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Getting the Job Done

Thursday, October 1, 2009 - 09:13

Delegation is a vital management skill. Conflict management specialist Joe Moore outlines three of the most important considerations for effective outcomes.

Delegating tasks is an inevitable reality for managers. Being able to do it effectively and still remain in control of follow through and outcomes can be difficult.

By examining these three case studies, we'll take a look at the three most important things to keep in mind when delegating tasks: defining the task clearly; outlining the scope of the task; and assigning a deadline for follow-up and task completion.

Defining the task clearly

Scenario: As the manager of Quality Assurance for a hospital, Denise is responsible for making sure that patient medication errors are identified, reviewed and resolved. Hong Mai works for Denise and they communicate mostly by email as they work in different buildings.

In a recent review of patient charts, Denise has noted an increase in the number of missed and duplicated dosages and missing data about patients' current medication. Denise assigns the task of resolving these errors to Hong Mai via email indicating vaguely that there needs to be a zero-tolerance policy for "these types" of mistakes.

Hong Mai finds herself at a loss when she sits down to begin this incredibly large and important task. Where should she begin?

Comment: Hong Mai lacks guidance and clarity. Denise has made a unilateral decision and delegated its execution but hasn't involved anyone who has anything to do with patient medication in the plan.

Getting an accurate picture of an issue and how to deal with it is the first step in delegation. Set up a meeting with anyone who has critical information surrounding the issue and structure it so that each participant has a chance to speak from their point of view. By using a simple rating system, the group can determine what is at the heart of the issue and begin to brainstorm solutions.

Use the same process to determine the best solution to the problem and develop an action plan outlining implementation. At this point you can delegate tasks with the knowledge that those involved understand their assignment fully and the associated expectations.

A successful outcome is immediately more likely because all those affected by the issue have been involved in the analysis of what needs to be done. This solicits commitment so that the person executing the solution knows that they have the support and guidance of a wider, knowledgeable group.

Outlining the scope of the task

Scenario: Brad is responsible for the landscape division of a regional municipality. The division has recently begun a large project to reclaim and revitalise a natural watercourse. Brad has appointed Janet as his project assistant; her role is to manage the day-to-day issues surrounding the project, while all major decisions filter through him. Unfortunately, Janet sees this assignment differently.

Suddenly, Brad finds himself answering questions about when Janet was given the authority to assign work to the park's employees and what cost centre to use for the 500 linden trees she ordered to replace the elms Brad had originally decided on.
Janet is confused as to why Brad is so upset when he phones to speak with her.

Comment: Janet sees no limit to her resources or authority because none was ever indicated to her. The scope of the task is unclear as Brad has simply assigned a project and not indicated what Janet's role will be, resulting in frustration and confusion on both sides.

When a task is delegated it's sometimes easy to neglect details as a result of the false assumption that certain things go without saying. The scope of a person's responsibility and authority needs to be clearly defined from the beginning. Success is ensured by being clear on what is expected.

That being said, it's important to keep in mind that the scope of a task is not static and associated responsibility and authority can change. Ensuring frequent check-ups will allow you to determine whether this is a possibility.

Assigning a deadline for follow up and task completion

Scenario: Ravi is the team leader responsible for the company warehouse. He leads a team of five and takes his role seriously, but can sometimes get bogged down with day-to-day tasks. When approached by his boss, Brooke, about implementing new, stringent safety regulations, Ravi takes on the task with conviction.

He enrols in a safety committee representative course and reads up on how to create a safety culture. Despite his early initiative, however, other work starts to take priority and things remain mostly the same.

When Brooke arrives unexpectedly at the warehouse one day she notes that the warehouse floor doesn't have clear yellow boundaries and some workers still aren't wearing ear protection or safety goggles.

Comment: Ravi has fallen under the false assumption that he can complete the task assigned to him when he has time. Brooke has presented no sense of urgency, despite the task's importance, and drops in unexpectedly (and unfairly) to monitor progress.

When a task is delegated, it is imperative that an appropriate sense of urgency and dates for check-ups and completion are communicated. There are two mistakes that can be made in this instance: either too much urgency is placed on a request initially and timely follow-up never occurs, or there is no sense of urgency conveyed and, thus, the task isn't completed when it needs to be. Both situations create frustration and could cause safety issues.

Communicating concrete dates for follow-up and completion ensure that a task is completed on schedule and without frustration. Clear communication will deliver flexibility, understanding and satisfaction.

Conclusion: Delegation becomes effective when open and frequent communication is treated as a priority. In order to remain on top of outcomes and processes, setting clear expectations surrounding the task is crucial. It will ensure success and limit the frustration that often accompanies the delegation techniques of the Denises, Brads and Brookes of the world!