Top Ten Tips on...

Development through Delegation

24 July 2022
Effective Top Tens - Podcast
Quick, practical tips on a wide range of management and personal development themes.
Key principles of delegation, including a step by step approach on how to use delegation as a development tool.

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Hierarchy matters

Essentially delegation is a hierarchical operation. It's the passing of something from one level to the level below. So we talk about delegation in terms of delegating downwards. It's from a more senior to a less senior person. We can't delegate laterally way, or in reverse by delegating upwards.


Three things move

Three things move when you delegate. The first obviously is the task itself. The second thing that moves is the authority necessary to do that task. And that's sometimes forgotten. The person who is doing the task (called the delegatee), has to have the authority that the delegator (the person who's delegating) already has. The third thing that moves is responsibility, but this splits. There's a split between task responsibility and managerial responsibility. Task responsibility means the delegatee has the final responsibility for completing the task well. And the person who's delegating, the delegator, always has managerial responsibility. That means they are responsible for the decision to delegate: what to delegate, who to and why, and how it’s managed.


Delegation isn’t dumping

delegation isn't, or shouldn't be, dumping. If the delegator delegates something to the delegatee because it is convenient for the delegator or because it's easy to delegate, but there is no value in it for the delegatee then the delegatee will see it as dumping.


Delegation isn’t work allocation

Delegation isn't work allocation either. Imagine you are a manager of a team of people. Let's say you're a grade one and they're at grade two, and two is a lower level than one. You will probably have incoming to your desk, a whole range of tasks that should be rerouted to the people in your team. They are grade two tasks and you, at grade one, have the responsibility for allocating those grade two tasks to people who are in grade two.. So you're allocating the work that truly and properly belongs to them. It's part of their job description. It's what they are there to do. That's not delegation. That's allocation. And if you were to say to somebody “I'm delegating this to you”, there's a danger that they will think “so this must really be your task because otherwise you wouldn't be delegating it".


Delegation isn’t teamwork

There may be a situation where it's a critical moment, everybody's busy, there's a strict deadline to meet, and everybody mucks in. Everybody does whatever is necessary. So that means sometimes more junior people do more senior tasks just to get things done. That's not delegation, that's not really organised or programmed or sheduled. It's just good teamwork. Everybody in the moment is doing whatever it takes to get the job done.


Delegation is developmental

The trade off for the delegate has to be doing something worthwhile to justify taking on an additional task. Otherwise, it will be demoralising rather than uplifting. Typically therefore the task has to be a main responsibility of the delegator, representative of their grade and skill level.


3 key principles

There are three key prince principles that should underpin what I think is positive delegation. The three principles are firstly, as already mentioned, the task has to be developmental for the delegatee. Secondly, it has to be voluntary. I don't think delegation can be imposed on people and expected to be effective or valued. So the delegatee should have a say in whether they're happy to do that task or not. Thirdly, it needs to be finite. It is not a backdoor way of extending a delegatee’s job description or number of tasks.


Development through delegation

Here's how it works. As delegator, you explain to your team the nature of delegation as outlined it in this podcast. And then you ask if anyone would like to be part of the development through delegation process? Let’s assume you have 6 in your team, and 3 say yes, and 3 say no – which is fine. What's also important about this process is all six members of your team were asked, were given the same equal opportunity to take part. There should be no favoritism. There should be no preferential treatment that this person is good for development, or should be stretched. But this process has to be equal opportunity for all. Ideally the delegator finds three separate tasks to give to the three who’ve joined the process. They have to be developmental, and ideally different for each delegate. They do that to allow the development to take place. And then the tasks return to the delegator. Then the tasks rotate, so the three team members get to do each of the three tasks, in rotation. It's possible that the three people who decided they didn't want to take part, change their mind, and want to be included. They can be. And it's equally possible that one of the three who said they were up for it, decide that they're not, or they have a busy month coming up and maybe moving house, or going on holiday – and that’s fine too. It's a flexible arrangement; It's voluntary.


The triple win

The development through delegation process provides a triple win. Clearly the individual, especially if they volunteered, sees a win, in that they get valuable development. The manager, as delegator, gets several wins. They get a reputation for investing in staff; they build cover through flexibility in the team, and they get some time off to deal with other work, when the delegatees are working on the tasks that would normally be done by the manager. And the organisation benefits through capacity building.


Provide choice

Typically when delegating the delegator chooses what to delegate to the delegate. But why not as the delegator gives the delegate a choice. Why not offer the delegatee a list of tasks, from which they can choose? If there's a task that you don't want to delegate for whatever reason, then clearly don't put it on the list. So everything that's on the list, you are comfortable with. And given that the delegatee is choosing, then presumably they're comfortable with that choice. So in a sense, that's another win-win.

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