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The art of delegation

By Dr Robina Chatham

the art of delegation

Do you and your colleagues know when to delegate? Dr Robina Chatham suggests some strategies...

My background is in IT, and I have found the vast majority of IT managers are poor at delegation. I suspect this is also the case in other fields, not because such managers are bad people, but because they do not believe that anyone else can do the job as well as they can. This results in a reluctance to let go or a tendency to micro-manage.

The consequences are that the majority of junior to middle managers have far too much to do, feel stressed that they cannot keep up with all the demands on their time, and seldom leave the office at the appointed hour. In contrast, their team members often have too little planned work to do and hence plenty of time to indulge in perfectionism, experimentation and creating new features.

When delegation does take place, managers often strike the wrong balance between freedom and control, and fail to adapt their style to the different capabilities and attitudes of each member of their team.

Delegation is an art rather than a science. It requires common sense, compassion, courage and a genuine concern for the well-being and growth of ones people. How would you rate your own managers and what can you do to help them delegate more effectively?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing people. Therefore managers first need to evaluate the person they have chosen to delegate to. They need to consider if that person has the skills and knowledge to do the task and if they have the desire to take it on. They can then use the skill/will matrix explained below to assess how to approach and manage each person they delegate to.


Low skill, low will

If a person has neither the skill nor the will to do the task, the style of management needs to be prescriptive. Your managers should start with relatively straightforward, well-bounded tasks that are likely to recur soon so that they can get additional practice at the same sort of activity. They will need to supervise closely and provide frequent feedback against progress. They should never, ever, be tempted to take the job back.


Managers must take their hands off but keep their eyes open


Low skill, high will

If a person has the will but not the skill, the style of management needs to be one of guidance. Such people are ready and eager for a challenge but don't have the skills and knowledge required to perform well. They probably don't realise how little they know and in their eagerness are likely to charge into things and make mistakes - mistakes that they may not recognise and that may have serious consequences. They still need lots of direction but their manager will need to be subtle about how they provide this in order not to demotivate.


High skill, low will

If a person has the skill but not the will to do the task, the style of management needs to excite. Such people are well able to do the required task but are reluctant to step up to the plate. They may have had a previous bad experience or may not have learned to trust their manager. They may be bored and not sufficiently stretched. Managers often ignore or side-line these sorts of people as being too difficult. However, these are key resources and need to be engaged for everyone's benefit.


High skill, high will 

If a person has the skill and the will to do the task, the style of management needs to be one of empowerment. Such people are ready and eager for the challenge; if their manager doesn't harness their energy, they will probably find a way to go around him or her. Managers need to look for opportunities to praise and encourage such people - they must not be ignored or over-managed. Here is your opportunity for talent spotting, as these are potential candidates for your succession planning.

Whatever a team member's skill or will, it is their manager's job to open any doors that need to be opened so that their team has access to the people and resources that they will need. Managers must take their hands off but keep their eyes open; they must be approachable and make themselves available for advice or guidance when required. They should learn to gain pleasure and job satisfaction through watching their team grow and develop as a result of their nurturing efforts.

This article is adapted from Robina's fourth book, The Art of IT Management: Practical tools, techniques and people skills, published by the British Computer Society.

Dr Robina Chatham is the Programme Director for Cranfield IT and Digital Leadership ProgrammeThis modular course, spread over three months, provides senior IT and digital personnel the skills and confidence needed to ensure they are effective in their roles. It helps them define and drive their digital agenda and shape future business direction. A personal development element gives participants impact and influence at board level.

To become a leader in the IT space, not just a manager, learning the art of delegation is key. Let us help you understand your team better, so you can implement effective delegation within your team and in turn be a more successful leader. 


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Tags: Cranfield School of Management, executive development, technology, it and digital, it management, delegation