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Delegating work? 5 must-avoids you must know
Anil T
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January 16, 2007

Distributing work is never easy. Taking on a new job generally finds few takers, especially if the task is demanding and the time available is short.

Not surprisingly, we often run into problems while allocating work. Ranging from a simple goof-up by a colleague to ultimately having to do things yourself in order to get it done correctly and on time, we have all experienced the perils of delegation.

However, delegation need not always be such a thankless task. In principle, delegation actually makes great sense. Working in a team where you can delegate clearly and people understand their roles well can help any task get done efficiently and effectively.

Though people do try to delegate smartly, it often becomes difficult to do so. As usual, this can be analysed down to a simple list of easily avoidable mistakes. These include:

1. Not defining a clear 'follow-up and finish' schedule

"Typically, all I get in the e-mail is an FYA (For Your Action)," says Vaibhav Sankule, who works as an IT Analyst with a leading technology firm.

His case epitomises the prevailing trend to treat a task as an 'out of sight, out of mind' issue. Delegating a task is only the beginning; you need to keep track of it until it is executed. 

"To do this well, we need to ask ourselves three simple questions," says Pune-based corporate trainer Asha Chander, who conducts regular sessions on time management.

"If you can do this, even in a simple excel sheet, and review it frequently, your tracking will improve dramatically," she adds.

2. Dictating, not delegating

Those used to running the show by themselves often end up micromanaging when they delegate to others. The best way to assess the degree of handholding required is by matching the person with the task. As a general rule the lesser the experience, the more explicit the delegation. It also makes sense to monitor things closely if the situation is changing rapidly.

"We monitor our new employees extensively to ensure they get the process right initially," says Ashwin Mascerenhas, who works with a banking BPO. "However, after about three to four months, we just do a daily review of the tasks and follow up on the pending ones".

3. Delegating to the wrong person

However much we globalise, Indian firms, and Indians in particular, tend to be protocol conscious. More importance is given to who the task is being delegated too rather than what is being delegated.

"That means if you follow the wrong path, your tasks might become low priority, even though they may have a high business impact. Conversely, if you go through the right people, or have the right person forwarding your request, things get done in a jiffy," says Sankule.

"You also need to be careful to delegate to someone who is your equal or junior to you in the hierarchy. If you send it to someone higher, even unknowingly, chances are they will consider it an affront. Even if you are lucky, and that does not happen, it might look like an escalation and not a delegation to your counterpart in another division."

4. Delegating what you can eliminate

As a thumb rule, you should follow the 'eliminate, automate, delegate sequence' for routine tasks.

Even if the task is mundane and boring, it's good to give credit to your team members and encourage them for even small improvements.

"When everyone today is a knowledge worker and well-educated, a person can easily differentiate between a growth opportunity and something that has been dumped on him/ her," says Chander.

5. Playing passing the parcel (sub-delegating and cross-delegating unnecessarily)

The party game Passing The Parcel gives an interesting insight into the practice of delegation. In the game, people sit in a circle and pass a parcel around until the music stops. When it does, the person with the parcel has to perform a punishment -- usually a comic task -- given by the other players. He/ She has to then leave the game. After multiple such rounds of music, the last person who remains wins.

Sometimes, a hot issue in a company is treated in a similar manner. It just gets passed around, until the senior management steps in. In the meanwhile, the matter is needlessly degated from A to B and onwards because nobody wants to be holding this particular 'parcel' when the 'music stops'.

Honestly, in some situations, such a situation is unavoidable. But if you really care about adding value, it helps to stop the unnecessary rounds. Speaking up will result temporary unpopularity but, in the long run, if you are at the right place, it will be much appreciated.

As you move higher and the scope of work you handle grows, delegating will become even more importance. Understanding these don'ts will go a long way in helping you master this skill.

Summing up, Mascerenhas adds, "The corporate hierarchy is like a game of Snakes And Ladders. Except here, instead of rolling the dice, it's the phone number that you dial (to delegate) that makes the difference and decides how you will grow."



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