Pick the style that's right for you
You know the importance of delegation. And you probably delegate tasks instinctively: you ask people to do things as a matter of routine, you expect that tasks will be completed, and for the most part, they are.
But delegation is a complex phenomenon. Before delegating, it's always best to decide exactly what it is that you're delegating - and how you propose to do it. Here, then, are eight different delegation styles available to you. The style you select may vary from task to task or employee to employee, but by using a single style when you assign tasks, you'll be able to focus attention on the work at hand:
- Delegate by Task. Here, you'll assign specific activities to employees. These may vary from day to day, or week to week, depending on your workload and priorities. This style is best used with employees who function well as assistants. This style, however, may require planning time on your part.
- Delegate by Priority. Using this strategy, you'll reserve high-priority tasks for yourself and lower-priority tasks for your assistant or employees. This style works best when you have employees who do not possess the level of skills you possess. This style requires you to train your people well so they can handle routine tasks on their own without knocking on your door regularly.
- Delegate by Job Description. Using a detailed job description, you'll articulate the ongoing duties and responsibilities of your employees. This style works best for professional employees whose work demands do not change frequently. You'll need to write very specific job descriptions, with examples of duties and responsibilities.
- Delegate by Process. In today's process-oriented workplaces, you might assign employees to manage various work procedures, such as producing specific computer reports, reconciling inventory, or any one of a thousand other tasks. This style works best for skilled employees who excel at repetitive tasks. You'll need to understand each process, however, so there's no confusion when it comes time to delegate. You'll also need appropriate reports from your people to ensure that things are being done.
- Delegate by Exception. Using this strategy, you'll give your employees broad discretion in handling a variety of responsibilities. You'll allow them great latitude in performing their work, except when you step in with specific instructions. This style works well with enthusiastic, self-starters. You'll need to monitor what these employees are doing, however, to be sure they don't move into uncharted waters.
- Delegate by Results. In this scenario, you'll ask your employees to produce specific results - such as production quotas or sales - and give them a wide berth in the type of activities they perform to get there. This style of delegation, which can take a great load off your shoulders, is best for independent, self-starters. You need to identify specific results, and be sure the employee has the authority and resources to do the job.
- Delegate by the Individual. Under this scenario, how you delegate will depend entirely on the individual's experience, training, and skills. You may have five employees with varying levels of skill. You then delegate based on the abilities of each individual. In fact, you can even use the opportunity for greater delegation of responsibility as a motivator. This style of delegation works best in complex workplaces where there's a lot of turnover. Using this style, you need to know the strengths and weaknesses of your people inside and out.
- Delegate by Absence. If you're frequently away from the workplace, delegate many or most of your routine tasks to another employee whenever you're away. This style is ideal if you're on the road but still responsible for deadlines. It works best with employees who are professionally close to you and growing in skill. You must communicate with them closely about your needs, however, in order for this style to work effectively.
- Define what and how you want to delegate.
- Be sure there's a mutual understanding about the terms of the delegation between you and your employee.
- Train and orient your employee about what you want done and, if appropriate, how you want it done.
- Give your employee the appropriate amount of freedom, but always specify check points or reporting mechanisms, such as meetings, written reports, or e-mail.
- Offer feedback to your employee. Let her know how she did on her most recent assignment and modify your authority and responsibility in the future as a result.
- Gradually increase the employee's responsibility as he/she demonstrates growing ability and skill.
About the Author
Richard G. Ensman Jr. is a free-lance writer based in Rochester, N.Y.