MRO Magazine

Your top 10 delegation mistakes … and how to overcome them

Time and time again, you've heard that delegation is crucial to your success. Spread the work around and you get more done in the long run. Delegate especially well and you can build a network of effe...


June 1, 2002
By Richard G. Ensman, Jr.

Time and time again, you’ve heard that delegation is crucial to your success. Spread the work around and you get more done in the long run. Delegate especially well and you can build a network of effective, highly motivated people who can bring you great success.

But be honest: Are you a superb delegator? If you are, read no further. But if you still occasionally stumble in your attempts to effectively delegate, here’s a summary of the common mistakes you might be making — and what you can do to overcome them.

Mistake #1: No plan. Master delegators take the time to plan the work with subordinates, so they can “work the plan” without extensive oversight. Neglect a good plan and you’ll be tempted to constantly check in, criticize or micromanage. The solution: Ask your subordinate to develop a step-by-step plan — complete with timeline and reporting responsibilities — that you can review and agree on.

Mistake #2: No relationship. Do you have a quality relationship with your delegates? Put simply, if you have not built enough rapport and trust to allow you to work together without standing side by side, you’ll end up with problems. The solution: Spend some old-fashioned quality time with your subordinates. Understand their skills, strengths and weaknesses — and get to a point where you’re comfortable about discussing them.

Mistake #3: No candour. It’s easy to sing the praises of delegation. But it’s also easy to forget to give fast, genuine feedback — good and bad — to your delegates. The solution: Each time you meet with your subordinates, identify any positive or negative reactions to their performance and fully share them.

Mistake #4: No communication. Delegating a task is never enough. You can easily forget to review the parameters of the assignment when it’s made and forget the importance of check-ins while it’s being carried out. The solution: Set up a review session (which can be part of a routine supervisory meeting or staff meeting) at the outset and opportunities for regular discussion later.

Mistake #5: No time. Delegated work may involve other peoples’ schedules or assignments. Fail to take these into account when delegating a task and your subordinate may find himself unable to meet your deadlines because he doesn’t have enough time to meet the expectations and schedules of others. The solution: At the outset, identify all individuals — colleagues, vendors, customers and members — who must be involved in the task. Develop a mutually agreed upon timeline for completion of activities. If the task is significant, get buy-in from all involved.

Mistake #6: No flexibility. How many times have you delegated responsibility only to hear later on that things didn’t work out because of changed circumstances? It happens. The solution: Give your subordinate the discretion to make decisions when confronted with information or problems that you didn’t originally anticipate.

Mistake #7: No accountability. Once you give someone responsibility for a task, how do you ensure that it’s properly completed? Don’t put a mechanism for accountability in place and you’ll increase the chance of a poor outcome. The solution: Regular reports, exception notifications, special meetings.

Mistake #8: No clarity. When you delegate, do you explain exactly what the tasks involve, or what outcomes you desire? No? Then you might end up in the wrong place. The solution: Give your subordinates a “charter” when delegating a task: a clear statement of responsibility repeated several times (with your subordinates affirming their understanding) or a formal written assignment if the task is large.

Mistake #9: No confidence. Ask your subordinate every few hours how a task is going, or repeatedly criticize during check-ins, and you’ll send a clear message to your subordinate: I don’t think you can do this task properly. And guess what? If your actions suggest this, he probably won’t be able to do it. The solution: Look for opportunities to praise your subordinate during the process — the occasional compliment, a thank-you note, a word of encouragement during a staff meeting. And assume the role of coach, encouraging shared problem solving.

Mistake #10: No consistency. How many times have you delegated a task, only to signal changes in your expectations with regularity? Shift your position and you’ll slow the completion of the task — and you’ll increase the chance of an unsatisfactory outcome. The solution: Agree on the outcome, the reporting mechanisms and the amount of authority your subordinate has in advance. Change your expectations only in the event of a serious problem.

Richard G. Ensman, Jr., is a regular contributor to Machinery & Equipment MRO.