The power of delegation

How many times, when you have asked someone how they are going at work, have they responded with something like the following: “I’m flat out. I’m really busy. I don’t have enough hours in the day. I’ve got to work this weekend etc” It’s fairly typical. Yes, it’s obvious that as a workforce we are working longer hours but are we working smarter?

Having been in management positions for over 25 years, working across a number of industries, I’ve observed a common theme; the failure of many managers to delegate tasks/responsibilities to their staff. The solution to the problem of an overwhelming workload sounds simple – get someone else to do it. There is no doubt we apply this mantra in our personal lives, just look at the rise in service industries such as household cleaners, gardeners, ‘hire a hubby’ and car wash cafes! Yet, why is it so hard for a manager to let go and empower others to do their work?

Certainly there are reasons, such as the inability to trust others to do a good job. How many times have you heard someone say “if you want it done right, do it yourself”? This issue is usually related to an ignorance of your staff’s capabilities. There is also a certain enjoyment felt by managers who have the ‘power’ of control, which results in a general fear of letting go – I’m a manager, I’m the expert and it’s my job! Often it comes down to not having the time to teach others the skills to complete your tasks, after all if you don’t have the time to complete your normal workload, how will you have time to conduct training?

I’m not advocating you just go out and ‘dump’ your work on other people. Although in some workplace cultures this ‘dumping’ or ‘sink or swim’ mentality does prevail – and we all know how stressful it can be as the recipient of this inefficient work practice.

What I’ve observed, and practiced as a manager, is that by actively empowering employees they become not only more motivated but also keener to help out if your workload is particularly overwhelming. If you give people the skills, coach them, let them try (and not criticise them if they fail!) and reward their efforts, they by and large succeed at the task at hand and want to push themselves to do more.

So through involvement, comes responsibility, ownership and then commitment (I.R.O.C). It’s a simple but effective mantra.

Several years ago I was responsible for a number of retail branches for a major Insurance company. Each branch had a manager and the staff referred to them for direction, solutions and also left the branch administration activities to them. The fact is that many of the staff had the skills to do the reports, run the communication meetings, do the budgets, train the staff, promote the business and solve customer issues. They were very capable people but they just hadn’t been given the responsibility to do anything beyond their job role. After several meetings in which the concept of ’empowerment’ was discussed each branch’s staff identified what ‘management’ actions they could take on and manage for the branch – in essence I introduced ‘self-directed work teams’. The concept successfully freed up the manager’s time as they coached the staff to do the functions management usually did. Staff motivation rose as well as their results and managers became more strategic rather than tactical practitioners. It also aligned with the company’s focus on career development and progression within the company.

Of course there were sceptics but the concept worked and was eventually adopted across the company’s branch network.

It’s a simple example and took 1-2 years to maximise the full benefits, but it worked and ‘self-directed work teams’ led to a dramatic change in work culture.

So I would encourage you to increase your delegation, you will be surprised on the return it gives you.

If you would like to find out more about the value of empowering staff I would recommend you read Ricardo Semmler’s book ‘Maverick’. An amazing story on how he transformed his business through empowering his staff and applying the principles of I.R.O.C

This article was written by a guest contributor, Wayne Noakes. Wayne is the Learning and Development Manager at Veolia Environmental Services and a client of Henricks Consulting.

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