Effective delegation doesn’t happen at the deep end (video)

Simon Thiessen

Simon Thiessen About The Author

18-Nov-2014 10:00:00


Bad delegation is worse than no delegation - so don't do it badly!

We work with a lot of managers that have developed the belief that delegation doesn't work - and to some extent they are right. Delegation done badly is worse than no delegation.

However, when delegation is effective, it delivers significants benefits to the person doing the delegating, to the delegatee and to organisational productivity.



Effective delegation doesn’t happen at the deep end (transcript)

This is the second in a series of videos on delegation. In the first video, we emphasised the importance of treating delegation as a process of educating or training someone and not simply as a process by which you offload a task and dump it on someone else.

My name is Simon Thiessen, I’m the CEO of the Real Learning Experience. In this second video we will introduce three critical concepts that govern delegation, as well as giving you eight simple steps that you can use to gradually empower someone in a delegated task.

effective_delegation_has_8_stepsEffective delegation involves releasing three things - gradually

The 3 concepts are autonomy, authority and responsibility. As you gradually delegate more and more to someone, what you’re actually doing is giving them more of each of those three things: autonomy, authority and responsibility.

  • Autonomy is all about how much space do you give them? How closely do you manage or supervise them? Do you let them do the task in their own space, in their own time, with you simply checking in occasionally or do they do it under your watchful eye?
  • Authority is all about their capacity or their discretion to make decisions. Do you make decisions and have them act them or do you allow them to make some of those decisions for you?
  • Responsibility is really about the division of accountability. Who’s responsible for the successful outcome of this task? Is it all them? Is it all you? Or is it shared?

Let’s go through the 8 steps or, as we like to call them, the 8 steps on the delegation ladder, and as we go through them you’ll see that each involves a step up in either one, two or all of authority, autonomy and responsibility.

Step 1: This is what I want done - and this is how to do it

The first step on the delegation ladder is “what and how” delegation. In “what and how” delegation, you’re telling them not only what you want done, but how you want them to do it. As you can see, this involves very little autonomy, very little authority and very little responsibility, but it is a good starting point for someone who’s never done the task before, someone that you’re going to gradually empower to do it more and more independently.

Step 2: You investigate, I will decide

The second step on the delegation ladder is “investigate and I will decide”. As you can see, that involves a step up in autonomy. They’re being given some space to go and get the information. However, there’s no more responsibility and no more authority given to them at this stage.

Step 3: Recommend and I will decide

Step three on the delegation ladder does involve a bit more responsibility. We call it “recommend and I will decide”. Instead of simply asking them to go and get some information, we’re giving them the responsibility for assessing that information and making a recommendation. However, there’s not a lot more authority. We’re still deciding ultimately what the appropriate action will be.

effective_delegation_rungsStep 4: You decide, I will approve

Step four sounds similar but again, it’s a step up in responsibility, it’s a step up in authority. It’s almost an introduction to authority. We call this one “decide and I will approve”. Instead of simply making a recommendation, we’re now asking them to make a decision. It’s still within the safety net of your approving the decision. However, asking them to take that step up prepares them for the higher rungs on the ladder.

Step 5: Decide, advise me - then act

Step five is called “decide, advise me and then act”. Once again, this is a subtle but important step up on the delegation ladder. What you’re effectively doing in this circumstance is asking them to make a decision and go and implement it but again within the safety net that if you feel they’ve made a mistake you can’t live with, you can intervene.

My recommendation for managers is unless there are dire consequences, unless their decision is simply something you can’t live with, back them on the decision they’ve made. It will give them confidence as they continue to move up the ladder.

The increase in authority, autonomy and responsibility from step 2 to 3, 3 to 4 and 4 to 5 can seem quite small, but when you look at the increase from 2 to 5, it’s quite a significant step. That’s why we break them down into small steps that allow people to build their confidence before taking the next one.

Step 6: Decide, act - then advise me

Step six is “decide, act and then advise me”. What we’ve done here is reverse the act and advise me. In other words, they’ve made a decision, they’ve acted on that decision and they’ve simply let you know what they’ve done.

This is a big step in responsibility. It’s a big step in autonomy. Obviously, this is a step that you only move to with people that have got a good foundation of confidence and knowledge in the task being delegated.

Step 7: Decide and act

Step seven again provides a bit more autonomy and a bit more responsibility. It’s “decide and act”. No need to advise me. At some point, I’ll probably become aware of what you’ve decided but I completely trust you to execute this task at the level we require.

Obviously, step seven is a level you’ll only reach with people who achieve a high degree of competence and who you truly believe you can fully rely upon.

effective_delegation_is_more_than_passing_the_batonStep 8: All yours

Step eight on the delegation ladder isn’t really delegation anymore. This is almost a redefinition of jobs and roles and position descriptions.

In step eight, what you’re really doing is allocating the entire authority, autonomy or responsibility for a task to someone else. It’s no longer something that you manage or supervise; it’s something they bear complete responsibility for.

Delegation as a tool to develop people

If you follow these steps, you’ll not only build people capable of doing the tasks you want to delegate at a high level, you’ll make the process a rewarding and educational one for them.

Of course, you may not start with step 1 with some team members. You may have people in your team who already have the capability to operate at step 3, step 4, even step 5.

That’s part of the assessment a manager needs to make when looking at the task they want to delegate, the person they wanna delegate it to and the process they need to use to make that effective.

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photo credit: Biscarotte via photopin cc