Situational Delegating

Every list of skills to be mastered by a manager includes delegating. And in my 25 years training employees transitioning to supervisor, delegating has been a key part of the curriculum. How do you move from doing it yourself to getting other people to do it for you?

"I can do it [insert one or both] faster, better," they cry. And it isn't just the psychological barriers -- like loss of control -- that must be overcome: "I don't have time to train someone" is a legitimate concern when the new supervisor is trying to learn the new tasks that came with the promotion. Like every entrepreneur, a supervisor must balance the demands of working in the department and working on the department.

A critical step in determining what can or cannot be delegated is self-evaluation. What will be your comfort level when you let go of the project? Do you need the employee to report to you daily, weekly, or not until you ask how it's going? And I used the term "need" on purpose. You may think you are a hands-off manager who can live with monthly progress reports, but are you going to be antsy all month waiting to hear that the project is on track?

Step two is communicating this to the employee to whom you are assigning the task. Your comfort level is one consideration; theirs is another; and the situation, relative to where they are in their development, is yet another. Think of delegating as the end of a continuum of supervisory techniques, used only when the employee is ready for the responsibility as well as the task.

I just re-read Leadership and the One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard, etal. and was reminded that delegating will not be successful in a vacuum. For some situations and employees, it requires directing: providing specific instruction and watching them like a hawk. You'll know when you can move on to coaching, and you know what this looks like: let go of the ball but keep watching and giving immediate feedback, explain decisions, solicit suggestions. In the supporting stage the supervisor is now a facilitator who shares responsibility for the decisions made in accomplishing the task. And finally, delegating: the supervisor turns over responsibility for the task and the decisions and the problem-solving it takes to get it done.

The trick, then, is to know where your employees are on the continuum for the particular situation that needs to be addressed: be "directive" with a seasoned employee and risk being a micro-manager who stifles initiative and creativity. But you should probably offer direction and support to an employee who shows potential but does not have the experience or context needed to be successful.

Once again, the supervisor's role includes getting to know your staff. What's their temperament, their learning and communication styles, and where are they on the delegating continuum?


Betsey has over 18 yrs exp. as a Human Resources generalist & over 20 yrs exp. in management. Prior to merging her successful consulting firm, NASH HR SERVICES with UNITED STAFFING ASSOCIATES, her experience included 10 yrs in HR with The Home Depot before being recruited by Bed, Bath & Beyond to be District HR manager for the busy San Fernando Valley. Since 1983, Betsey continues to be a popular teacher of classes in management, human resources & communication for professionals in b...

Go Deeper | Website

Want More?

New Graphic
Subscriber Counter