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Follow these 5 rules when delegating responsibility to your staff

Being a successful medical office manager calls for an investment.

It is the investment of time and patience to train staff to take on delegated tasks and do the work satisfactorily.

The payoff is big. Besides ending the frustration of having to do much of the busy work, it allows the manager to excel in managing the office.

It is the key to professional productivity and the essential elements are careful instructions and follow-up.

Put it all in writing

As for giving the instructions, the rule is to put them in writing.

It may be easier as well as faster to give only verbal instructions, but putting them in writing forces the manager to think through what needs to be done so no detail gets overlooked.

Staff aren’t mind readers. They can only work with what they’ve been given.

If you shortcut the instructions, the job suffers or has to be redone. If there’s a time crunch, the manager may have to step in and take over. Perhaps worse, the staffer has been set up for failure and so resents having been given the assignment in the first place.

With a written guide to follow, however, the staffer is apt to do the job right the first time.

Five part outline

1 First, state the result, or what the product should be.

2 Next, explain the steps the staffer has to take to achieve that result.

3 Third, list resources the staffer can turn to, such as phone numbers and email addresses for contact people, and links or keywords for Internet sources.

4 Then tell when the project has to be completed. And build in a cushion, set the deadline earlier than necessary.

Similarly, make sure the staffer’s experience matches the job. If it is something that has to be done quickly and without error, assign it to someone who has experience in that area. But if there’s time for a learning period and the manager wants to train someone, assign it to a novice. And in that respect, a good manager plans ahead and trains people for specific jobs before there’s any real need for help.

5 Finally, set interim times for the staffers to give progress reports and tell what those reports should include and whether they should be written or verbal.

Make report times specific such as, “I need to give me an update by noon every Friday.”

Citing a time makes the reporting just as important as the job itself. It keeps the staffer accountable for the work and for getting it done on time. It’s when people don’t see their accountability that they drop the ball.

With all that in writing, the staffer knows what to do, how to do it, and when to get it done. Compare that to the standard, “I need you to do this for me.”

Follow up, but don’t nag

But don’t just make the assignment and forget about it. Equally as important as the directions is the follow-up. Keep track, preferably in writing, of when the interim reports are due.

That doesn’t mean constantly reminding the staffer about the job. Do that and people get conditioned to wait for the reminders to the point that they don’t do anything until they get a prod.

Instead, give the employee the full opportunity to come in for the progress report. That trains people to take responsibility for their work.

What if the staffer doesn’t report at the assigned time? Go in immediately with no minced words. “I am very disappointed that you did not report back to me on your work as you agreed. You can do better than that.”

Conversely, if the staffer does meet the deadline, give a compliment.

Either way, following up keeps the responsibility squarely on the staffer’s shoulders and holds that person accountable for what’s done.

A good delegator constantly reinforces accountability with follow-up. Every manager’s big complaint about delegation is, “I tell people to do things, but they don’t do them.” But the sole reason they don’t do them is that the manager hasn’t followed up. People not only forget, but with no follow-up, they think the job itself has been forgotten.

Also, the peculiarities

Along with the clear directions and follow-up, all staff need information on how best to meet the manager’s expectations.

Everybody has idiosyncrasies, and if staff are going to accommodate those of the manager, they need to know what they are. So along with the assignment, tell what the preferences are, for example:

-Should the staffer give the progress reports in person? By phone? E-mail? In a formal document?

-How much detail should the progress reports include?

-When is a good time and when is a bad time to ask questions? Should the staffer make an appointment or is it okay to walk in with questions?

-Is there someone else the staffer should ask about X or Y.

-Does a 2 p.m. deadline mean any time before that or right on the hour?


Knowing what the job entails, knowing the manager is going to follow up on, and knowing what the manager expects, the staffer can and will get the job done right.

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