When we asked supervisors why they were promoted to supervision, most said it was because of their operational skills or ability to do the job they were doing well. They were good at the "doing" tasks that got the job done.

As we rise further up the ladder in organizations, our responsibilities change to less emphasis on the operational or the "doing" tasks and more emphasis on the leadership tasks (managing, planning, leading). Getting bogged down in the "doing" functions rather than the planning, managing, and leading functions is one of the primary downfalls of many supervisors. It’s important to realize that the higher you progress in management, the more time you should spend in managing, planning, problem solving, and leading tasks and the less time you should spend on operating tasks.

So, how do you make sure that your time is being spent where it needs to be?

This is where your time audit comes in. Analyze your tasks and categorize your activities in terms of: (FF) fire fighting or problem solving; (RO) routine ongoing activities; (PR) proactive or initiative-taking activities; and (ED) employee development activities. Next, identify the percentage of time you spend in each category.

Study the information you have gathered so far, especially concentrating on the RO tasks. Which of these, as well as any of the others, could you delegate? It’s important to list the approximate number of minutes you will save each day if you delegate the task, because most people don’t realize how a few minutes each day begins to quickly add up.

The most frightening thought about delegation is that when you delegate something, you are putting your reputation and your career path in the hands of other people. And, they could damage you if they are not the right people, if you have not trained them properly, or if you fail to delegate properly. The concept of delegation is vitally important to supervisors and managers if they are going to be effective in their jobs. It’s difficult to be an effective supervisor without being an effective delegator.
 
If you were able to delegate just one task that takes 60 minutes each day, at the end of the year you would have 44 full 8-hour days to be spent another way. That’s almost a full month of extra time to do more important leadership tasks.

Now that you’ve determined which tasks to delegate, take a few moments to plan for the delegation. To do this, you need to answer the following questions:

  • What is the overall goal or purpose of the task?
  • What specific results do I expect?
  • What does the task entail? What specific elements or skills are needed to successfully complete the task?
  • What resources are available to the employee to get the task accomplished?
  • What checkpoints or follow-up agreements need to be made?

After you have planned for the delegation, you should be clear about your expectations for getting the job done. These expectations must now be made clear to your employee. Keep in mind that your employee is likely to have some good ideas to offer, so plan to solicit ideas from him or her as well. Below is a failsafe process for ensuring delegation success.

Step One: Explain Overall Goal and Purpose

You’ll find you get better results if you begin by explaining the big picture, the overall purpose of the task, prior to explaining any of the small details and the how-to’s of the task. When employees understand the overall goal, they make better decisions.

Step Two: Outline Expected Results

Once the employee understands the overall goal and importance of the task, he or she needs to know exactly what is expected. Do not get this important step confused with the next step, describing the task. The purpose here is to ensure that you and your employee see the same end result and agree when that result will be in place.

Step Three: Describe Task (optional)

This step is usually for inexperienced employees who have never done the task. You may need to provide some training here. If the task is a large or complex one, break it down into smaller, more manageable pieces for easier explanation. The purpose of this step is to ensure that the employee knows how to do the job. For experienced employees, let them decide. As long as they know the expected results, they can decide how to do the job. And guess what? Maybe they’ll have a better way to do it!

Step Four: Discuss Resources

To do the job effectively, employees need to know what resources are available to them to get the task accomplished. Are they able to purchase equipment or supplies? Are they able to involve others? Be specific, so the employee is clear on what resources are and are not available.

Step Five: Confirm Understanding; Get Commitment

Here is where you make sure that you made yourself clear. Ask your employee to restate, in his or her own words, what is expected. You want to do this for two reasons: it involves the employee, and you have confirmed whether the employee understands the task at hand. Encourage the employee to ask any questions to confirm understanding. Last, ask the employee for his or her commitment in completing the task within the agreed-upon time frame. Without commitment, the task may not be done.

Step Six: Ask for Ideas

One of the best ways to empower and motivate your employees is to ask for their ideas. If you tell the employee how you have done the task in the past, make sure you ask him or her for ideas and suggestions on how to complete the task this time. When employees are given the opportunity to provide their own ideas, they take more responsibility for the completion of the task. When you ask for their ideas, be quiet and really listen. Very often, a fresh perspective can provide great new ideas, especially if you have "always done it this way."

Step Seven: Establish Follow-Up Plan

Once the task has been clarified and confirmed, and the employee’s contributions have been solicited and valued, the next step is to establish some guidelines for working together. The supervisor always bears ultimate accountability for any delegated task. Remember, upper management assigns tasks to the supervisor, not to his or her employees. If the supervisor chooses to delegate, it is still ultimately the supervisor’s responsibility.

Additionally, the supervisor is responsible for the quality standards and deadlines of any work coming through the unit. No supervisor can afford to turn an employee completely loose on a project. To ensure the fulfillment of supervisory responsibilities, a supervisor has to give adequate and proportionate attention to the people delegated the assignments. One method is to schedule follow-ups at certain completion steps throughout the task. Another, more hands-off method is to check with the employee midway from the time you delegate the task to the task’s completion. To be effective with this technique, you must make notes on your calendar so you do not forget. Be cautious not to "micro manage." Give the employee room to grow. When you think about it, that is why you can do these tasks so well. Someone gave you room to grow, you made some mistakes, and hopefully, you learned from the mistakes you made. The same process will prove equally valuable to your employees.

Proper delegation is your key to success and ultimate upward mobility. Begin the delegation process now!

—Peter B. Stark and Jane S. Flaherty are principals in Peter Baron Stark Companies, a California human relations consulting company. Reprinted with permission and edited for this publication.