The seven biggest delegation traps and how to avoid them

Summer holidays are looming and many managers’ minds are turning to delegation as a way to ensure that the most important work continues to be carried out. Of course, delegation is, or should be, a year-round activity but it often spikes over the silly season. Although there is a lot of information about what and how to delegate in the text, I thought it might be timely to look at the seven biggest delegation traps and how to avoid them.

  1. Failure to explain the ‘big picture’. Too many managers merely pass on a task and a few success measures, and that’s fine as far as it goes. Put the icing on the cake and the motivation into the delegate by explaining how the task you’re delegating fits in with team purpose and the organisation’s vision. Understanding the strategic perspective lends gravitas to the task and encourages peak performance. (Of course, it goes without saying that you need to explain the task fully and ensure delegates understand precisely what’s required.)
  2. Failure to give delegates a WIFM. How does the delegate benefit by taking on this task? Additional job interest? A chance to extend or expand skills and knowledge? A chance to liaise with others they wouldn’t normally have access to? A chance to test out a task to see if they enjoy it and want to do more similar work? With no quid pro quo, there’s no ‘get up and go’.
  3. Failure to let go. You’ve probably heard of helicopter parents — always fussing and hovering over their kids to make sure they’re ok. You may even know some lawnmower parents; they’re the parents who clear a path for their kids that is so smooth, they’ll never have to deal with the little bumps and ditches people in the real world have to learn to manage. These parents think, no doubt, they’re really helping their kids and while the impulse to do that is understandable, this kind of parenting is hard work.Many managers have a tendency to be helicopter and lawnmower delegators, too. There’s no need. Provided you know the delegate can do the work (even though perhaps not as proficiently as yourself!) or provided you have provided sufficient explanation and training and a dress rehearsal, you can stop hovering. Allow delegates the opportunity to test out their skills, build experience and learn from a few mistakes.Provide support by all means — you would never just cut a delegate loose and hope for the best. Just don’t interfere.
  4. Failure to delegate interesting work, aka ‘dumping’. This one is simple: Don’t offload work that you don’t like and delegates don’t like either. And the other side of that coin: Don’t hang onto work you do like that you could and should delegate.
  5.  Failure to delegate a whole task. Akin to ‘dumping’ and ‘go-fer’ delegation, this is delegating just bits of a task rather than an entire piece of work. It offers no satisfaction in the execution, successful or otherwise (and likely to be unsuccessful, since delegates generally view this bitsy delegation as sheer laziness on your part.
  6. Failure to say thank you for a job well done and, to make matters worse, to take credit for the delegate’s work. (The buck stops with you, though, should the work be done poorly, so make sure to keep gentle tabs on the delegate’s progress as described in the text, and monitor results not method.)
  7. Failure to let those the delegate needs to liaise with know they’ll be dealing with your delegate. That’s just slack and bad for your personal brand.

So there you go. As your thoughts turn to the holidays and how to make sure work continues without you, as you work out the best person to do each task (refer to Number 2 above) and how best to explain the task and monitor each delegate’s success, you can avoid these damaging pitfalls.


Risk is stepping into the limelight

Risk management is moving into the limelight, not just because the world is a complex, fast-moving and risky place in which to operate, but also because, as organisations innovate ever-more efficient processes, develop new and improved offerings, enter into strategic alliances, reach out to customers in new and innovative ways, and widen their reach into the global marketplace, their risk exposure increases. And organisations must do these things or face stagnation and death as they’re left further and further behind by their competitors.

Another factor pushing risk management into the forefront of an organisation’s operations is that the longer an organisation pays attention to risk management, the more it matures, in risk management terms. When an organisation first dips its toes into risk management, it is largely limited to compliance and protection. Operational risks are at the top of the risk manager’s ‘to do’ list. But once these risks become ‘business as usual’ (BAU) risks and are satisfactorily managed and monitored by ‘owners’, the risk manager’s list of current, active and therefore frequently reviewed risks, shrinks. Current risks might drop from well over 100 to around 20, for example, and these would only need annual or bi-annual audits, with quarterly audits for severe risks, to make sure all is well. You are now a ‘mature’ organisation, in risk management terms.

So what to do with all your spare time? The answer to this is what moves you into the limelight. With your BAU risks sorted, you move into the strategic space. You’re scanning the horizon, looking for opportunities. And for every opportunity you spy, there is a risk of some sort. You have moved into helping your organisation find and take risks that can add value to its operations and and offerings.

Risk culture is increasingly important. Every employee and contractor needs to be a mini risk manager for the organisation they’re working for. Risk managers need to monitor and guide the building of a strong risk culture, offer interesting and informative risk management training and work with senior management and the board to establish clear guidelines on who can take what risks, and why, without reference to senior management.

So there is a lot to do after you’ve reduced your organisation’s active current operational risks. You’re broadening, and probably increasing, the number of your organisation’s strategic opportunities and risks. Back to a bursting ‘to do’ list.

Are you ready to step into the limelight?

Diamonds from the sky

Carbon nanofibres. Extremely tiny; submicroscopic, in fact. Extremely strong. Very valuable. But what would you do with them? We’ll come to that in a minute.

Carbon nanofibres can be made using the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the greenhouse gas primarily responsible for climate change and global warming. Wow, imagine pulling huge chunks, for want of a better term, of this nasty greenhouse gas out of the sky and transforming it into strong and highly useful material. The mind boggles.

‘We calculate that with a physical area less than 10 percent the size of the
Sahara Desert, our process could remove enough CO2
to decrease atmospheric levels to those of the
pre-industrial revolution
within 10 years.’
Stuart Licht, PhD, leader of the George Washington University research team

But wait — there’s more. Carbon nanofibres are really cheap to make — hundreds of times less than the value of the carbon nanofibres produced, a ratio to be more than proud of. The process, developed at George Washington University, uses only a few volts of solar-generated electricity mixed with lots of carbon dioxide. (You can read more about the process here.)

And this is not the future. Scientists can do it now. But back to our earlier question: What do you do with these carbon nanofibres? Well, if you’re into building airplanes, cars or submarines, it keeps them light but strong. Or if consumer products is more your thing, they’re really handy in high-end sports equipment like racing cycles. Or maybe your organisation is in the sustainability industry itself, in which case, you might be interested in using carbon nanofibres in wind turbine blades.

Technology has advanced more in the past 30 years than in the past 2,000, and great leaps forward can bring unexpected and unimagined benefits. We just need to keep thinking and keep innovating.

From stressed-out to nicely stressed

Stress leave costs the country tens of millions of dollars a year. There’s one good thing about stress, though: If you didn’t have any, you’d probably be dead. Stress is a natural and normal part of life and in fact, some stress is good for you — it’s motivating, makes you feel alive and gives you the drive to succeed.

But too much stress is debilitating. It drains your energy and undermines your body, your emotions and your ability to think clearly and quickly. The effects of too much stress over long periods can be toxic, acting like slow poison and building up, altering your body and your brain.

That’s why it’s important to recognise when you’re stressed and deal with it. When you don’t, it isn’t just you who suffers — it’s those around you, too.

Your first course of action when you recognise you’re stressed is to remove or reduce whatever it is that’s causing you stress in the first place. Of course, you can’t always do that; throttling your boss would land you in jail and you’d be even worse off.

So when you can’t remove or reduce whatever it is that’s stressing you, your next course of action is to learn to deal with it more effectively. There are two main ways you can do that:

  1. Change the way you look at and think about the source of your stress. It’s often how you view a situation or an even that makes it stressful. Your boss is always looking over your shoulder? See it as making sure you’re ok and trying to be available in case you need any help. Better? Ok, you may have to work at it, but a different frame of mind and sending yourself different messages about what’s stressing you can often be just what the doctor ordered.
  2. Don’t allow your stress levels to build up. Learn to recognise your own symptoms of stress and when they strike, do something. Stiff shoulders? Roll them around a few times. Shallow breathing? Take three deep breaths. Hands clenched in a fist? Shake them loose and relax them. Take a break. Do something constructive with your pent-up energy — take a walk, hit the gym, stroll in the park — whatever you need to do to clear your mind and calm jagged nerves. When you break the stress response early on, you have a good chance of preventing your stress from escalating and causing serious behavioural, emotional and health problems.

When all else fails, undertake some form of stress management, be it regular exercise, meditation, yoga or relaxation training. This is a longer-term solution that can prevent stress from making you ill and also improve your overall health and well-being.

The main thing is to get on top of stress as soon as you can. You don’t want to let it build up and become increasingly debilitating and difficult to deal with.