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Natural Foods Merchandiser

Delegation is a manager’s salvation

One of the most important skills for any manager is delegation, giving a task or project to a co-worker for completion. It?s also one of the most misunderstood.

Delegating does not mean getting rid of busy work or palming off some dirty little job on a junior member of your staff. (Delegation does not equal relegation.) Delegation is a major key to success in management, a way to fulfill your responsibilities, not only through your own efforts, but by working with and through your staff. While meeting your objectives, delegation also helps you prepare your team for bigger challenges in the future.

Work is not delegated because it is unimportant. In 2004, the major political parties in the United States held conventions to nominate candidates for the presidency. These conventions helped galvanize each party?s vision and focus on winning the White House. Who attends these conventions to decide these issues? Delegates—people from cities and towns across the country. The process of delegation is one of the most important parts of our political process.

Many times work is delegated because it is important. I will give work to members of my team because they have the skills, time and ability to do it—much of the time better than I could. It has been said that a mark of great managers is their ability to surround themselves with better-qualified people. Once these capable people surround you, they need something to do.

Sometimes you have to delegate a job to others simply because that is the only way that it will get done. This requires some thinking and prioritizing. Your time, ability and resources are finite. But often, if your job is like mine, its demands exceed the available resources. Your first decision is a simple one—do all of these things still need to be done? Your mission and available tools may change which tasks must be accomplished. If, in fact, they do need to be done, and you can?t do them all, you then need to ask a harder question: Which items do you have to attend to? You should keep those that require your special skills and experience, those that are of a confidential or critical nature, or those that involve personal contact with a customer or vendor. You should delegate the rest to your staff—or hire staff to delegate them to.

The actual delegation process between a supervisor and subordinate who have worked well together for a while may look effortless. It might be as simple as a manager saying, ?Please take care of this.? But a lot of effective communication and teamwork must be developed between two people for this kind of exchange to produce positive results. If you are delegating to someone new, you should take time to explain the situation, what you would like done, what results are expected, what resources are available and when you expect it to be completed. Putting this in writing, especially for bigger or more complicated tasks, is a good idea.

When selecting the best person to delegate a task or project to, consider the benefits to both the individual and organization. Among the qualities you should evaluate are:

  • Each person?s success in previous tasks
  • Who has the most relevant knowledge in the area
  • Long-term training benefits from the experience
  • How much supervision each person will need.

Part of the benefit that you are looking for is the task?s ability to prepare the employee for the next time something similar comes up.

Once you delegate something, don?t forget about it. Be sure to monitor progress if the task is going to be completed over a period of time. ?Out of sight, out of mind? can easily happen, especially if you still have a long to-do list that you are working through. Even though you have delegated a task or project, you are still responsible for it.

Say your boss asked you to order paper for the copier. You, in turn, delegated that task. When there is no more copier paper left in the building, will your boss want to talk with you or with the person to whom you delegated the paper purchase? He or she may appreciate your efforts to use your time wisely by delegating the work, but you will get the call about the results—or the lack thereof. You are still accountable for the completion of this work or, in this case, for the lack of completion.

What should you do when this happens? First of all, get the project taken care of as soon as possible. After that, figure out what went wrong: Did you clearly explain the task and its time frame? Was the person you chose capable of doing it? Was that person already busy with projects that were both necessary and time-specific? Did she try to let you know that she might not (or could not) meet the deadline? Did you follow up with her to be sure that she hadn?t forgotten it? There is a reason why things went wrong. By considering this, you can learn to do something differently in the future.

The last concept that I want to cover is ?span of control?—how many people a manager is supervising. The best way to picture this concept is to think of your right hand. It has a span of control of five—your four fingers and your thumb. It ?manages? their activities and is not directly concerned with what your feet or even your left hand are doing with their ?staffs? of fingers and toes. What your feet and toes do affects your right hand, and it does need to work with your left hand and fingers, but it does not have direct responsibility for them.

A manager or supervisor must have the right number of subordinates under his or her control to be effective. Factors that should be considered include the skill and expertise of both the manager and the staff, and the complexity and variety of the work being done. A manager can supervise a larger staff if all involved are experienced at what they are doing and the work is repetitive.

If the work has a lot of variables and unpredictability, the supervisor will need fewer workers. The content of the tasks is also a factor. Fingers (and thumbs) all work together to type on a keyboard, even though each has a different assignment. The more homogenous the tasks of your staff, the more people you can supervise; the more diverse, the fewer you can supervise effectively.

Span of control has to be well-balanced for a manager to effectively delegate work, monitor its progress, and follow up to ensure proper and timely completion. Delegation is important—and learning how to do it and structure our departments to handle it will help us maximize its benefits.

Click here to order a copy of Market Overview 2004.

Bill Crawford is director of retail publishing programs for New Hope Natural Media, publisher of The Natural Foods Merchandiser. He spent 12 years on the management team at a leading natural grocery chain, and teaches college courses in strategic management, human resource management and marketing. Contact him at [email protected]

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 6/p. 20, 22
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