Learn how to delegate – don’t abdicate!

You can’t do everything. And you shouldn’t try. Well-managed delegation saves you time and motivates your subordinates.

Managing for profit by Peter Hughes

While inspecting a section of your farm, you spot a new roll of barbed wire left lying in the grass. Apart from being wasteful, it’s dangerous. Muttering to yourself about the sloppiness of the section manager, you pick it up and throw it into your bakkie. You make a mental note to bawl out the manager when you see him next.

Problem solved? Not at all!

Here’s the right way. Contact the manager concerned and ask him to meet you on site. He’ll blame the fencing squad and probably move towards the roll, intending to pick it up and put it in his bakkie. Stop him.

Ask: why did it happen? Why did the storeman not notice the loss of fencing? Is the supervisor of the fencing squad suitably trained? Hadn’t the fencing job been signed off, and doesn’t that include an inspection of the work done? How can this be avoided in the future?

Ask the manager to contact the fencing supervisor and storeman and, before one of them removes the roll of fencing, get them on site and have a similar chat with them. Set a date for him to get back to you and let you know what they have done to avoid a recurrence.

Picking up the roll and returning it to stores yourself would have taken 10 minutes. You’ve now spent more than an hour on the matter, and I hear you saying, “I couldn’t be bothered. It’s so much easier to do it myself and get it over with.” To be sure, that would be quicker, but it’s not the right way. The problem – negligence – has not been solved and the behaviour will recur.

Learning the skill
This example shows the necessity of learning the art of delegation. You can’t do everything, and shouldn’t try. It will drive you into an early grave, and your staff will never learn for themselves.

Delegation is not abdication; it’s a well-planned management process where you assign responsibility and authority to another person to do a task. Well-managed delegation saves you time, motivates and develops subordinates, and grooms a successor. It’s a management skill you need to have.

Let’s assume that you are under pressure with a growing list of jobs to be done. Look through the list and pick out tasks you can delegate to a subordinate, or perhaps someone outside the business. Remember that you remain accountable for the job done. All you want to do is empower someone else to make the decisions and do the job for you. Obviously, there will be jobs on your list which you and only you can handle.

Next, select the person best able to handle the job. Because you’re the boss, they might find it difficult to say no. Look out for signs of reluctance to take on the assignment and find the reasons behind this. Don’t place undue pressure on people to do something that’s not part of their normal everyday job, or for which they lack the necessary skills.

Once the individual is identified, talk it over with this person. Make sure you both understand what’s required and why it’s important to the business. Delegate the result, not the detail! While you need to discuss the steps to be taken, don’t micro-manage the implementation. Leave that to the person concerned.

Set a few dates on which you will review progress and provide feedback. It’s essential to let the person know how they are doing, discuss why things did not go to plan, and deal with the problems.

If you find yourself wanting to breathe down the person’s neck, you’ve selected the wrong person or are managing the process badly. Either take the job back or back off!

Without interfering, make sure that the necessary equipment, money and materials are available to the person concerned. Talk to those whose assistance may be needed. Inform them that you have delegated responsibility and authority to the person concerned, and ask for their support.

Finally, while you can’t pass the buck and have to do deal with the consequences of failure yourself, always remember to pass on the credit for success. That’s good management.

Peter Hughes is a business and management consultant with 30 years’ farming experience.