"If you want something done right, do it yourself." Regrettably, this old adage does not benefit supervisors or the people who work for them.
Supervisors who delegate effectively win out on at least two fronts. First, delegating allows them to be more productive and spend more time on key initiatives. Second, delegating gives staff an opportunity to acquire new skills and expertise. Most staff members value opportunities for growth. Staff, if given these opportunities, will develop accelerated skills that will allow them to make contributions matching their skill level. They also are more likely to continue working at the university as a result of being given these opportunities for growth.
In light of these advantages, why do so many supervisors resist delegating? For some it's a question of trust and faith that others will make good decisions. But it may also be a lack of knowledge, past success or experience. Delegation, like most management skills, is a learned skill. It requires good communication skills and an ability to motivate others.
The following practices are fundamental to effective delegation:
- Find the right fit. It is important to make sure you are properly matching the project or assignment with the person. You need to know each team member's strengths, weaknesses, interests and personalities. The selected staff member should have the appropriate knowledge and skills to understand the nature and scope of the project.
If the purpose of delegating a job is primarily for development, you'll want to be sure to provide adequate training on how the project should be done. Also, you may need to invest more time to ensure that the staff member will succeed.
- Frame the assignment. Discuss the scope and priority level of the task. It is important to help staff members see where their work fits into the big picture. Explain why the project is important. Too often, staff members are given a task, but the purpose is never explained. Without this information, they cannot perform their best work.
- Agree upon expectations. Explain what the end result should look like. A common mistake - especially when delegating work with which you are intimately familiar - is to unconsciously assume the staff member has the same vision and understanding of the project that you have. It is important to communicate your expectations clearly. This does not mean that you need to dictate every aspect of the project in great detail. Formulation and conceptualizing are part of what makes a job interesting, and allowing people this kind of latitude usually results in a better outcome.
Depending on the scope and nature of the project, you may want to put the information in writing and make sure everyone concerned has a copy to prevent misunderstandings.
- Establish timeframes. Together you and the staff member should settle upon a reasonable deadline for each stage of the project and criteria for evaluating performance. Be realistic; not everything has to be done immediately.
- Follow-up. Emphasize open lines of communication. Encourage staff members to keep you posted on their progress and offer feedback when necessary. You may even want to schedule regular follow-up meetings. Remember that "follow-up" does not mean micromanage. You need to trust the people who work for you and give them the responsibility and flexibility to make decisions on their own.
- Provide support. It is important to convey your continued interest and to demonstrate that you are willing to provide additional guidance if necessary.
One tangible way to show your support - that is often forgotten - is to let others know that you have given the project to the staff member and that he or she is accountable for it. This simple communication can make a world of difference in how the staff member approaches his or her work and in how he or she is received. If you're assigning something you usually do yourself, it is especially important to transfer "authority" formally. Even a brief e-mail will help pave the way.
- Show your appreciation. Actions speak louder than words, and words speak louder than thoughts! Praise and appreciation for a job well done have a motivating effect.
On a final note, it is important to distinguish what should and should not be delegated. Delegation is not dumping! Furthermore, some tasks are inherent to the supervisors' position and should not be delegated, such as performance evaluations, goal setting and discipline. Otherwise, delegating is an option whenever you need something done and when someone else can do it. By delegating effectively, you can benefit yourself, your staff and the university.
Note: If you are interested in learning more about this topic, you might enjoy the book Essential Managers: How To Delegate by Robert Heller, Tim Hindle. The Amazon.com list price is only $6.95