How do I delegate tasks that I'm tempted to do myself?

Giving work to an employee is delegation, one of the hardest tasks for some managers. Part of the problem is due to a reluctance to relinquish control of anything they're working on. Many managers operate on the basic assumption that someone else either can't do the work or at least can't do it as well as they can. At the other extreme are those who essentially delegate every chore imaginable, including those they should properly do themselves. These are tasks that involve confidential information, are tied to shaping your organization's vision or goals, are related to performance management (appraisals, discipline, coaching, and counseling), or are politically sensitive situations

Theoretically, you can delegate anything to your employees. But certain tasks lend themselves to being delegated, like the following:

- Detail work

- Information gathering

- Repetitive assignments

- Surrogate roles

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Detail work. The devil is in the details, details that could take up much time and could be done as well by one of your employees as by you. It isn't for you to do—your responsibility is to orchestrate the workings of an entire team of workers toward a common goal.

Information gathering. Browsing the Web for information about your competitors, spending hours poring over issues of newspapers, business magazines, and newsletters, or moving into your local library's stacks for weeks on end is not an effective use of your time as a manager. Despite this fact, most managers do tend to get sucked into this trap. They are being paid to look at the big picture—to make sense of lots of information—not to gather the needed information. That is the task of one of your employees, someone skilled in doing such research and who has a clear idea of what you are looking for.

Repetitive assignments. Routine tasks that can be assigned to your employees should be handled this way. If you find yourself involved in repetitive assignments, stop to take a close look at the tasks. Are you the only person who can do them? If so, is it due to the nature of the tasks or the lack of training of staff members? If the latter, what do you have to do to train your employees? After you figure this out, develop a training schedule and make assignments to your employees.

What if an employee refuses to accept the assignment or agrees to do the work provided he or she gets a raise or promotion? Faced with this response, you should not give in. Rather, remind the employee that it is within his or her job duties to do the task. Failure to do the work will be reflected in the person's performance appraisal, as would his or her willingness to take on additional tasks.

Surrogate roles. You don't have to go to all those meetings or take clients on company tours or sit in on conference calls within your organization. Rather, you should give your employees the opportunity to participate in these meetings. Obviously, you can't be everywhere all the time, nor should you try to be. Not only could your time be better spent but attendance at these sessions can be seen as learning experiences for your employees.

Sometimes, no matter how well you follow the rules above, the delegation goes wrong—very wrong. Follow-through will enable you to identify the danger signs before it is too late. Coach and counsel the employee. If that proves ineffective, you will need to rescind the employee's authority to complete the task independently. The individual still will do the task but under your close guidance and authority.

The ultimate solution when delegation goes wrong is to reassign the activity to another employee. If your employee cannot do the task, then it must be given to someone who is more suitable to perform the work successfully. The bigger problem—the employee's failure to do the work—becomes the subject of counseling and future performance management.

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