‘I Know I Should Delegate, But...’

Why we need to do it, why it goes wrong and how we can do it better

The phones are ringing, several deadlines are looming, emails are stacking up and you’d promised to be at your child’s music recital, but there’s no way you can get there in time...

The pressure can seem unbearable.

And why? It’s often because we’re so bad at delegating. As a result, we tend to take on other people’s work and soon find ourselves snowed under with dozens of tasks, none of which we seem able to complete as well as we know we could – and should.

Denise Fryer, one of the Programme Directors on Developing Management Practice at the world-renowned Henley Business School, has been addressing the same issue for many years and is certain that much of the problem stems from a lack of clarity.

‘So often, we are unclear about what our own role really demands, let alone the roles of those around us. And that uncertainty leads to pressure.

‘It can also be driven by the lack of skill or knowledge or management capability of those above us. They compensate – or maybe just dodge the problem – by simply cascading the tasks down to us, and we end up taking on functions that are not supposed to be our responsibility.

‘Either way, we need to develop strategies for identifying those jobs that we should be allocating to other members of our team.’

How often have we heard someone say: ‘It was quicker to do the job myself than to explain how to do it’? This approach is so typical, but it strongly suggests that the manager has little faith in the capability of those around them, or has control issues and does not fully understand what a manager’s role should be.

‘During our programme, we use a technique called the Delegation Target Board, which is like an archery target’, says Denise. ‘The inner bullseye denotes those tasks only you can do. The middle rings are for tasks that could be done by others – either with you or with your support – and the outer ring is for any activity that should only be done by others. By visualising tasks in this way, delegates start to see how they can free themselves up from doing all the work themselves, and focusing on what managers should be doing – developing the skills and abilities of the team members, and coaching them to perform to the highest possible level.

The programme also delves into the ways we can identify different types of tasks and establish the critical and flexible criteria for each. Some projects may have clearly defined, fixed standards, while others will be more variable. But it’s important to establish these parameters, because the next key skill we need to develop is how to define what constitutes a good outcome.

‘A manager may need to spend a bit longer explaining what they want their team member to achieve, especially if they are new to the role,’ explains Denise, ‘but it’s important that wherever possible, the team member is given some scope for deciding how to achieve the standards set. Too often, managers try to tell team members what to do, or how to do it, rather than what they want them to achieve, and that is invariably counterproductive in the long run.

‘Ultimately, it’s all about allowing you to do your job, and not everyone else’s. Learning to delegate tasks you shouldn’t be doing will allow you the time and focus you need to do those jobs you should be doing to the best of your ability.’

Details of Henley Business School’s Developing Management Practice programme can be found at www.henley.ac.uk/executive-education/course/developing-management-practice.

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If you have any questions, please contact our programme advisors, Hannah, Ruhi & Diana by email at exec@henley.ac.uk or by phone on +44 (0)1491 418767.

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