When Delegation Fails

Delegation is an important activity in every organization, yet I rarely speak with anyone who’s been formally trained. In my experience, most people were introduced to delegation by watching their mother delegate “chores”–a model that doesn’t translate well to a professional environment.

If the general idea behind delegation is to share or transfer responsibility from one individual to another, the delegator must ensure the chosen delegate has sufficient authority to fulfill the delegated responsibility. (See step #3 of my Bulletproof 8 Step Delegation Process) Without that in place, the delegate will be unable to succeed. The way to ensure the relationship between authority and responsibility doesn’t get out of balance is to use a formal delegation process, one that includes a review of the actions to be taken and the authority needed to take them.

Delegating authority involves risk. In complex environments risk often creates barriers to its transfer. Problems also arise when individuals with authority are reluctant, or unable to transfer sufficient authority to a delegate. Using a locked door as a metaphor, if I need you to go into a secured room, you’re doomed to fail without the key. Without appropriate authority, so is any delegate. Failure or inability to transfer authority along with the transfer of responsibility sows the seeds of bureaucracy where nothing gets done.

There are two facets vital to the delegation process, a technique with numerous how-to resources, that improve efficacy and create foresight.

·      Maintaining the proper balance between responsibility and authority
·      Using a system that accommodates all levels of delegate task expertise,
including novice


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