Empowering Employees When Delegating

Delegating, as a coaching tool, is the act of assigning and entrusting assignments and responsibilities to others. Delegating isn't about giving people tasks to do. Tasks are the simple and short-term items of work to be done. Delegating is about having staff take on juicy or meaningful work — projects, duties, and other important assignments.

For example, "Joe, I would like you to take on the responsibility of creating the weekly sales analysis report," or "Sue, I'd like you to tackle a project involving vendor relations and how we can maximize discounts with each one with whom we do business." Don't stop asking your employees to do tasks when needed, just recognize that's not real delegating.

Entrust and empower

Entrust is a key word in delegating: It means that you care about the results of what you delegate, and you're willing to provide the support needed to help the employee achieve those results. But you're going to let the employee do the assigned job. You don't have to be hands-on for the right outcomes to occur, but neither are you uninvolved and unaware of what's occurring.

Along with providing the right support comes spelling out clear expectations and maintaining employee accountability. This is what effective delegating means and (hold your buzzword buzzer) what empowerment is truly all about. To empower your employees is to do three actions:

  • Give employees the freedom to get a job done (no breathing down their necks).

  • Provide employees with the right level of support to get the job done well, including information, training, resources, and so on.

  • Hold employees accountable to produce the outcomes needed.

All three actions go together as part of the process. Thus, when you delegate effectively, you empower your staff. (Holy cow, this stuff could be dangerous!)

Delegate the day-to-day

What many managers overlook when figuring out what to delegate are the items to share or reassign in part. Items related to the day-to-day operations of your group, which some managers tend to hold onto, are where your greatest potential exists to delegate wholly or in part to people on your staff. Here are some examples:

  • Solving fairly routine customer problems

  • Setting the daily work schedule and work flow

  • Preparing agendas for your regular staff meetings

  • Making decisions on situations that employees face in carrying out their responsibilities

  • Completing functions you're less qualified for or not too good at doing

  • Handling technical duties

  • Compiling data

  • Composing regular administrative reports

  • Researching issues that come your way

  • Training new employees or others in the group

  • Carrying out important functions for which little staff coverage exists, meaning there's no back-up support for day-to-day operations

  • Handling vendor-relations issues

  • Seizing opportunities that build upon others' creative talents or desires

  • Answering questions you're frequently asked

  • Dealing with new functions that come about due to change in the workplace

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In many cases, the items you partially delegate can become items that you completely delegate in the future. Delegate one step at a time in manageable increments and build off of every success.

Pick the right person

Among common reasons that lead to delegating failures are two relating to employee selection:

  • The assignment you delegate is beyond the person's capability level. The assignment or responsibility you delegate is one that the individual isn't ready to handle. It is greater than the person's knowledge, experience, or skill level, and it leaves the employee unable to competently perform and produce the right results.

    Employees are often willing to take on duties they aren't really ready to handle, and many are reluctant to speak up even if they know the job is beyond their capabilities. After all, who wants to admit he or she isn't ready enough to do something? So the employee is given the job with a sink-or-swim approach — throw the person the job and see what happens — which usually leads to the employee drowning.

  • The project you delegate is beyond the person's capacity level. In this case, the issue isn't one of competence level but one of workload. You have a maxed-out employee on whom you pile another critical project. While many such individuals don't outwardly complain or, when they do, aren't listened to, they suffer with the burden and stress to try and keep up. Overload the machine (your employee in this case) without consideration of its capacity level, and eventually, mechanical failure sets in.

How should you determine which person will be good for which assignment? Here are some important questions to ask before initiating a delegating effort:

  • Where does the assignment best fit functionally within your group?

  • Who has capacity in terms of time and workload to handle the duty?

  • Who has the interest?

  • Who has the skill and experience level best for the job?

  • Whose capabilities do you need to expand to fill coverage gaps in the group's day-to-day operations?

  • Who is in need of a new or different challenge?

  • To whom do you want to give an opportunity for growth?

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Notice how one of the factors not listed is "Who has the best track record?" Sometimes managers have a tendency to delegate mostly to their reliable performers. As a result, they don't distribute the workload evenly among all the staff in the group. This has an effect of punishing the good employees. It may also create resentment: among the star employees who wonder why they have to carry the workload for others in the group, and among other employees who feel passed over for the most challenging and growth-oriented work. Instead, develop and challenge everyone in your group.

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