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Monday, December 28, 2015

Delegation, the Missing Essential

     Try this little experiment:
     Pick one of your most intelligent, trustworthy, responsive associates. Time yourself at five minutes in describing some function of yours that the person has never done or seen. Keep it verbal. Explain freely in response to the person’s questions but take no more than five minutes.
     Make it something of moderate complexity.
     Then remain silent and uninvolved as the person carries out the function. Neither person speaks and there is no other kind of communication. Do not set a hard-and-fast time limit for this phase.
     Take notes on what happens, especially at points where the person forgets or ignores your instructions, or adds/changes parts of the process.
     At a suitable point, stop the experiment and discuss with the other person what happened, and why. Perhaps the instruction was at fault, leaving out elements that were so second-nature to you that you never thought to include them. Ones your partner had no way to know exist.

     Part II. Reverse roles. The actor becomes the instructor, and you are the one performing the experiment. The other person assigns you an activity that is roughly equivalent to the first one. The other person knows it well, but you know do not – at least at the beginning.
     But there is a difference this time. As you carry out the activity, you can ask any questions you want. The other person can offer advice.
     Part III. Evaluate what happened. Compare the second experience to the first, in some detail. What effects, positive and negative, were there from allowing two-way communication in the second round? How much longer did it take? Was there a significant improvement in the process and the outcome?
     Compare the experience to what you have seen in the real-life workplace. How often have you witnessed thorough instruction when a person is introduced to an unfamiliar process (or an entire job)?
     How often, also, do you see people doing poor or incomplete work, sometimes not even knowing how substandard it is? And managers too busy, too inattentive or too unskilled themselves to supervise them?

      This is delegation. Usually, rather, it is the failure of delegation, a most essential practice of good management: Empowering people to succeed when they take up new duties.
     Unless your reality differs markedly from mine, your little test case helped you put your finger on many of the same flaws you see around you every day.
     With an exception. The real-life senior partners often do only superficial upfront instruction, and don’t hang around at all when work is being done. The person new to the responsibility floats loose on an uncharted sea.
     Or, probably with equal frequency, opposite happens. The boss hawks the delegatee so closely that the person never really develops the necessary skills to do the job autonomously.
     And, as a side effect, the senior person never has time to do his/her own work. Sometimes, as a matter of fact, the boss’ inappropriate involvement in the lower-level activity is pursued to avoid distasteful management duties.
     However the delegation is mishandled, the resultant shortfall in effectiveness often is permanent. When collaboration is absent, so is continuing delegation. The second party in the relationship never gets either information or encouragement to tune it up properly.
     So the sloppy performance hardens into routine mediocrity, and is passed on to whomever that person someday instructs. Mediocrity becomes the organization’s culture.

     Delegation is absolutely essential in every facet of our society. It is present whenever someone needs someone else to do something. It is a combination of teamwork and negotiation, and when it is done well it is the hallmark of excellence in human behavior.
     It happens when the skills of personal productivity and high-level communication are understood, learned and practiced. It takes time and patience, and the taming of tasks.
     It happens only when key people make it a priority.

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