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Five pitfalls of delegation for new supervisors.

f you define supervision as get - ting things done through people, then supervision is largely the process of delegation. If you didn't delegate, you would have to do everything yourself. Failure to delegate is often cited as the most frequent reason supervisors fall short in their duties.

Delegation is an art. It can be done well or it can be done poorly. Careers may be stalled or destroyed merely due to amateurish attempts at delegation.

Management textbooks commonly list delegation as a strong motivational factor. Yet these books rarely mention that employees are motivated only when delegation is handled skillfully.

PITFALL #1 Failure to delegate Managerial training is incomplete even after trainees have developed their basic supervisory skills. Supervisors must replace satiSfaction formerly derived from their technical or professional duties with the satisfaction of leading others. They must enjoy

coaching" as much as they did

playing."' If they don't make this transformation, they will never be completely comfortable in a managerial role and will strive to spend as much time as possible doing what they formerly did.

Among the many reasons supervisors fail to delegate are insecurity, vanity, workaholism, lack of confidence in subordinates, passivity, naivete, and as a response to the backfiring of a major effort to delegate in the past.


Wrong tasks Here's a good general rule: The transfer of responsibility should not take place if delegating a task will not benefit the delegator, the delegatee, or the organization, or will pose too great a risk to the delegatee or delegator. * Tasks not to delegate. Certain functions may not be transferable to persons who are unqualified or unlicensed to perform them according to laws, rules, or policies, such as those delineated in the bylaws of an organization. An evening supervisor should not direct a nonregistered lab assistant to sign out lab reports, for example.

Never delegate something you would not do yourself for legal or ethical reasons. All employees should remain aware of such constraints and refuse to accept assignments that violate them. A laboratory office worker assigned to report results for tests that have not been performed, for example, should refuse to do so.

High-leverage activities. These have important consequences, good or bad, in relation to the time involved. High-leverage activities include pre-employment and performance appraisal interviews, budget preparation, disciplinary procedures, and being assigned to represent your department at an executive meeting.

Assigning part of a task. Employees derive far more personal satisfaction and pride from accomplishing a complete task than only parts of one. A-medical technologist may not be happy helping others perform coagulation studies on patients with bleeding problems. Upon being made responsible for the complete coagulograms, however, the employee will feel more in control of the project and enjoy discussing her findings with the hematology consultant. An exception to this rule is that a step-by-step transfer of a major task is often indicated. 0 Dumping. Handing down only unpleasant work or using delegation to escape from stressful situations is called "dumping." This may be the most common and serious barrier to good delegation.

What is perceived as dumping will depend largely on the relationship between the delegator and the delegatee. If the latter regards the former as lazy or manipulative, almost any delegated task will be viewed with suspicion. This is particularly true if the delegator seems to goof off while the delegatee is swamped with work.

At an informal meeting with a group of hospital supervisors, I found that most of them regarded delegation as a negative motivational factor. Many felt that their superiors were assigning them inconsequential and nonchallenging responsibilities.

A more severe kind of dumping is practiced by sadistic or vindictive managers. These supervisors delegate tasks as a form of punishment or to quell a subordinate. The assigned tasks are designed to present the delegatee with hazardous confrontations or to be impossible to accomplish on time.'

Delegating all the goodies. All managers have tasks they could hand down, but at the risk of removing the spice from their own work. The supervisor who enjoys lecturing to students should continue to do so even though several staffers could do it just as well.

PITFALL #3 Wrong delegatee Except for succession planning, delegation should follow an egalitarian pattern. You don't want people asking themselves, "How come she never asks me'?"

Avoid the temptation to overload the willing and overlook the reluctant. This stratagem can be perceived as rewarding marginal performers while penalizing conscientious ones.

Many people, especially the shy, prefer assignments that deal with things rather than with other people. Most employees are loath to get involved in situations that impinge on their relationships with peers or superiors. If a reluctant potential delegatee says, "I just want to be part of the gang," be careful.

Ambitious workers relish having more responsibility and authority. Others find it an anathema to be held accountable. Match kamikaze pilots and milquetoasts with appropriate roles.

Delegation should be voluntary. In fact, one good selection process is simply to ask for volunteers. Unwillingness to accept delegated tasks often indicates a poor relationship between supervisor and worker. When a potential delegatee demurs with "That's not in my position description" or "Is that an order?" you may have fences to mend.

Premature selection of a successor. Delegation is the most effective strategy for preparing someone to take your place temporarily when you're absent, permantley when you expect to be promoted or reassigned, to retire, or to take another job.

If more than one candidate is available, don't anoint a favorite prematurely. Early choices halt healthy competition. Keep an open-minded attitude toward all contenders. One method is to rotate workers in leadership roles when you are away from the lab.'

PITFALL #4 Dysfunctional process Insufficient communication interferes with delegation.

Rewards. Some delegatees ask, "What's in it for me?" More often, they don't ask, but that's what they're thinking. Recalling this when you delegate will help you remember to explain why the project will benefit the delegatee.

Although rewards of increased pay or promotion are rare, there are many less tangible ones. These include expressions of appreciation, public recognition, expansion of qualifications, and performing more challenging work.

All employees become unwilling delegatees if they get blamed for failures and are not allowed to share the credit for successes.

Manipulation. Make it possible for delegatees to see how you use the time you have gained by transferring work to them. Be honest about what's involved and how their status will be affected. Don't resort to arm-twisting. Tell your selectees what is expected; what they will be responsible for; what authority, resources, and personnel will be al their disposal; what the timetable will be; what obstacles they may encounter; and how the outcome will be evaluated. * Too much, too fast. Don't overload delegatees with work. One good way to avoid this is to start with small trial delegations or to have workers share a task or part of a task temporarily. Reluctant delegatees feel more comfortable if they're told that you'll be available as a backup if they get bogged down in work, or that they can give back the assignment without penalty if they feel overwhelmed by it.

Delegation involves multiple degrees of difficulty and authority, from subordination to autonomy.

The lowest is to investigate and report back (serve as a "gofer"). The highest is to be permitted to take action without obtaining permission. 9 Failure to inform. If a major responsibility is involved, discuss the transfer with those above you. The delegation of authority affects many others. For the transfer of power to be smooth, it's critical that these people be informed before the delegatee takes over. * Inadequate feedback. A delegator must support and control. The purposes of control are to guide the delegatee in performing the new tasks, to motivate, to insure success, and to retain final accountability. Laboratorians consider standards and controls so important that. it's hard to understand why they often neglect them when delegating. Good delegation encompasses objectives, mutually formulated action plans, performance criteria, timetables, and controls. Controls include statistical data, reports, and personal observations.4 * Overcontrol. Good delegators encourage employees to find better ways of doing things. They tell delegates what they want done, but permit considerable leeway concerning how it should be done.

It's better to judge delegation by results than by method. You can spend hours teaching someone how the inventory control system works, but the project will be a failure if your delegatee does exactly as instructed even after realizing the system is flawed.

If supervisors continually look over delegatees' shoulders or redo much of what has been done, they might just as well do everything themselves. Not only will they save no time but they will also destroy their delegatees' incentive.

Overmanaging can create a chronic dependency on the supervisor for decision making. Being checked on without notice is especially frustrating to delegatees. The types and dates of progress checks they can expect should be established when the assignment is delegated. * Lack of support. Do not turn the delegatee loose and fail to provide support when it is requested. Support may take the form of technical advice or of "cheerleading in which you show interest in progress without interfering or nitpicking. A cheerleader is a patient and empathic supervisor who helps when delegatees are stuck and discouraged. Listen to their ideas, praise innovation, and respond enthusiastically when they do something well.

Regard any failures your delegatees may make as learning experiences. Don't punish.


Reverse delegation Supervisors who tolerate passing the buck up the organization that is, reverse delegation-will find themselves doing other people's work as well as their own.'

Supervisors are exposed to this challenge daily. Typically it begins when an employee says, "We have a problem" or "I need your help." The supervisor who takes the bait and responds, "I'll think about that and get back to you" has been hooked and has accepted transfer of the problem.

Knowing when to do so requires a nicety of judgment that is derived largely from experience. When managers provide help infrequently, they neglect their role as facilitators and advisers. Yet if they accept responsibility for resolving every problem that is presented to them, they destroy their time management strategy and encourage their subordinates to be overly dependent on them.

Institute the practice of completed staff work. Insist that employees who raise problems must offer solutions. In its simplest form, you are saying, "What do you think we should do?"

To minimize attempts at reverse delegation, train your staff thoroughly, encourage risk taking, and provide a supportive, noncritical atmosphere. 0 Experience. Expertise in delegation develops mostly through education derived from experience. This learning process can be shortened by avoiding common pitfalls into which supervisors can easily fall. n
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Author:Umiker, William O.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Jun 1, 1990
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