Effective delegation is essential in any practice, but many owners and managers struggle with knowing how to do it the right way to get the best out of their teams. By John Burfitt
There’s a story, the leadership coach Karen Gately heard recently about a vet practice owner that she says is almost a perfect case study of a manager who has serious issues with delegation.
This particular practice owner, a very accomplished Sydney vet, was known to return to her clinic on weekends when it was closed to scan in client accounts the way she thought they should be scanned. She was not happy with the system the front desk receptionist had devised, so the owner chose to do it herself.
“That owner needs to take a long, hard look in the mirror as that behaviour presents a big range of issues regarding delegation,” Gately, the founder of the Melbourne training and performance agency Corporate Dojo, says.
“Think about what that vet charges an hour for a consultation, and what the receptionist gets paid per hour, and from a purely monetary point of view, that scenario doesn’t even make sense. But the risk of that task never being done the way the owner wants will continue as long as she goes back in to do it herself instead of properly training her staff.
“Sometimes, effective delegation means you train your staff again and again until they fully understand how to take charge of their role.”
A definition of effective delegation is the assignment of responsibility or authority to an employee, to carry out specific tasks or activities. But the inability to delegate within a business is often cited as the biggest problem managers have, with some following the old adage, ‘if you want a job done properly, then do it yourself’.
Symptoms of ineffective managerial delegation can include intensive micromanagement, constantly changing project outcomes, lack of communication and an absence of effective workplace education and training.
For many business owners, failure to effectively delegate comes down to an inability of knowing how, but also a lack of trust. It can also involve a fear of losing control of the business.
“If you as the owner or manager have an issue with delegation, one of the first things you need to do is ask what your hesitation is and consider why you have trouble trusting your team to the do their jobs,” Gately says. “This might be time to get over yourself, and really consider what are the things that are essential to be done by you, what are the things the rest of the team should be enabled to do within their own roles.
“A great business is one that functions well when the boss is not there. So if you don’t like to delegate, then the potential of your business is already limited. If you want to leverage what other people can bring to the business, then let them own their roles and find their success.”
Dr Lindsay Hay is the long-time owner of the Baulkham Hills Veterinary Hospital in Sydney’s north-west region. He says delegation concerns tasks to be completed and decision-making, and stresses that delegation needs to be acknowledged as a two-way street.
“There is value both ways—it frees up the managers to spend time on the productive ‘big picture’ approach to allow the business to develop, and it also gives the staff members a role that challenges them and offers a sense of reward too.”
But, Dr Hay emphasises, this is where training is vital, explaining there’s no point in neatly delegating roles within the team if they have no idea how to complete them.
“The most important part of delegation is ensuring staff members have been properly trained to perform the delegated tasks—it’s easy to set them up to fail unless they have the skills and knowledge to complete the set tasks,” he says.
“You then need to monitor performance to ensure the job is completed properly, and that staff have the skills and tools to get it done. Determine if they are qualified to take on the various tasks, and if they’re not, then train them so they are. You have to feel the job is in safe hands and there’s a trust in the team competence. Trust is crucial in all areas of delegation.”
Both Dr Hay and Karen Gately use the word ‘trust’ extensively when talking about effective delegation. It’s also used again and again by leadership coach Brad Giles, the author of the new book Made to Thrive.
“The greatest source of misery I come across in business is the difference between what the worker thinks they need to do, and how the boss defines success in the worker’s role,” Giles says. “That usually means there’s a complete lack of communication and trust between them.
“If trust is not there, the manager needs to think why that is. Has the job not been outlined, has training not been completed and reinforced, and does that staff member understand how their task fits into the greater operating of the company?
“Trust is at the base of every element of a highly-functioning team, so an effort to build that throughout the business might be a smart focus for the New Year.”
For good delegating to evolve and become a fundamental of the way a business operates, tough questions must continue to be asked by the owner, adds Karen Gately.
“A good boss needs to, of course, have authority and real authority comes from influencing people and their actions,” she says. “Learning to trust in delegating takes time and a lot of self-evaluation along the way. But it also takes monitoring, and so if you find you don’t trust and respect your team and their competence, then you need to wonder why they are there. Tackling that issue might then become the next area you confront in the quest to running a truly effective business.”