Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Delegation: If You Want it Done Right … Ask the Right Person

When I stand in front of a group of people about to teach “delegation”, I ask the group to complete this sentence: “I you want it done right, …” Their comeback is always “do it yourself.” Clearly many supervisors and managers have had less than positive experiences with delegation.

First, let’s consider the purpose of delegation. Perhaps you are jammed for time and need to give one or more tasks away to be able to manage the other things. Or, perhaps you’d like to give others a chance to learn something new. Why not delegate something routine from your to-do list to someone on your team? Something niggles at you however. To whom should you delegate what tasks?

Successful delegation requires two criteria be met. First, the skills of the person you are intending to delegate to must match the requirements of the task. If you want it done right, choose someone who knows how to do it competently. Secondly, the person must be willing (motivated and interested) to do the task. I once delegated the approval of timesheets to someone who had once held my position. She’d burned out and returned to direct service work. She was clearly competent! However, she was really no longer interested in this task and agreed to do it to help me out while I was on holidays for a week. She made several obvious errors, not because of skill but because she was not motivated to do the job well.

Stretch assignments are not the same as delegation. Delegating to someone implies a hands-off process: “I give you the task and the authority to do it. You take it from there.” Stretch assignments are intended to teach someone who is interested in learning how to do something new. This requires hands-on coaching with lots of feedback and direction. After the person masters the task, THEN can you delegate this task to them – assuming that they remain interested and willing to do it!

Paula J. MacLean is the best-selling author of five human resource books. Visit her website at Or visit Silver Creek Press on Facebook for daily posts of interest to supervisors, managers and volunteer board members.

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