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August - 2007 - issue > Art of Delegation
Who's got the fat monkey on his back?
Vimali Swamy
Monday, August 6, 2007
Effective delegation of work is an essential management tool that frees you to become a more focused and strategic thinker, giving you a reputation for getting things done. Above all it helps you leave at the end of the day with an uncluttered mind and an empty briefcase. In spite of all that has been said and done to teach delegation skills, a typical scenario for many managers is stalled projects, a desk with piled up papers requiring immediate action, inboxes overflowing with unread e-mails, and their office doorways jammed with staffers anxious to unload their tales of horror and woe. Why does this happen? Where do the managers fail?

Newly appointed managers often lack confidence and trust in the subordinates, and are afraid to delegate work. Some don’t know what to delegate when, while others fear the empty syndrome – What is my job if I give all my tasks away? Nagesh D. Vernekar, Group project Manager, Aditi Technologies took up the managerial role three years back when he joined Aditi. Initially he too had the sense of failure but over a period of time he became confident enough to delegate more and more tasks. “When you delegate the work to others and still are responsible for it then the distrust factor is not very big,” he says.

This does not mean that all seasoned managers delegate tasks appropriately. While some fear that an employee may perform the task better than them, most are simply too detail-oriented, too afraid of failure, or even impatient. The result is, they can’t point to one person in their organization who would be qualified to replace them if an opportunity to move up came along. Harish Dwarkanhalli, Director – Projects, Cognizant Technology Solutions says, “A manager should never feel threatened by any of his team members. On the contrary he should be happy that his team is able to carry out certain tasks, which leaves him to look after other responsibilities”.

Internationally known management consultant and author of several books, Roger Fritz says, “When you fail to delegate, the monkey on your back gets fatter and fatter until it squashes you”.

Though there has been a tremendous change in the trend of delegation over the years, effective delegation is not everyone’s forte. Micromanagement is adopted only when one has a team of around 10–12 persons. Moreover, the interest of the person is taken into notice before allocating work. Although the technology today makes delegation far easier than what it used to be earlier, the question still remains – do managers delegate effectively?

Managers ought to know what to delegate and how to do that. As a person with tremendous responsibilities, one can ease the workload by delegating routine tasks. When having a highly prioritized task, delegate other tasks to subordinates. By doing so you not only give away some of your responsibilities but also help your team members grow in particular roles and responsibilities. This gives everyone a chance to grow with the organization as well as an individual. Fresh minds give innovative inputs and help finish the tasks better.

When a task has to be delegated, identify the appropriate person by taking into account the skill set, experience, and whether training will be necessary, apart from his interest quotient. Just delegating the work is not enough; one must also see to it that the team is coached and mentored to do the job effectively and is not left high and dry.

Although most professionals see volunteering for tasks as a chance to seek more responsibilities, there are some who are uninterested of even those tasks assigned to them. What could be the most efficient step to coax such people into completing the task?
“When one of my team members gets a work he is not interested in, I try to talk to him and tell him how the particular task will help his career,” says Venkat K Raghavan, Competency Head, Vitage Technologies. “For instance, documentation is a task not every one likes to do. But it is as important as the technical work. I tried to reason it out with a person who was allotted documentation that it would help him remember the technical aspects better and hence to have a better understanding. Still he was unhappy and I had to allot the task to some one else who was willing to carry it out.

“A manager’s responsibility does not end at delegating work. A proper tracking mechanism is also equally important. After delegating work one should also follow it up to keep track of the progress. In this context, one can categorize people into three types. If a person is doing the work for the first time, keep a continuous check on him and expect a status mail every three to four days; For a person who knows how to carry out the task but is not confident, just try discussing with him once a week or so; If the person is familiar with the task and is sure about how to do it then expect a monthly status report. “I have about 300 people working under me. I have many team leaders who report to me and keep me updated with the working of their individual teams. An efficient tracking system helps follow the progress and whenever I feel the work is getting off-track I sit with the team and put them back on track. This way, I manage to keep off serious problems,” says Dwarkanhalli.

Communication is yet another aspect of effective delegation. “When I see that the result is not as I expected I talk to my team to know where the hitch is and sit with them to solve it together,” says Sunil Nambiar, Head - Global Delivery, Marlabs. It is important that managers communicate with their teams frequently. By this one not only gets to know the team members much better, but also makes him easily accessible to them. Discuss the problems faced by each one of them in the team meetings and try to arrive at solutions. Many a time managers loose their cool when their team is unable to meet expectations. Yelling gets you nowhere.

Mentor your team constantly in order to achieve the goal. Little gestures of appreciation work wonders. As a manager one must also master the art of juggling the complexities that arise as you go up the ladder. “You cannot win all the games. You need to lose some. That makes winning more interesting,” says Amitabh Ray, Vice President, Global Delivery – Consulting and Application Services, IBM India. “The trick is to have the right players at the right place to delegate work, which is a challenging art in itself,” he says.

Although there are umpteenth number of sources that teach you how to delegate, a simple lesson can be learnt on the dining table. While in a restaurant, if you have ordered a number of dishes the next course cannot be served unless there is some empty space in the plate. Look at delegation as an opportunity to seek newer challenges. An important thing to remember is that by delegation you give away responsibility along with authority but not accountability.

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