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Common Mistakes in Delegation

Delegation is a key skill to be being a successful manager. If you are not in management yet, you should learn how to delegate to subordinates, mentees or anyone else you have authority over.

But not all people in management like to delegate. Some find it hard to distract themselves from the current tasks to find time to delegate, or they may find it too much of a challenge to share responsibility for the work they are used to doing themselves. Others are afraid to lose their sense of importance after teaching someone else to do a section of their work. The truth is, if you strive to grow your career and take on new responsibilities, passing some of your current workload to others will diminish the possibility of you feeling overwhelmed by your increasing responsibilities. It will also enable your team to grow with you, leading to higher motivation and efficiency.

To make delegation happen, several factors need to be considered. Here are some points where the most critical mistakes can appear.

Mistakes in Delegation

Is the Task Clear to Understand?

The importance of this point can hardly be overestimated. A task misunderstood or under-communicated can lead to demotivation, and a loss of trust and reputation, not to mention the business consequences of the failed job or unmet deadlines. To avoid this, take your time with task preparation. Explain the task clearly and provide all necessary information.
The timeframe is an essential part of any task, so make sure to agree on that, too. Remember that your subordinate’s opinion counts. He or she can accept or decline the task or deadline. In which case, it’s not so much delegation as a discussion to find the best working plan.

If you intend to delegate responsibility for a whole set of regular activities, make sure you communicate the milestones, timing, and scope of events. This could be something like, for example, ‘the mentee will be able to execute test cases on a new functionality without supervision by Nov 1’, or ‘the report is sent out every Friday by 6 pm’.

For checking how well you have formulated your task, there are two useful acronyms – SMART and even SMARTER.

  • S- specific
  • M- measurable
  • A- achievable
  • R- reasonable
  • T- time-bound
  • E- ethical (enjoyable)
  • R- recorded

Make sure everything is clear to your colleague and encourage questions. Check you are on the same page by asking ‘Could you give me insight on how you understand this task?’ or ‘Tell me how you are going to do it.’

Come up with completion criteria: How would they know that the task is finished? Make them tangible and precise, and write them down.

Goals and Consequences are Explained

Another point that is often missed is letting the employee know the relevance of the task they are doing to you (and the business) as well as to the employee themselves. Also let them know what the consequences are of successful and unsuccessful task completion. Seeing a bigger picture will help the assigned person feel more motivated and responsible.

The Level of Responsibility is Clear and Suitable

Imagine you have set a task for your colleague to coordinate the work of several software testers and aggregate the results of their work. After it has been done, you find that she not only prepared a report but sent it out to the client, while you expected her to provide intermediate group results to you. Along with the task clarity, we have an issue with the level of responsibility here.

According to common practice, there are between five and seven levels of delegation Let’s take a look at the first five:

  • Level 1: I tell you what to do, you fulfill.
  • Level 2: You research the topic, then tell me what you’ve found and I will make the final decision.
  • Level 3: You research and make recommendations, I make the final decision.
  • Level 4: You make a decision and tell me what you do.
  • Level 5: You make a decision and don’t even tell me. I trust your judgment completely.

Many don’t have this understanding so won’t even think about it when they are delegating. It is critical to communicate the level of responsibility expected of your subordinate effectively. Eventually, the best managers will delegate at level 5.

The Frequency and Form of Progress Monitoring is Agreed and Relevant

Task progress can be monitored in different ways:

  • On completion
  • Shortly before the completion
  • Milestone-based
  • Periodically (e.g., once a week)
  • Randomly

The form the monitoring takes can also vary, such as in personal meetings, email, chat, etc.).
If the method hasn’t been agreed at the start, and you show up randomly to check progress, your subordinates may feel that you don’t trust them, that the process is too chaotic, and they don’t know what to expect from you next. The right frequency is crucial, and the perception of their being micromanaged can have a damaging effect on the delegated colleague’s motivation, and the lack of control contains the risk of ultimately failing the task. So, choose form and frequency based on how often (in percentage to total attempts) the employee has successfully completed similar tasks. If they are doing the task for the first time, it makes sense to check the progress more often, even if the person is highly skilled and responsible.

If the assignee has any questions, provide the necessary support but remember that when you give comprehensive answers, you take the responsibility back. Be a coach and help your colleagues to find their own solutions.

The Right Tasks Delegated to the Right People

Delegation is not just re-assigning the work you don’t like to someone else. Ideally, the task should be challenging for the delegatee. It should be related to the direction of his or her planned career steps and be perceived as a benefit, not a punishment. In some cases it makes sense to rephrase the task to sound more like a job the delegatee would like to do.
On the other hand, if some of your teammates are not happy with the way the process works, it is a rule of thumb to delegate this part of the job to them. Ask them to find a better tool or improve the process. Give them a proper level of authority, and you will probably be impressed with the results. Be sure the person in charge has all the necessary resources and authority to fulfill the task. If not, agree on what they should do in case of any difficulties encountered.

Finally, certain tasks can’t be delegated. They will concern your main responsibilities, such as being accountable for the results of your team’s work, managing your team (including praise and incentives) and reporting to your higher manager or client.

Feedback and Lessons Learned

Another point that is often skipped is that after the results of the task have been received and processed, offer constructive feedback and ask your colleague to share their thoughts about what could be improved in the delegation process. Remember to discuss issues, not people. Come up with an action list that you’ll use next time.

At first, you may find delegation difficult, but as long as you’ve learned to do it right, your career and life will never be the same. So, take the benefits as well as help your colleagues to progress.

Author

Alona Benko

Experienced in manual testing and team leading. Apart from QA, her interests lie in the fields of management and psychology.