Delegating tasks and decisions to multiple hands

By Guri Hanstvedt, 30. September 2019

In a world with increasing complexity and opportunities, where the amount of information is close to unlimited and where big data is getting bigger, decision making has become a challenging task. If you haven’t already acknowledged that you can´t be on top of everything, it is about time: You don’t have all the insights, and you can’t make decisions fast enough by yourself.

Distributed Leadership is a fundamental part of modern leadership. In short, it’s about moving away from one person making decisions at the top of his ivory tower, to delegating tasks and decisions to multiple hands. If you succeed in distributed leadership, you’ll most likely see that creativity and productivity increase in your organization.

But how do you delegate tasks and decisions, and why is it important to manage expectations when you delegate?

Get an overview of your tasks, then delegate

  1. First step is to make a list of all tasks and decision points you have.
  2. Find out if some tasks and decisions can be delegated.
  3. Delegate tasks to those who have the willingness, time, and skills to run with them.
  4. Get the spectrum of the levels of delegation, for example by playing Delegation Poker. This helps clarify who’s responsible for what and to what level and encourage employee engagement through controlled self-organization.
  5. Make sure to catch misunderstandings or mistaken assumptions by having frequent touchpoints.
  6. When three months have passed, evaluate.

Person + task + decision = a unique combination

Based on the seven delegation levels from Delegation Poker, it’s important to always look at the link between person, task and decision: Which mandate and decision level fits the situation?  This is the whole premise of succeeding with delegation. It’s about balancing expectations; scope, time, cost, quality, risk and resources, and ensure that both you, as the delegator, and the employee are confident in how decisions are made. Depending on the employee’s competence level, experience and the context, you also need to balance the right level of support, guidance and motivation. In other words, it is about Situational Leadership.

Authority versus Authorization

A way to balance expectations, is to be clear on the distinction between Authority and Authorization.  Having the authority to make decisions can be both confusing and stressful without the authorization – i.e. a clear mandate.

Authority

In a modern organization, the authority to make decisions can be hold by any employee. A good leader knows that there are people in the organization that probably have more insight, intelligence, experience and engagement than himself, and therefore are more likely to make better decisions in certain situations. It’s important to release the authorization to these employees, and accept that tasks probably will be executed differently from how you would have done it.

Authorization

What can the employee decide alone? When do you want to be a part of the decision – and is it as an advisor or a decision maker? How much empowerment does the employee want, and how much money can the employee spend on a certain task without your permission?

In many organizations, the hierarchy helps clarify the mandate e.g. by having different spending limits depending on your level. This creates safety as the employee knows exactly how much money he or she can spend on a certain project. Playing Delegation Poker can help you in situations where the hierarchy don’t answer questions about the mandate.

Responsible or Accountable? What is the difference?

When both parties have agreed on the level of empowerment, it can be beneficial to write it down in a RACI matrix, or an AUDI (Danish version). Why? Because it helps you distinguish between the process (executing) and the outcome (the final “product”).

RACI – briefly explained:

R=Responsible. Who is responsible for executing the task? This could e.g. be the employee(s) you have delegated the task to.

A=Accountable. Who is the one ensuring that the prerequisite of the task is met? Only one person can be accountable for the outcome – the owner. This is often you, the leader and delegator.

C=Consulted. Who should be a part of the dialogue around the task?

I=Informed. Who should be informed e.g. about the progress and the result? This could be different stakeholders or you as the leader.

Ready, Set, Delegate

You now have some concrete tools at hand that can be used to ensure that delegating tasks and decisions is something that can be mastered. Summarized, it’s about managing expectations and get a shared understanding of the roles and the mandates in the specific context. If both parties feel safe, you should expect that decisions are made faster and better and that the level of engagement rises in your organization.

Try it out, and remember that it is a gift to have Learning Moments!

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