Awhile back, an aviation client asked us to go to China where they had a joint venture with the Chinese Government. Their Chinese managers wanted training in western approaches to management.
The participants we worked with spoke English well, participated actively, and were very open and frank. They seemed to enjoy the classes. When we made our final visit on the last day of our project, one of the managers asked us to review the concept of “delegation.”
“Did I understand correctly that we let other people do work and then we are responsible for the outcome?” he asked.
“Well yes,” we replied, “that is exactly what delegation means.”
They all shook their heads. “Sounds too risky,” they said. “That doesn’t sound like a good idea.”
At first, we thought this response was a perfect illustration of the east-west gap. Then it struck us how right he really was: Delegation doesn’t sound like a good idea, does it? Here are four reasons delegation, while necessary, is ineffective.
It Requires Too Much Explanation
You’ve all been through this, we know you have: You explain patiently to Rachel what you need done. You ask if she understand and she smiles, nods and says, “yep.” Upon reviewing her work the next day, It seems as though you never had a conversation with her at all – and you’re responsible for what she does.
It Requires Showing Your Employees Tough Love
Roy is late with his project again and he has a lame excuse again. You talk to him, coaching him on his time management and technical skills, but how could you employing some negative consequence or hold him accountable? You two have coffee together and talk about golf and your toddlers, so you let it go again — and you’re responsible for what he does.
It Requires You to Expect Less Than A+
Often the work you are delegating is work you know how to do better than any of the people who report to you. You can do a job in one day and do A+ work but instead you can delegate to Allen who will take three days and offer a B+ or B-level effort – and you are responsible for what he does.
Avoiding It Won’t Get You (Or Your Employees) Promoted
Across decades, we have seen managers who don’t manage their work but instead do it themselves – and yes, they do it very well. Meanwhile, they have peers who spend hours repeating themselves, coaching their subordinates, and making themselves unpopular for holding others accountable for their deadlines and B-level work. Not A+, but acceptable and produced at a much higher rate.
The bottom line is the ones who get that B work done are investing in developing people, so a B today becomes a B+ next month and an A next year. They have more free time to take on more work. They lead and eventually endear themselves to others by helping them be better, excel and learn. And they get promoted.
Our Chinese students were right. Delegation is risky. But delegation, hard though it is, is also the road to the C-Suite.