Delegation and Follow-up

by Krishna on December 16, 2007

A good manager must learn to delegate. By doing so, he can focus his time on activities which others cannot do as well as he can. Since a manager’s time is costly, he should delegate repetitive activities to less expensive resources, and spend more time on tasks that will contribute to better organizational results and profitability.

Delegation is, simply, asking someone else to do a task. You may have to provide essential information at the outset. You may have to supply additional information during the course of the task to fill in the details or correct misunderstandings. Finally, the task is finished.

Successful delegation means that you have accomplished the task with considerably less effort than what you would have spent by doing it yourself. And by the same measure, delegation is a failure if you achieve negligible or negative time savings, the quality of the work done is poor and you are constantly worried about the progress of the task.

In this post, I want to address the last issue. When you delegate, you want to be confident that the task will be taken up, worked upon and finished in a timely manner. However, the following situations can dent your confidence:

  1. When the other person does not acknowledge the task: This is most common in email (or any non-verbal) communication. You ask someone to perform a task and you hear nothing back. You are not sure what happened: Did the person receive your email? Has he started working on it? In a face-to-face setting, silence is usually not an issue, because there is no confusion about the person having received the task. But lack of reply to an email has the opposite effect.
  2. When the other person does not provide a plan: Without a plan, there is a greater likelihood that the task could be consumed by other priorities. A plan is not necessarily about exact dates and times for deliverables, because the other person needs time to understand the task. But the plan should contain specifics about time allocation and the activities that will get you to the point where the task is completed.
  3. When the other person does not provide details of the progress: If you are not updated regularly about the progress of the task, your confidence in the timeliness and quality of the deliverables decreases. That is why incremental deliverables are very important. It can easily show the amount of work done, what is remaining, the quality of the work and whether everyone is on the right track.
  4. When there is no mutual acceptance of task closure: The task is really only completed when it has been done to your satisfaction. Every deliverable remains unaccepted until you absolve the other person of any further responsibility and decide to take it from there.

As a manager, you can improve your chances of successful delegation by

  1. Following up with the other person for task acknowledgement, and constant progress updates.
  2. Implementing organizational or project processes for planning, monitoring and acceptance.
  3. Using software for task planning, scheduling, and reminders.

Unfortunately, any activity that you do to improve delegation is time and effort that you have to spend. It is, of course, too optimistic to accept delegation as a black box (give a task and a deadline, and get it back on time with quality). But if you do not gain significant time and cost savings by delegation, and in the process, worry yourself to death’s door, then delegation is useless. This is the point where most managers say, “Let me do it myself. It will be easier. Delegating is not worth the hassle.

What I am leading up to is: Pick the right people to delegate to. Some people, by nature, are much better at this than others. The good ones are very organized. When they get a task, they acknowledge it. They learn to prioritize or ask for input for doing so. They provide regular progress updates and intermediate deliverables. They stay on the task until you tell them that it is over.

There is a reason why other people are not the same. Such behavior requires certain personality traits:

  1. Communicative: People who are open and communicative are easier to delegate to than people who are reserved or reticent. Some people are also better at communicating clearly and accurately than others who cannot provide a direct answer to anything.
  2. Organized: Many disorganized people are very creative and innovative. But when it comes to planning and following up, you need people who have greater self-discipline and organizing skills. Such people can keep track of all the things that they are supposed to do, and arrange their schedules to be effective at doing them.
  3. Resilient: Everyone always asks for honest feedback. Few can handle the truth; fewer improve themselves. As human beings, we want acceptance and hate disapproval. When someone makes a mistake, it is safer to hide and try to fix the problem than publicize it and risk negative reactions. And many people consider any suggestion to change their work as a rebuke or a threat. So you want to find and work with people who can handle pressure.
  4. Communal: People who have an independent streak may be good performers, but you cannot rely on regular communication from them. They believe that they are doing the right thing and do not like any interference with their work (including your asking if things are going okay). That makes collaboration all the more difficult.

So, find the right people who will reduce your effort, not add to it. You may not always get a perfect match, so for the areas where the other person is deficient, discuss with them and come to a mutually acceptable and light-weight solution.


Priya December 17, 2007 at 6:10 am

Excellent article. I stumbled upon your blog a couple of months ago and have been a regular reader since then. Great informative and thought provoking posts! Keep them coming.



Krish December 17, 2007 at 10:13 am

Thanks for your comments, Priya

Bala December 17, 2007 at 11:19 pm

Nice article Krish. Very informative


Jack Payne December 18, 2007 at 12:10 am

Fumbled signals between Planer and Planee is a common problem.

Thanks for the enlightenment.

Krish December 18, 2007 at 10:39 am

Thanks for your comments, Bala and Jack.

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