What is delegation?
Jana S. Ferris of the Washington State University Extension says that “delegation is getting others to do your work, so you can get to what you are really supposed to be doing.” So is there anything in this definition which uniquely applies to non-profit organizations? Well, not really; it’s a definition that might apply to any organization. However, I am struck by how it really represents the other side of the coin for non-profits, who are well known for everyone pitching in and doing what is necessary to get the job done. In my 50 years of experience with non-profits, I would conclude that many non-profits are characterized by having staff members who don’t really know what they are supposed to be doing; they are so used to wearing many different hats that they are no longer sure which hat is theirs.
Obviously there are positives and negatives to this operational style. On the positive side, staff are quite accustomed to being assigned to something different today than they were doing yesterday. This flexibility allows staff to go where the workload is and probably adds some to the overall efficiency of the organization. The phrase, “it’s not my job” does not fit well with this style. On the negative side, people never get the chance to focus on developing a set of skills unique to a particular task because they are always shifting. And of course, another negative is that it’s hard to hold people accountable to get a particular task completed satisfactorily when their attention is always being diverted to what seems to be a bigger priority for the day.
But, things are changing. Increasingly however, I think that even non-profits are paying more attention to who is supposed to do what and are trying to help staff develop skills around a particular set of tasks – in other words the workforce is becoming more specialized. The change I believe is driven by an increasing attention to outcomes. Funding is following satisfactory outcomes in this day and age and so it is now almost mandatory that non-profit staff become more focused in their approach to day to day tasks.
So, it seems fair to say that successful delegation is something that many non-profit staff may have to learn about. In the increasingly competitive marketplace that non-profits operate, learning to delegate will have advantages. It’s not the “do whatever” approach to delegation that might have been true in the past; it can and should be a special skill that managers and supervise use to advance the goals of the organization. Successful delegation leads to: higher staff retention by preventing burnout; development of staff as they acquire new skills; the emergence of a systems approach to get things done rather than one based on individuals.
Sometimes there is resistance to delegation. Why? It’s too hard. It takes too much time; easier to do it myself. Nobody can do it as good as I can. Nobody else has any time either. No doubt you may have heard some of these reasons why people don’t delegate. Understandable reasons in many cases. However, I think they are most often heard from people who don’t realize the technology of delegation or rather the technology of successful delegation.
So how does one successfully delegate? There are six steps in successful delegation.
- 1. Introduce the task and clearly identify the assigned responsibility. Especially if it is a difficult task a manager may run the risk of making the assignment sound easier than it is in order to ensure that there is less resistance from the staff member. Be honest and clear regarding the assignment that you are asking someone to help with. At the same time it is not a good idea to delegate a task that you do not enjoy doing or cannot do well.
- 2. Demonstrate what needs to be done. Provide clear written directions; role play it; do a “dry run”. As much as possible prepare the staff member for the experience of doing the job successfully,. To give an assignment to someone not prepared is to pave the way for their failure.
- 3. Ensure understanding. Ask the staff member to review the job he/she has been assigned and the various steps that might be involved. This feedback will tell you whether or not you have done a good job of demonstrating and explaining.
- 4. Provide resources: authority, information, money. Give the staff member the tools they need to do a good job. If the employee is to assume supervisory responsibility make sure other staff know that he/she has been given the authority to act as such. Make sure the staff member knows the limits of authority; what can or cannot be decided without outside consultation.
- 5. Let go. Now that you have given the task, have given instructions, and provided the necessary resources, let the staff member do the job assigned without unnecessary interference. The staff member may not do the job in exactly the same manner that you would have done it. That’s ok as long as the desired outcome is met.
- 6. Support and Monitor. Finally, hold the staff member accountable. This underlines the importance of what you have done. You see, delegation is about more than getting work done, although that is important. Delegation is about telling other staff that their skills are acknowledged; that they have earned your trust. If you do not follow-up, the message to the staff member is that the job you gave them to do was not very important.
Ok, now you are ready to successfully delegate. So when you are feeling overwhelmed and on the verge of burnout, you can look around you for people who are ready for more responsibility. It’s a compliment to them and it will keep you from being a turnover statistic.
By Larry Wenger
Do you teach your staff how to delegate or do you just assume they know how to do it? Do you hear staff saying, “it’s just easier to do it myself?” When you need to recruit a manager or supervisor, is there a pool of your own staff who have been trained for more responsibility? You’ll read about important leadership topics, like how to delegate, in our free weekly NewsBlast. Go to our website atand look for the link to sign up for the NewsBlast; upper right hand corner of the Home Page.