Delegation is an important tool to help free up time, allowing us to focus on the things we do best and that add the most value to the firm. Unfortunately, however, delegation is a tool that too infrequently makes it out of the toolbox.
There are a number of common preconceived notions regarding delegation. Examples include that a person often believes they are the only one who can accomplish a given task; they are the only one who can do it right; that everyone else is so busy there is no one to delegate to; and/or they would spend just as much time giving directions as would have taken to do it on their own. While these are sometimes valid concerns, each can be overcome.
Five Steps to Effective Delegation
Upfront thinking and planning can greatly increase the chance that an off-loaded task will be completed successfully and to everyone’s satisfaction.
1. Select the Right Person
Match personnel skills and abilities with the task based on aptitude, not simply on convenience.
2. Specify the Desired Result
Communicate clearly the result you expect, and specify what criteria should be met when the task is complete.
3. Set a Deadline
A reasonable time frame creates accountability.
4. Determine Authority
Determine the authority level you want to provide the person(s) in taking action and making decisions. Make sure involved personnel understand their authority level. [Note: There is nothing more frustrating for a delegatee than feeling they have been given responsibility and authority only to find out later in the process that the only “correct” approach is the one the delegator would have taken.]
5. Track Progress and Results
Set up a mechanism for the delegatee(s) to report progress and communicate issues.
Communication is Key
Tasks and decision-making responsibilities are delegated at all levels of the firm. All too often, however, the delegator is ultimately not completely satisfied with either: 1) the final result or 2) the way in which the result was achieved. More often than not, such dissatisfaction stems from a breakdown in the communication process. The delegator must clearly communicate expectations, criteria and level of authority from the onset. To effectively communicate expectations and criteria, a delegator must first determine the level of authority they are willing to bestow upon any delegatee.
- Level 1—Delegator wants delegatee to simply assess and research the task/decision and to report back before taking any action.
- Level 2—Delegator wants delegatee to handle the task/decision but to give regular progress reports.
- Level 3—Delegator wants delegatee to handle the task/decision and to report only on the final result.
- Level 4—Delegator wants delegatee to handle the task/decision, to just take care it, beginning to end.
Delegation Dos and Don’ts
Following these delegation process guidelines can also help increase the likelihood of success.
- Constantly Update Priorities—Any delegatee must be helped to understand the importance of the task/decision they have been asked to carry out. They must also understand if and when that importance level changes.
- Clarify Your Expectations—Once again, outline early on what the finished product should look like when it is done well.
- Provide Support to the Delegatee—Providing feedback, acting as a sounding board, and answering questions can all help ensure success.
- Communicate, Communicate, Communicate—Clear communication about expectations, criteria, timelines and authority level are all key to delegation process success.
- Expect the Delegatee to Read Your Mind—The delegatee can’t possibly know your expectations, criteria, timelines and authority level of authority unless you specifically tell them.
- “Drive-By” Delegation—Delegating based merely on convenience (for instance, delegating to the first person you see) often leads to abject failure.
- Underestimate Time and Effort Required—Sit down with the delegatee to come up with realistic timelines to help ensure that all parties are committed to those deadlines.
- Micromanage—Authority level will determine how closely you need to manage the delegatee. This level should be clearly communicated early on so there are no surprises at any point in time.
- Delegate Your Unique Abilities—Unique abilities are the things that you do best and enjoy doing. They are also the things that typically add the most value to the firm, things that should never be delegated!
The bottom line is this: Whether your focus is technology or management, delegation is a tool that can help you—and the firm—become more effective, more successful, overall.
Jim Boomer is a shareholder and the CIO for Boomer Consulting, Inc. He is the director of the Boomer Technology Circles™ and an expert on managing technology within an accounting firm. He also serves as a strategic planning and technology consultant and firm adviser in the areas of performance and risk management. In addition, Jim is leading a new program, The Producer Circle, in collaboration with CPA2BIZ and the AICPA.