Delegate, don’t dump

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Lots of bosses are good at dumping, but not at delegating. They’re great at off-loading the things they don’t like to do and dropping assignments on their team members with little or no guidance.

Other bosses think that delegating is always the best way to assign work. That’s not right either.

When you’ve got a competent and willing team member, delegation is the right way to go. But it’s not a good choice for workers who aren’t as competent or as committed.

Delegation is only one among the four basic options to choose from when you assign work to a team member. Here they are in order from the one where you exercise the most control to delegation, where you exercise the least.

“Telling” is the style where you make all the basic decisions about how the work will be done. There are two situations where it’s the right choice.

Telling is good for people who may be new to the job. They usually have lots of enthusiasm, but they don’t know how to do the job yet. Coaching should be a big part of your telling, so your new team members learn the ropes and stay enthusiastic. 

Use Telling with team members who’ve proved that they may have the competence, but they don’t work responsibly on their own.  Those are discipline problems and tight control is appropriate.

“Discuss and Tell” is the name I give to the style where you discuss things with your team member, but you keep control of most decisions about how things will be done. This is good for less experienced people who either need instruction or who need their confidence built up. 

Discuss and Tell is the style that most managers seem to like best and revert to under pressure.  They think it lets them be both “participative” and in control.  But using only Discuss and Tell is a bad idea, especially when you’re helping a team member grow and develop.

At some point, your team member will demonstrate that he or she understands the work that needs to be done. That’s the time to use the style I call “Discuss and Allow.” With that style you discuss the work with your team member, and then let them decide what to do.

“Discuss and Allow” is the hardest option for most managers because it involves giving up control before they’re really sure how competent a team member is. But it’s essential if your team member is going to develop to a point where you can delegate to him or her.

Most of the bosses I’ve worked with want to hang on to control too long. If that team member is pushing you to let him or her try things their way, I suggest you do so. Follow up more closely if you must, but the big learning jump for most folks comes when they get to try things on their own.

Some bosses fall off the other side of the horse. They want to jump right over this step and simply assign work.  Don’t do it.

Part of your job as a manager is developing your people so they can do whatever you assign. That won’t happen all at once.  To make sure they develop well, you’ve got to go through Discuss and Allow before you move to the style I call “Allow” or “Delegate.”

When you delegate, you give your team member the assignment and ask what they need from you. This is true delegation. It’s only appropriate for people who have mastered the work to be done and who willingly pitch in. It’s only appropriate if they have all the resources they need to do the job.

As you work with people new to the job you’ll move through the four styles as they grow and develop.  Remember that you use different styles with different people and with the same people on different tasks.  You make your decision on what style to use based on your team member’s ability and willingness to handle the specific work you need to assign.

Boss’s Bottom Line

Part of your job is to help your team members develop. That will only happen if you give them as much control over their work life as you can, based on their ability to do the job and their willingness to tackle it on their own.

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