The meaning, purpose and practical steps of delegation

Every manager is familiar with the concept of delegation, but it is often difficult to put the theory into practice. There are many pitfalls in delegating tasks, but these can be avoided. 

The concept of delegation

The meaning of delegation

In the corporate culture, delegation is the transfer of management tasks to a colleague. Delegation takes different forms. It is essential that delegating tasks is not the same as delegating. 

Delegation is when a manager delegates his or her own tasks to someone else, tasks that fall under his or her authority and for which he or she is responsible. 

Let's take an example: the manager of the paint department in a DIY store asks a salesperson in the department to stock the shelves with freshly arrived goods. This is not a delegation, since stocking is not the job of the department manager, but of the subordinate. However, when you ask your subordinate to order another consignment of the same goods, this is delegation (provided that the ordering is the responsibility of the head of department).

Delegation in agile organisations

In a traditional, hierarchical corporate culture, tasks are usually delegated to a subordinate. In agile organisations, upward delegation is already emerging. The idea is that frontline staff who do the operational work delegate some of the tasks to their superiors, i.e. delegate them to a higher level. 

These are tasks for which there is insufficient information or competence at the relevant level. However, this leaves top management with only those tasks that could not be solved at a lower level. 

However, in agile organisations, delegation is increasingly being replaced by volunteering. This is a logical consequence of the predominance of network structures in agile organisations rather than hierarchical structures. 

The purpose of delegation

The primary purpose of delegating tasks is to reduce the manager's workload, so that he or she can focus time and resources more effectively on tasks that cannot be delegated. 

Other objectives of delegation:

  • making use of the spare capacity of staff,
  • promoting their professional development,
  • motivating staff,
  • building and deepening trust,
  • developing staff autonomy.
  • increase productivity at company level.

Levels of delegation

Delegation can take place at several levels, let's see.

1. The delegate prepares the decision, but the delegator decides

In such cases, the delegator instructs the delegate to put forward proposals, from which he or she chooses. He or she may also ask the delegate to choose the option he or she thinks is the best and justify his or her choice. However, the delegator will still have the final say.

2. The delegate decides, taking into account the advice of the delegator

In this case, the delegate makes the decision, but the delegator influences the decision-making process with his/her suggestions and advice. 

3. The delegate decides, but informs the delegator of his/her decision

The delegator leaves the decision entirely up to the delegate, but is curious about the delegate's decision and asks for feedback on the performance of the task.

4. The delegate decides and does not give any feedback to the delegator

The delegator leaves the decision entirely up to the delegate, without asking how he or she decided. Nor does it ask for any information on the performance of the task. 

The practical steps of delegation

  • Definition of the task to be delegated.
  • Determining the conditions and tools needed to perform the task. Specify the criteria for the task and the expectations of its implementation and results. 
  • Selecting the right delegate who is fit and able to do the job. 
  • Provide the delegate with a detailed description of all the information related to the task, in particular the criteria and expectations mentioned above. 
  • The delegator must be fully satisfied that the delegate has understood everything, exactly as he or she intended. 
  • Follow-up of the delegate's work within the framework agreed and agreed in advance. 
  • Evaluation of the delegate's work after the task has been completed.

Conditions for a successful delegation

In practice, delegating tasks is not always as simple or obvious as it might seem.Delegating tasks has many pitfalls that a good leader tries to avoid. In this area too, the road to success often leads through a number of failures, large and small. 

Below we take a look at some of the typical pitfalls of managerial delegation. 

Delegating too few tasks

It is a typical leadership attitude when someone cannot or does not want to let go of their own responsibilities. The reason is usually that no one else is qualified to do it, or "by the time I explain it to him, I'll have done it myself". 

But if you delegate to the right person who can do the job, delegation works effectively. And it is worth bearing in mind that delegation must always be preceded by some kind of training. However, the time spent on this will pay off, as you can delegate similar tasks to the same person in the future. 

Not clear enough about the task and expectations

If we want the delegate to do the job exactly as we want it to be done, we need to communicate this to them. We also need to be precise about what we expect the end result to be after the task has been completed. This will prevent us from giving negative feedback because we have not been precise enough in setting out our expectations. 

Such negative feedback should be avoided, because the next time the person will be reluctant to agree to delegate tasks to you. Or if he does, he will be unsure and keep asking questions, which will make the delegation less effective. 

Disproportionate delegation of tasks between staff

For many managers, it is tempting to always leave tasks to reliable, agile, skilful colleagues. But this can lead to a disproportionate burden being placed on some people. While less experienced colleagues will never acquire the routine they need to develop. 

It is therefore worth considering not only the competences of the employee but also his or her enthusiasm. Often, a less experienced but motivated employee who has enough time can be more effective than an experienced, seasoned old hand who is short of time and does not feel ownership of the task. 

However, it is also a mistake to avoid entrusting a task to someone who is not capable of doing it. If you delegate a task to an incompetent person, everyone suffers: them, us and the company. 

Over-management of delegated tasks

Once a task has been delegated and a framework has been set, it is important not to go beyond it. Let's say you have agreed with the delegate that the delegate will carry out the task as agreed and give regular feedback, for example twice a week, on where you are with it. It's important not to ask questions on a daily basis, even if you see that things are not going in the right direction or in a less than ideal way. When delegating, it is very important to respect the delegate's autonomy, which is defined during the delegation process.

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