‘The bottleneck is always at the top of the bottle’

So says management legend Peter Drucker. He is right; delegation (done properly) gets the job done, saves time and gets the best out of employees! Peter Hughes explains.

‘The bottleneck is always at the top of the bottle’
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Andries’s cell phone chimed, interrupting our discussion. There was annoyance in his voice as he spoke to the caller, and he ended the conversation clearly exasperated.

“I gave John the job of cutting, baling and storing the hay, but he’s dithered for so long that the rain will now delay it further.”

Andries had asked me for help in setting up some training for his staff, saying that the farm seemed to “stumble from crisis to crisis”.

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Back at his office, I met with each of his managers to canvas their views on what training would be useful to them, and I heard exactly what I expected: the person who needed the training most urgently was Andries himself. As technically competent as he was, his management and delegation skills were limited, to say the least.

“He gets his priorities wrong, and overloads himself with petty issues. Then, at the last moment, he drops urgent jobs on our laps,” said one.

“He gives me a job and then breathes down my neck,” said another.

“He insists on personally signing off everything, and the documents lie on his desk for days waiting for his attention. He’s the reason my jobs get delayed,” said a third.

Delegation is not simply ordering someone else to do a job. It’s a carefully planned process whereby responsibility and authority are assigned to someone else capable of undertaking the task. Well-managed delegation gets the task done successfully, perhaps even better than you could do it yourself. It saves you time for more important matters, and it motivates subordinates.

How to delegate effectively
On the list of tasks facing you, identify those you can delegate to a subordinate or someone outside the company. Carefully select the person best able to handle the job. If you, in turn, have to report to someone, remember that you remain accountable for the job!

Talk the job through with the person you’ve selected; make sure he or she understands what is required and by when it must be completed. Then leave this person to get on with the job. Don’t micromanage the implementation.

Set dates to meet and review progress, but space these dates out as far as possible; this shows confidence in the person doing the job. At the same time, make it clear that you’re always available to offer help and advice.

From time to time, check that the necessary resources required to do the job are available, and those whose support is needed are informed and are not hindering the completion of the job.

Finally, never pass the buck on jobs in your area or section. You will inevitably have to deal with failures.

When this happens, have the courage to take personal responsibility for the outcome.

And when things go well, give the credit to the person concerned.

Peter Hughes is a management consultant.