Learning how to successfully delegate is a key skill for any senior manager – and yet, issues around delegating still challenge SMEs.
In this blog, we provide practical tips & advice for HR teams & leaders struggling to delegate effectively.
Why do leaders struggle with delegation?
People can struggle with delegation for various reasons. We wanted to dig deeper into the topic and asked Breathe HR Partner, Sally White, Director of SYLO Beyond HR for her professional HR expertise.
The desire to control everything
Fear can come in when managers worry about lack of control of their work or their teams. Perhaps they believe or worry that if they delegate a task, no one will complete the work to a high enough standard, like they will. This may come from a lack of trust in team members and their abilities.
Sally White, Director at SYLO Beyond HR offers some insight around why people struggle with fear-based delegation.
“Some leaders won’t want to let go of control for emotive reasons; perhaps they’ve been doing the job a long time, or it’s their business, for example. The other risk with control is team members can end up feeling micromanaged, if one person is doing everything.”
Some leaders may have the belief that it’s quicker to complete the task themselves, to save teaching an employee how to complete it to their standard.
Even though investing time in training might be more time-consuming in the short-term, this will support you and your team in the long-term. Your employees will know what to do - saving you time to focus on other business needs and priorities.
Sally advises that delegation can often be a cultural issue within an organisation.
“We work with our clients so as leaders they create a values-led organisation, so their people feel empowered - and so delegation will naturally happen.
Effective delegation can also support creating the right culture – people will want to stay with your organisation if they have autonomy within their roles. SMEs should remember it’s a candidate-driven market and managers need to pay attention to their employees and let go of control if they aren’t delegating.”
Considering whether delegation and passing on autonomy to employees is part of your organisational culture will help examine the root causes of delegation challenges within SMEs.
Simply not knowing how
Some leaders may desperately want to delegate and know they need to – but may never have been shown how. Missing this crucial leadership lesson can lead to all sorts of problems – such as a lack of team efficiency, missing deadlines due to unrealistic workloads and even leadership burnout.
Sally advises that some leaders may not have the necessary skills required to delegate.
“Do your leaders have adequate communication skills to convey what they need to? Some leaders don’t know how to prioritise tasks properly or understand the principles of good time management.
Consider whether communication and time management training are necessary for your organisation, as these skills are vital in being able to delegate well - and for your people & business to grow.”
6 steps to successful delegation
Sally provides advice and practical guidance to help improve delegation within SMEs:
1. Train your middle managers
Sally advises the importance of SMEs training middle managers, rather than just focusing on training leadership teams.
“Focusing on middle-manager training will help to ensure organisational alignment where everyone is on the same page, rather than just those at the top. Create roles and a structure where people can grow – a delegation culture feeds into this.”
Newer managers may not feel that delegation is acceptable or something that the company encourages (especially if they’re not yet fully comfortable in their senior roles).
HR can highlight that not only is delegation acceptable, but encouraged within the business.
“Coaching can really benefit leaders who experience issues and fear around lack of control,” advises Sally. “This can help them to work through the issues and assess what barriers are in place, to bring about change.”
HR teams can help leaders who struggle with delegation by running workshops or training courses that highlight the importance of delegation and how it can help with managing heavy workloads.
3. Refine communication
Sally stresses the importance of communication skills in delegating – and not assuming your leaders already have the necessary tools.
Successful delegation requires the tasks to be communicated across clearly, along with deadlines and expectations. Leaders will also need to check the employee fully understands the task and help with any questions they might have.
And it works both ways too – Sally advocates the use of employee engagement surveys to gauge whether employees understand what is expected of them in their roles.
4. Encourage autonomy
If an employee gets stuck with a delegated task, leaders should resist the urge to pick up the task themselves again. This is where they need to coach the employee and help them through.
This is a crucial part of the process and will help build confidence for both the leader and the employee, who will feel a sense of achievement once the task is completed.
5. Manage expectations
Managers are unlikely to receive perfect results the first time they delegate a task to an employee. Leave room for trial and error - be confident that things will improve with time, as both leader and employee adjust to the new process.
6. Leadership development
Sally believes achieving true delegation success ties back into leadership development.
“Post-pandemic, SME businesses have all struggled to some extent with either growth or change. Approaching issues around delegation can begin with challenges around leadership capabilities.
If leaders have the right training and views around delegation, this then ties back into culture – and it filters down from the top. Having clear values, vision and mission as a business will set the tone for delegation and provides a firm foundation for a people-first culture.”
The benefits of successful delegation
Leaders will be able to gain time back in their working day if they’re not struggling to keep multiple plates spinning on their own. Freeing up time by delegating tasks they don’t necessarily need to work on themselves also creates the valuable headspace required for leadership-level decisions.
Delegating will also improve team members’ confidence and make teams more efficient overall. Successfully completing new and different tasks builds autonomy and helps with the career development of employees who can show that they can take on extra work and expand their skillsets.
Sally offers some final thoughts around delegation for SMEs; “delegation isn’t dumping work on people; it’s giving them the opportunity to shine.”
Author: Aimee O'Callaghan
Aimee is a Content Assistant here at Breathe. She enjoys writing about topical HR issues and helping readers find solutions. In her spare time, she is commonly found amongst books.