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.