Friday, September 9, 2011

3 Myth Busters on Delegation

Delegation is not a new concept so why an article on the topic? Basically, because different people mean different things when they talk about delegation. And delegation is important, right? It allows you to do more than you would be capable on your own, right? But do you know how to do it? When should you do it? And starting from the start, do you know what delegation is? You’ll find 3 myth busters on this article but before that...

What is delegation
...let’s make sure we’re all on the same page and start with a definition. If you go to Wikipedia, delegation is defined as:
(...) the assignment of authority and responsibility to another person (normally from a manager to a subordinate) to carry out specific activities. However the person who delegated the work remains accountable for the outcome of the delegated work.
Accountability here is key, that’s something you don’t delegate ever. And this definition is also very useful to show the difference between accountability and responsibility. More over, in some languages like Portuguese, there’s a single word for both concepts which can be very confusing.
So this definition seems like a pretty good start but it’s somehow misleading. Picture this: you are a Project Manager and you assign a project task to a team member who has the perfect set of skills to carry out that task. My trick question is: are you delegating? If you go back to the previous definition, you are in fact delegating but somehow it doesn’t sound right, does it?
The reason why it doesn’t sound right is because you don’t delegate tasks that people are supposed to do - when you delegate you’re giving someone tasks that are outside their set of skills, job description or whatever. By outside I don’t mean the complete opposite (in fact that would probably be a dumb thing to do), what I mean is that the set of skills required to do the task is not a perfect match with that person’s skills.

Why delegate
And this links to why to delegate. Why should you give someone a task that he/she is not the perfect person to do?

Myth buster #1: you don’t delegate to get more done!

Because if you did delegate to get more done, you’d delegate to the perfect person to do the task, just like you do when you assign project tasks to team members - in fact, this is what Project Management is all about, getting things done! That’s why assigning projects tasks is not delegating. Of course you can assign tasks to people who work for you and are perfectly capable of doing it but that is just not delegating. So we come to the fact:

Myth buster #2: You can only delegate to allow people to grow professionally

Any other purpose would be assigning tasks (or something else) but not delegation. Let me give you an example to ilustrate this statement. Suppose you have a team member who is interested in Project Management and both you and his/her boss think that he/she has the capabilities and a chance to become a project manager. Besides formal training in Project Management, you could give him/her a taste of what project management really is by delegating some of your tasks as a project manager to him/her.
In this case, the benefits from delegating would be:
  • Testing the team member’s interest in Project Management
  • Grow the team member professionally
But you also costs alongside these benefits:
  • Time to explain and to guide the team member
  • More risk on that task as the team member’s skills don’t cover all the skills required to do the task
So there you have it, there is a cost linked to delegation! The exact same thing could happen if you think of promoting someone: why not give him/her a taste of what’s to come and have that person do some of the tasks he/she will do after he/she is promoted but currently doesn't?

Defining delegation again
So how do you define delegation? Try this one for size:
Delegation is giving a task to someone with the purpose of that person’s professional growth - that person gets the responsibility for the task but accountability is always yours.

What to delegate
Now that you have the whys clear on your mind, what should you delegate? To answer the whys requirements, the task you choose to delegate should be:
  • A challenge, just a bit harder than what you think your team member is capable of - so your team member can learn something
  • Something your team member is capable of doing with your support - if you ask for the moon your team member will lose every bit of motivation
  • Something in the direction your team member expects in his/her career path - or the purpose is lost
  • Stuff you like to do yourself, as your enthusiasm will sure be noticed by your team member and probably motivate him
Which leads us to:

Myth Buster #3: you don’t delegate what you don’t want to do yourself!

In a nutshell, you have to find something that makes your team member want to do your work. It’s not all that easy.

Keep in mind these myth busters:
  • #1 you don’t delegate to get more done
  • #2 you can only delegate to allow people to grow professionally
  • #3 you don’t delegate what you don’t want to do yourself
I’ll soon post the hows on delegation which will give a hands on approach on delegation. But if you want a jump start, check out Gregory Smith's guide on delegation "How to delegate effectively" and "Successful delegation" on MindTools, both free of charge. They're not the approach I'll be talking about but still they focus on the essential things about delegation.

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