Delegation. When the right tasks are delegated to the right people, a manager has more time to focus on areas that are more important or more suited to their skillset. It also fulfils part of their duty as a manager to develop their teams, allowing them to gain new skills and the exposure to higher levels of the organisation that is necessary for succession planning.
Empowerment is the process through which employees are given greater discretion to make decisions without the immediate approval of their managers. The belief is that workers’ abilities and talents are underemployed because they are not sufficiently engaged in their work.
For those who, over the last few months, have been taking on increased workloads, covering for furloughed colleagues, adjusting to sharing a makeshift workspace at home or doing a very different job to before the crisis, delegation will have been a critical tool in their box. It enables busy managers to focus their attention where it’s really needed, whilst freeing up time for initiatives that stretch and develop their capabilities.
It also forms part of their duty as a manager to develop their team members, allowing them to gain new skills and the exposure to higher levels of the organisation that is necessary for succession planning. This is where the concept of empowerment comes into play. Handled correctly, engaging your staff with more challenging work that falls outside their routine responsibilities will motivate and empower them. In a world where remote management has been catapulted into the norm, delegation is an even more valuable skill.
Whilst defensive managers will fear that greater employee involvement might reduce their power and responsibility, effective managers will build the trust and provide the support necessary to bring about increased employee involvement in their department’s functions. But it is not simply enough to delegate more, and, in fact, overzealous delegation might even be counterproductive and stifle true employee empowerment.
Flecker and Hofbauer observed that organisations tend to engage in the rhetoric of empowerment when, in fact, individual employees are “surrounded by guiding mechanisms that are more than an organisation’s safety net. Rather, they constitute a recycled iron cage.”
In other words, managers worried about maintaining control will lay down strict conditions for the responsibilities that they are prepared to devolve or delegate. This does not motivate team members to fully use their skills.
Delegation, like many management best practices, is a skill that can be learnt. It takes practice, but working through the following principles is a good start.
Delegate the right tasks
Choose the right person for the job
Communicate the task
Agree the amount of authority and responsibility
Agree overall deadline, interim milestones and review dates
Avoid upward delegation
Schedule time to review
To what extent is employee empowerment already in effect within your department and how much scope is there for further empowerment?
You might start by carrying out a job analysis to compare formal job roles against what your team members actually do. Then conduct a skills audit to assess whether the skills, qualifications, experience, attributes and other talents of your employees are being fully employed. Are there areas of work in which certain employees might wish to take responsibility? Recognise that empowerment may not be viewed positively by all. Some specialists with a very narrow job role may not see it as an enriching experience, but rather as a dilution of their focus.
Even once the appropriate support and training has been provided, be aware that empowered employees will probably do things differently, in a way that may well be unproductive at first. A strong manager will resist the temptation to take over and solve the problems themselves. Accept that initially a period of learning and development must take place. The focus here is to keep the dynamic in a positive light and to avoid apportioning blame. But remember, this is not a free-for-all with anybody performing whatever tasks they want. You should set clear boundaries and guidelines as to which areas of the team’s functions you would like them to explore.