Is dumping a project or ongoing work on an already beleaguered employee without instruction the best way to delegate? Most people would say, “No.” However, this is often what happens.
An overwhelmed manager or executive suddenly realizes they can’t handle work that has been assigned to them, and without planning, training, or a transition period, they dump it on an employee. This happens when an organization has never set up a formal process for delegating. I have experienced it myself as an employee, and I can tell you it’s stressful and results in an interruption of deliverables. The employee who has tasks newly assigned to them with no preparation gets behind on the deliverables as they struggle to learn and implement what has been delegated to them.
Inc. offers “7 Guidelines for Delegating to Employees” in a piece by Jayson DeMers. He writes that the delegating manager should “establish a clear set of objectives for each task.” He stresses: “No matter what type of task you’re delegating, make sure to take the time to clarify all objectives for the task. Doing so can proactively protect against the possibility of miscommunication or a failed execution of the task. In some cases, this will be extremely simple (such as ‘enter this set of data into this spreadsheet’), but in other cases, you’ll have several simultaneous goals.”
Establishing the objectives should be one part of a formal process managers are trained to do whenever delegation is deemed necessary. An organization could have a form on its intranet that managers have to fill out to delegate task(s) to employees that are additional to the original job responsibilities. That form would require the manager to state exactly what the new tasks are, about how much time per week the tasks will require from the employee, along with the objectives. It should be clear on the information provided how the manager and organization can judge if the tasks have been successfully delegated. The form also should include a space for the manager to explain why they are delegating these specific tasks to the employee and whether the tasks represent a development opportunity for the employee, and if so, how exactly it will help them develop in their career.
Protecting the Employee and Manager
Having a formal delegation process protects both the employee and the manager. It protects the employee in several ways:
- It creates a formal record of all the additional tasks that have been tacked onto the original responsibilities they agreed to when they accepted the job. This gives the company insights into just how much work each individual is actually doing versus what their original job description says they are doing. This is important because having that information gives the company a sense of whether the employee’s salary is still fair or if all the additional tasks they have taken on have elevated the employee’s value, and, therefore, should elevate their salary.
- A formal process with documentation also helps both manager and organization avoid employee burnout. Whenever a new delegated task has been given to the employee, the manager and organization will be able to review all of the other tasks already on the employee’s plate. There could even be an automated feature that signals that the additional time required for a newly delegated task will mean the employee will have to work beyond a regular workday to complete all of their assigned tasks in addition to their original job responsibilities. This makes it easier for the company to prevent an employee from finding themselves working until 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. a few nights a week to do their job, plus all the tasks the manager has taken off their own plate and lobbed onto the employee’s.
- Being required to explain whether the new tasks are a development opportunity for the employee lets the manager and organization know whether these tasks are just busy work that add stress to an employee’s life, or whether the tasks have added value, allowing the employee to work toward their career goals. For example, in my own career, I have primarily been an editor and writer. Years ago, I had an opportunity to begin to learn how to use print layout programs. I would be helping my manager input changes and finalize the layout of a publication. This added tasks to my job, but the tasks were developing my skills as an editor, teaching me how to produce a print publication.
The delegating tasks to worry about are those that do not take the employee toward a career goal and instead add busy work, such as filling out and submitting administrative work that the manager used to do. Those busy work tasks may, in fact, take an employee backwards in their career trajectory, putting them increasingly in the position of an administrative assistant rather than a professional.
Having a formal process for handing off tasks offers protection to managers in that it lets the organization know what they have assigned their employee and that they have checked to make sure the work would not be too much for their employee, plus shows they did all of the necessary training to hand off the tasks. If the employee fails in the new assignments, there will be a record showing they were adequately prepared, had the time to do the tasks, and that the tasks were fair to assign to them based on their available time and career goals.
Does your company have a formal process in place for delegating tasks to employees? Or is it a delegation free-for-all in which the manager can ask their employees to take over any of the manager’s tasks—even if unrelated to their jobs—at any time?