Delegation: The Art of Learning to Trust

From bringing in new customers to handling payroll, you wear a series of hats from one day—or one hour—to the next. In order to grow, you need to outgrow that one-person-show mentality and trust your people to take some of the work off your plate.

Delegate, Don’t Dump

Delegation isn’t just a way to unload tedious tasks. According to Charles H. Green, best-selling author and founder of the management consulting firm Trusted Advisor Associates, true delegation is built on a foundation of trust.

“There’s frequently a belief that no one can do it as well as I can,” he says, “but that’s an excuse and a copout.” True delegating means not only giving responsibilities to your employees, but also the authority to carry them out in their own way. “And when you trust people,” Green notes, “there is a strong reciprocal desire on their part to live up to that trust.”

Delegation based on trust offers three major benefits:

1.     Enhanced time management. Delegation frees up you up to do what you are supposed to do—take the big-picture view of the entire process. Your job should be focused on long-term planning, development and expansion, not bookkeeping and payroll.

2.     Increased decision-making and innovation. By allowing your people to make decisions about the area of the business in which they are in closest contact, decision-making can become swifter and more effective. And you never know what innovative new method an employee might have until you allow them to try things out their way.

3.     Higher work quality. Empowering employees to take on responsibilities motivates them, making them feel that they have a stake in the business. And not only do motivated employees produce better work, but the overall work climate can also be improved in terms of increased order and stress reduction.


Don’t Micromanage. Trust.

Despite the clear benefits it accrues, delegation is not something that comes naturally to every leader. According to a 2007 study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity, nearly half of the companies surveyed were concerned about their employees’ delegation skills. London Business School professor John Hunt estimates that only 30 percent of managers feel they can delegate well, and only one in three of those is actually considered a good delegator by their subordinates.

For Green, the key is to define success in terms of outcomes, not process. That is, set long-term goals and performance targets, and don’t micromanage the journey along the way. “Tell the employee you’ll offer help if they ask for it,” he says, “but not if they don’t. Then let them make their own mistakes and create their own successes. Inform them clearly of what you’re doing, tell them you look for big things from them—then walk away.”

Identify the Best Person for the Job

According to Green, the first step in good delegating is to adopt the right attitude. Instead of “No one else can do this as well as I can,” the first question should be: “Who is the best person to do this?”

Once you’ve identified the employee with the skills and time to take on the new opportunity, sit down with them to work out the details of their assignment. This includes three key steps:

1.     Define the employee’s authority level. Determine, together with your employee, what authority they will need to perform their job. Make sure to inform other staff involved in those areas to ensure their cooperation.

2.     Acquire the employee’s consent. This is crucial. The employee must clearly understand what responsibilities are being delegated to them, and provide their informed consent.

3.     Establish a self-evaluation plan. Work out a clear set of parameters in order for your employee to be able to evaluate their own assignment. “Delegate the whole thing to them,” says Charles Green, “including the post-mortem.”

Give Credit Where Credit Is Due

Finally, make sure you congratulate employees for a job well done—publically and in writing. Giving credit fosters loyalty, boosts morale and, best of all, encourages other employees to take on assignments they might not otherwise have considered. Delegation breeds autonomy, which, in turn, offers even more possibilities for successful delegation. Welcome to the empowered office.

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