Most managers have little to no delegation skills. There are some great bosses out there in the world, but even the best ones are prone to bouts of micromanaging. The reason for this is a lot more basic than people like to admit, but here goes:
What I mean by that: you get to be a manager through one approach. It’s normally hitting targets, bringing projects in on time, and helping higher-ups make money. You’re good at that stuff, but when you become a manager, it’s entirely different. Now you’re setting the work of others, you’re dealing with emotional flare-ups, etc. Most people get scared as hell when this happens. What happens when a person gets scared? They cling to what they know. This is human psychology 101.
Clinging to what you know = micromanaging. That’s how that happens.
Micromanaging, of course, gets in the way of delegation skills. You might be patting yourself on the back saying “I just delegated that like a true boss,” but in reality, you’re just emotionally ravaging a subordinate’s life for 55 hours/week. It’s a great cycle we live in.
Here’s how we could fix it, though: let’s explain to people that delegation skills can lead them to a fatter personal bottom line.
Delegation Skills: Research on earnings
This study mentioned in Harvard Business Review is done in the legal profession. Here’s the study. You can quibble with the results and say that lawyers are a super-specific breed of individual, and that’s true. However, it’s impossible to do a study on delegation skills across every single industry under the sun, so let’s take what we can get here, alright? Here’s the key paragraph:
Looking across partners who work with associates, we find that delegating work to associates allows the median partner to earn more than 20% more than they would otherwise. Top lawyers, who have the most skill to leverage, earn at least 50% more. We also show that these returns have increased substantially over time as a series of new technologies — from Lexis to word processors to email, and so on — have made delegation easier and less time-consuming. In fact, these gains at the top are so pronounced that they may go a long way toward explaining the increases in income inequality among white-collar workers that have occurred over the last few decades.
Two key takeaways there, IMHO:
- Better delegation skills = you make more money
- Better delegation skills = should be much easier with technology
Delegation Skills: … And the essential business equation
Since roughly the dawn of time, here’s what people have said about business — and this applies to virtually all industries:
- Focus on what you’re good at.
- Outsource the rest.
Those two bullet points essentially explain the consulting industry and about 91 other verticals we have these days. They also kinda go back to explaining micromanaging, because “focus on what you’re good at” is what most managers do as they run around judging new ideas poorly.
The term “delegation skills,” though, simply means you’re outsourcing non-essential work to subordinates — or heck, even essential work that you’ll later have the opportunity to vet.
Delegation Skills: … And the tie to business priorities
- A manager looks at the 14 things on his/her plate
- He/she determines these 3–4 are important, and these 9–10 can wait
- He/she delegates out the 9–10 and maybe 2 of the 3–4 to high-performers
- The manager then focuses on moving along projects as they wait for deliverables to evaluate
- As all this happens, they coach their employees and give feedback
Here’s how it actually does happen:
- A manager spends their entire week in meetings or on calls
- They barely ever speak to a single employee they manage
- Someone above the manager shrieks at them that some “margin play” is “extremely urgent”
- The manager kicks that to a subordinate with a “sense of urgency” as he races to his 1:30pm stand-up
- About two days later, everyone has forgotten about that project and is bellowing about some new fire drill
- The manager screams at his employees about how they mishandled something and mutters “I gotta do everything around here”
- The manager nails himself to the cross in The Temple of Busy
Quite a disconnect between “Set of Bullets 1” and “Set of Bullets 2,” and that disconnect plays out every day in companies around the world. With better delegation skills, some of these issues could be solved.
Can we teach managers better delegation skills?
It’s hard. A lot of managers don’t understand what “management” is. It’s much more about people, and people’s energy, then it is about nuking targets. But because we’re all evaluated (and paid more) based on nuking targets — or “competencies” in the companies who hide behind that BS way of doing performance reviews — we focus on those elements.
The theory goes like this: if you want to nuke the targets, please your boss, and make more money, you need to be in control of the process. You need to “own” it. If a subordinate owns it, they’ll probably mess it up! Targets won’t be nuked, and there goes your vacation to an Oregon winery.
That’s why most managers don’t have delegation skills.
The theory should go like this: it’s easier to nuke targets as a team than as an individual. Since I helped hire some of these people and they draw a salary that could become my bonus if they weren’t here, maybe I should utilize them.
And the theory should go like this: if I have delegation skills, I’ll make more money. See the research above?
It’s hard, but it’s doable.
Any other thoughts on delegation skills?
My name’s Ted Bauer. My last job was a real tire fire.