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There is some overlap between planning and delegation as they relate to managerial effectiveness. Where planning involves thinking about how to document what you are accountable for, what you intend to accomplish and how best to apply available resources towards that goal, delegation involves “chunking up” the work and deciding what can be done at your level, by you personally, and what can be delegated down to the next level in the organization. Effective delegation results in all of the separate pieces of work coming together so that each department accomplishes its objective.

Delegation is Necessary

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It’s simply not an effective use of time for managers to do all the work themselves. Period. Despite being impossible physically, it doesn’t allow for time to be devoted for managers to do the type of work that only they can do at their level. In doing one’s job, there is some comfort to be gained from doing work that can be delegated. You are good at it, and you know you can do it well – in large part you were promoted because you are good at that work. But as a manager you need to focus on the tough stuff, that only you can do, and delegate the rest. It also makes sense to delegate work so that decisions are made as close to the action as possible.

The Complexity of Work Must be Considered

Drawing on the writings of Elliott Jacques surrounding the complexity of work, a manager needs to be thinking about how work should be delegated in terms of level of difficulty. As a manager, work that is done personally should be the most complex. If you are the Director of Operations asked to build a new plant within 2 years, you need to make sure you can deliver a fully operating facility in exactly that timeframe. While there are elements of that task that can be delegated – site selection and choosing contractors, for example – you are ultimately accountable for the completed facility and for managing all of the delegated work so that it comes together, with the new operating facility within that time frame.

Complexity also involves knowing how best to delegate work so that people with the right capabilities and skills can perform work within the appropriate timeframes. Remember, thinking through the process is planning. Delegating is chunking up and assigning work to each individual so that they are personally accountable for their own results.

Delegation is Not Abdication

It’s important to realize that delegation is not an abdication. In other words, managers don’t hand work over blindly, saying, “I need this in 6 months; let me know when you’re done.” Rather, the manager who delegates effectively needs to operate in a hands-on way to understand what the progress is with respect to each aspect of delegated work, and how it’s all going to tie together.

The Importance of QQT{R}

QQT{R} is a concept described by Jacques that nicely captures the key elements of delegation: Quality, Quantity, Timeliness and Resources:

  • Quality refers to the quality of work or the nature of the output that is expected. For example, if I am asking someone to develop a policy paper for an organization, there are certain expectations around quality that must be met. What do I want to be included in the paper and for what will it be used? On the front line, what are the acceptable criteria for a repair job, or for production output? In a very real sense, the subordinate needs to understand “how well” the work should be done.
  • Quantity refers to how much, but in a different ways depending on the nature of the work. For example, on the front line, quantity can be your target for how much production to expect in one day. When developing a policy paper, quantity is about scope as much as anything – what needs to be covered, and in what way. The key is that the subordinate understands “how much” is expected with respect to the delegation.
  • Timeliness generally has to do with meeting a specific milestone or “check in” point and negotiating deadlines around the quantity in terms of quality, quantity and the degree of effort required. This part of the delegation answers the question “by when”.
  • Resources refer to the planning process and whether or not there will be constraints due to budget, IT, and so on. Resources can also include the team of workers that has been assigned to assist, as well as any other assets that are necessary to achieve the result. We use the expression {R} is our use of the Jacques’ formula to indicate that resources are a constraint. The ability to deliver on quality, quantity and timeliness factors is highly reliant on the resources available to apply to the work.

An important part of the delegation discussion with subordinates is with respect to how much effort you expect to be invested in delivering the expected results. Work is typically delegated down through an organization, and the person receiving it seldom uses the same filters as the person doing the delegating. As a manager, you may expect something to be delivered in a day or two, or a week or two. However, if you are not clear about how much effort is expected – the quantity involved – a disconnect may result. A manager might quickly change her or his mind about delegating a task she or he thinks will take 2 hours, if the subordinate comes away believing the expectation will require two days of effort.

Delegating effectively is a skill that managers must learn to be successful at their job. A necessary part of achieving organizational goals in the most efficient way, delegating effectively involves understanding the complexity of work to be done as well as the importance of the right Quality, Quantity, Timeliness and Resources involved in the job.

This is Part 3 of a 5-part series which delves deeper into “The 5 Requirements of Effective Managers“.