value of what their staffs are doing.
But there is a way to delegate authority and tasks, and a way not to. Here are a few delegation best practices:
Delegate resources as well as work
Without adequate resources, no one can do a task well. If there are legitimate resource constraints on a project you are delegating, be prepared to be flexible and to loosen up timelines so the person you are delegating to doesn't feel like he or she is being programmed to fail. And this may sound obvious, but never delegate work without giving thorough instructions. Be sure that the person tasked clearly understands the objectives of the work and why it is being done in the first place, as well as the methodology to be used in doing the work.
Develop good relationships with your staff
If everyone is working in an environment of mutual trust and respect, with open discussions that allow for disagreements as well as concurrence, it is easier to delegate work and to monitor the progress of this work. Remember that your staff is also nervous when you first delegate work to them. They are likely to have a natural fear of failing at something new. This is where supportive and open communications can really help.
Also, be cognizant of employees you don't delegate work to. Staff members who are passed over for assignments might get jealous or feel short-changed. It is very important for managers to explain why certain tasks are being delegated (and to whom), and to also make these other staff members feel valued. This keeps the air cleared and contributes to the overall health of staff morale.
Delegate work to employees who have the ability to do it well
In some cases, you might have staff who is already trained to do the work that you want to delegate. In other cases, you might be delegating to someone who has the aptitude to do the work, but who will be in a training mode until he or she gets up to speed. In both cases, it is vital to delegate work to individuals who have the ability to get the job done right. These individuals may or may not be the persons that you personally like best on your staff.
Don't abandon the work
When you delegate work, it is important to continue to monitor progress to ensure that it is being done correctly and on time. Early in my career, I worked for an IT director who delegated a project to a middle manager, took the word of that person that everything was running smoothly, and then lost his job when the project failed because the software blew up on the go-live date.
The problem in this particular case was that the IT director was so hands-off that he only had his manager's word to take when it came to progress on the project — and the manager was wrong. At the other extreme are IT directors who are so controlling that they micro-manage projects and stifle their managers. The best leaders know how to strike a balance between getting enough information to be sure of projects, and making sure that their managers have enough autonomy to call the shots.
At the end of the day, managers are evaluated on how their departments perform and on the value that is delivered to the business. This is exactly why delegating work and projects is difficult for managers to do. Nevertheless, the most successful managers find ways to do this. They regularly measure the progress on delegated work and maintain feedback loops with those who are now directing the work. Most importantly, they maintain an open and fear-free work environment. This goes a long way in building trust, cooperation and collaboration, all of which are indispensable in doing business today.
Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturing company in the semiconductor industry. Mary is a keynote speaker and has more than 1,000 articles, research studies, and technology publications in print.