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MANAGING STAFF

Make your job easier by delegating more

To be an effective manager, learn the art of letting go. Learn how to delegate.

Without delegation, any manager ends up doing everybody else’s job and drowning in the work. But just as bad, staff never grow beyond the basics of their jobs. They never develop a sense of pride in their work, and they never experience a challenge. All they can do is become passive clones.

Good delegation doesn’t mean getting somebody else to do the work, says Shona Garner, a management trainer in Doncaster, Yorkshire, England.

It means becoming a teacher so staff can learn new skills and start thinking for themselves. “Human beings are incredibly capable if we give them a chance,” she says.

I want this – 80 percent of the time

To delegate well, start by asking. “What do I want here? What’s really important to me?” And tell that to the staffer.

Then accept the fact that the staffer probably isn’t going to get it right the first time and that nobody is going to get it right 100 percent of the time.

Delegation is teaching and coaching, Garner says. Focus on developing staff, not on perfection. In general, if they get things done right 80 percent of the time, that’s a pretty good percentage.

How do you feel about this?

Once the directive is given, watch the staffer’s reaction.

Most managers don’t do that. But the observation is essential, because the reaction is a good indicator of how well the assignment is understood and also how well it’s being received.

If there’s a furrowed brow or if the staffer seems hesitant to take on the work or keeps looking down instead of making eye contact, it’s not clear what needs to be done. Ask what the issue is: “I’m getting a sense that you’re not quite comfortable with this assignment. Is there anything I can do to help you?”

Or suppose there’s a sigh or a sour “okay, I’ll do it.” The staffer is quite likely seeing the job as too simple or as being pawned off. Acknowledge the feeling: “This might be a mundane task for you, so what would you like to do to enhance this project?” or “How can I make this more interesting for you?

Or suppose the staffer is overqualified for the job. Admit it: “I know this is a mundane task, but I really appreciate your doing it for me.”

Garner adds a note of psychology here.

While mundane assignments are not pleasant, they are more palatable if they’re balanced out with other work that uses the staffer’s top skills.

What’s more, with any assignment – mundane or challenging – the response will be more positive if the manager explains why the work is important to the overall picture, for example, “This may be a simple job, but it’s an important one, because it will help us collect more money faster.”

Do you have time for this?

Now find out if the employee has the time and resources to do the assignment.

Again, most managers don’t do that, Garner says, and it leads to frustration on both sides. The staffer is hard pressed to get the work done, and the manager doesn’t get a quality work product.

Suppose the job is for the receptionist to start finding out how new patients heard about the office.

Find out if the receptionist already has other pending work that will make it all but impossible to take on the extra job. Ask “How does this fit into your schedule? Is it reasonable for you to do this? What other work do you have to do?”

Along with that, find out what resources the receptionist needs: “do you have everything you need to do this? Is there anything I can provide so you can do this?”

Garner cautions that today, a simple “yes, I’ll do it” isn’t enough answer. “People are already stretched” to do more, and they don’t want to say no to the boss for fear of losing their jobs, she explains. So they say yes even though they’re thinking “Does she have any idea how much I have to get done? I’m already up to my eyes, and now she wants me to do even more.”

If that’s the case, the job will get done poorly or at the expense of another responsibility.

Let’s write this down

After determining that the staffer actually can do the job, write out what the full project entails:

  • what needs to be done
  • the progress dates, or the times the manager will check the progress of the work
  • when it has to be finished
  • the resources the staffer needs
  • the names of any people who can or will help with the project
  • sources of helpful information such as a procedures manual or even the name of another staffer who has completed a similar project. But don’t tell the staffer the job has to be done exactly as it has in the past, she says. A good delegator will let the staffer take a new approach to it.

Changing course midstream

Once the assignment is given, the delegation process moves on to monitoring.

The manager needs to make progress checks to see that the work is getting done correctly and on time.

Ask questions such as, “Are we doing this the best way possible? Have any roadblocks appeared? What is and isn’t working? What can we do to make the job proceed more smoothly?”

Keep an open mind to changing the deadline or taking a new approach to the job, Garner says. For example, the receptionist checking on where patients heard about the office might want to add a questionnaire to the new-patient package.

Now what did you learn?

When the job is finished, review it. But let the staffer do the talking. Instead of saying “This is what you should have done,” ask what went well and how it can be done better next time and what the staffer has learned from doing the work.

Delegation doesn’t stop when the job ends, Garner says. It’s education. It’s part of the overall effort to help staff grow professionally and perform their jobs better.

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