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Mastering the fine art of delegation.

A funny thing about delegating. It's an essential management tool that frees you to become a more focused and strategic thinker, turns you into a respected builder of leaders and bestows upon you a reputation for getting things done. It also helps you leave at the end of the day with an uncluttered mind and an empty briefcase.

Yet, after all that has been said and done to teach delegation skills, this remains a typical scenario for many managers: stalled projects, a desk piled high with papers requiring immediate action, computers brimming with e-mail and their office doorways jammed with staffers anxious to dump their tales of horror and woe.

"When you fail to delegate, the monkey on your back gets fatter and fatter until it squashes you," says Roger Fritz, an internationally known management consultant and author of several books, including Think Like A Manager (National Seminars Press, Kansas City, Kan.,$16.95.) The reasons for ineffective delegation, and there are many, range from lack of confidence in the subordinates' capabilities to fear that an employee may perform the task better than you could. Some managers don't know what to delegate, others fear the empty syndrome (What's my job if I give all my tasks away?). Most are simply too detail-oriented, too afraid of failure, impatient or insecure to delegate. "The result is, they can't point to one person in their organization who would be qualified to replace them if an opportunity to move up came along," Fritz says.

The nondelegator tends to focus more on what she's doing rather than what his or her employees could be doing. She spends more time checking details than on long-range planning and supervising staff members. Reluctant to use the resources of team members, nondelegators often make, override or reverse subordinates' decisions, thus encouraging total dependence. She gives orders and then either checks constantly or forgets altogether. "While holding onto a project and information may increase your sense of importance and indispensability," says paul Maguire, a management consultant principal of the Human Resources Consortium, in Ridgewood, N.J., "it sends a message to your staff -- and your bosses -- that you're insecure and untrusting. It also weakens your ability to attract and keep the brightest and best talent. Few go-getters want to work for a know-it-all who refuses to let go of any responsibility, doesn't grow his people, and always does things the same ole way -- his."

Let's assume you're tired of watching your employees waltz out the door every night on time, while you're stuck with the work. "If you train your employees, clearly communicate your objectives and priorities, establish an effective feedback mechanism and slowly stretch your people with increasing responsibility, the delegation process becomes easier," says Maguire, a former training manager with a Fortune 500 company.

Although this sounds simple enough, the underlying assumption is that managers first must get over any primal fear of failure, of being shown up, or of losing control. Fritz, president of Organization Development Consultants in Naperville, III., believes the ability to delegates succesfully is a matter of heart. "It really boils down to whether you're the type of person who takes satisfaction -- joy -- in seeing others succeed, and are secure enough to bet your career on their success."

Following are 10 considerations that may make you a better delegator -- or help you find the heart to try at all.

1. Take your cues from top management.

Before you jump in whole-hog, closely examine the management style of key executives in your company. Do they reward those who delegate? Do people tend to operate with freedom and latitude? If mid-management appears to be following orders from the top, then the corporate culture may not support delegation as a primary management tool. In this type of company you can cut down your risk by delegating the most fail-scale projects only to highly qualified individual, while keeping your manager informed of your subordinate's progress and success. Enough successes on your part may help convince top management that playing it close to the vest isn't the only way to win.

2. Entrepreneurs, let go to grow.

Small business owners are often the worst delegators. "A business owner, particularly in the service industry, may feel he or she can do better than anyone else because he has already proven himself succesfully," says Fritz. "He may fear that the subordinate will learn critical secrets and run off with clients, or somehow diminish his sens of 'I made it on my own.' If a person achieves success on his own, selfishly, so to speak, then he will have trouble sharing the limelight with those who are in a position to help."

The entrepreneur is also often a perfectionist who mulls over every detail and feels that no one cares about his business quite as much as he does. "He may be right, but failing to reward those who help you to prosper is basically dishonest," says Fritz. "Give them a bump in salary, more stock, a new car to drive -- something to recognize their successful efforts to respond to your needs."

3. Delegate strategically.

Strategic delegators carefully review the project individuals and measurement of success against their long- or short-term plans before handing any job to a staff member. Setting annual or quartely strategic objectives for your organization will yield a set of priorities daily, weekly and monthly for your staff. "Your job is to focus on priority number one, which should be the item most critically linked to the success of your organization." advises Mario Sanabria, managing partner of the Sable Group Inc., a Weston, Conn-based national human resources management, development and training consulting organization. Delegate priority-one tasks to the person you most want to succeed or who shoud have the greatest visibility. Mentioning to your manager who that person will be can smooth the way for your subordinate to deal directly (always with your knowledge) with your superior, if necessary.

4. Treat delegation as a career-building tool.

Consider each delegated task an opportunity for career development. For subordinates prepared to handle a difficult assignment, provide the necessary training to get them up to speed. If your people aren't ready yet, do something to make them ready. You may need to begin by delegating smaller chunks of a project before moving to tougher tasks. Stretch them according to their capabilities and interests, let them taste success, then move them to the next level of responsibility. Even your slowest performer can pick up speed if you signal that you trust him to do it. Don't let employees keep popping by your office for directions for each phase of a project. "When assigning tasks, fully explain all aspects of the project and emphasize to your staff that promotions are given to individuals who resolve problems, work with others and gauge situations on his or her own," says Mario Sanabria." her rating slides down if I'm constantly telling her who to see,what all the options are and how to proceed."

5. Find the right person for the task.

Smart managers frequently bring in people from other areas to serve as administrative assistants or task force leaders on important projects, if the right person can't be found on staff. "For example, if you're implementing a new financial system, find someone in the organization with some banking and accounting experience," Sanabria says. Consider whether the person works well within a short time frame or in a high-stress environment. Does he interact well with executive? Is she a good delegator? How much is on his plate already? Employees with too many, or conflicting, projects, will be forced to prioritize and may put your assignment on a back burner.

6. Delegate, don't dump.

Never try to disguise a garbage task that you don't feel like doing as an opportunity. People see through this ruse quickly and resent it if you try too often. If you're feeling the pinch and need help, simply level with your employee. Avoid always picking on the same person just because he's willing and capable. If you must delegate unpleasant work, spread it around.

7. Delegate, don't abdicate.

No matter how many tasks you pass to your people, the ultimate responsibility for success or failure is yours. You are accountable to your superiors for everything under your control. So make sure you stay on top of things and follow-up diligently.

8. Delegate the what's, not the how's.

Management consultants also caution against overexplaining the job. This is a fine line for many managers. They either don't give workers enough information or they dole out a blow-by-blow description of what to do and how to do it. Delegating the "hows" turns professionals into highly paid clerks.

Perhaps the most difficult element of delegation is letting the staff member establish his or her own plan of action. "Most leaders already know what they want and how to get it. It's hard for them to step back, but if they don't exercise this restraint and flexibility, the subordinate learns nothing on hiw own, " Sanabria says.

9. Know when to call the project back in.

If you've picked a responsible person for the job, he ot she will let you know when things are going awry or changing direction. Don't stop your employee's momentum by letting projects languish on your desk, wanting attention. Redefine the task, if necessary, make adjustments, discuss new options, and set new parameters and expectations quickly.

You may also need to step in because a project manager is dropping the ball. If you picked the wrong person for the job, he may feel you've set him up to fail. If the manager is in over his head, and training and coaching won't help (or there isn't time), reassign the project immediately. If this manager has made absolutely no effort to succeed, deal with it as a performance issue. If the manager did try but was out of his element, compliment him on what he did right, make note of his weak areas and the, resolve to delegate something else right away that will strengthen him. If the employee needs further training, ensure that he gets it before embarking on the next task.

10. Know what--and what not--to delegate.

A leader should lead, review and direct. Anything else is fair game for delegation. "Even planning can be delegated after you've determined the goals and measurement factors you will use to determine success," says Mario Sanabria of Sable. "You can't delegate where you're going, but you can delegate how you plan to get there."

Thinking Through Delegation

Below is an exercise, typically given by delegation experts such as Roger Fritz, to help you focus on what types of tasks you're not comfortable delegating--and why. Ask yourself if you could delegate each task below, then list reasons for your answer. You may be surprised by your motives for not delegating something you probably should.

* Researching a new desktop publishing system.

* Selecting and hiring a guest speaker for the headquarters kickoff meeting.

* Giving an interview about your function to the corporate newsletter.

* Writing your speech for the regional sales conference.

* Putting together the quarterly marketing plan for a major account.

* Attending a new-product briefing.

* Planning and conducting a routine staff meeting.

* Escorting customers on a plant tour.

* Selecting the menu for the yearly awards banquet.

* Interacting with the media on new products and other announcements.

In a series of audio tapes titled, "The Inside Advantage: A Self-Paced Program to Make Managers More Effective," available from the Dartnell Audio Library in Chicago, Fritz outlines the types of tasks you can usually delegate. These include: "problems or issues requiring background study, evaluation or research; technical activities that others can do better than or as well as you; work that moves human talent in a positive direction, grooms individuals or provides threshold experiences; whatever helps you save valuable time."

He adivses against delegating resolutions of morale problems or situations that you need to patch up personally. "Also, don't delegate confidential matters entrusted to you by your boss. She probably wants your personal stamp on that project," he says.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Ayres-Williams, Roz
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Apr 1, 1992
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