This is an all too familiar phrase in a fast-paced company – but what does it really mean? The word delegate is defined as “entrusting or transferring power, authority, or responsibility to another.” You may have heard the phrase “delegate down”, but what does that mean in the workplace? Does it mean saving administrative or uneventful tasks for the person under you? Is it passing off the work that you don’t have time to do? For both cases, maybe – but is that the true intent of the phrase?
The idea of delegating down is giving responsibility to someone else, likely someone under you with less time or experience in a role. The purpose is to pass decision making down to the lowest allowable level. Why? Not only does this free up your time to allow you to act on larger initiatives, projects, or goals, but it also improves the skills and mindset of your employees. It enhances skills because it gives your reports the opportunity of increased responsibility to grow in their roles. It improves mindset as the employee now believes their manager has the faith and trust in them that they can accomplish a task beyond their level. Plus, what happens to one person who tries to do all things? They get burnt out and can’t focus their energy on priorities because there just isn’t enough time in the day. Such a common phrase said all too often in the working world. By delegating down, you have more time to build your business and focus on the bottom line.
The caveat? Don’t delegate down so much that the person is performing levels above their current, and their next promotion won’t match their new responsibilities. It’s always nice to impart tasks beyond an employee’s level to prove they can succeed in their next role, but you need to be careful to not decrease morale by giving more than can be handled or rewarded for. With the rollercoaster economy, businesses can be quick to operate on less people, whether they started out like that or lost along the way. Particularly in the latter case, while your employee should and will appreciate the increased responsibility, it can be difficult to understand where the lost salary went. This is especially true when business is doing well. So reward your employees and appreciate them – this can be anything from simple praise to encouragement, a raise or a promotion. The job market is improving and turnover is a part of any business. If you look at the costs associated, you’ll quickly realize it makes sense to keep a good employee happy.
So how do you delegate down while maintaining quality of work and employee satisfaction? Ask your employee! Just as you expect things of them, they expect of you as well. Be honest and keep lines of communication open. Let them know what you want, and be prepared to hear back from them. And most importantly, be willing to compromise. A good employee won’t want more than they deserve, so isn’t it time to meet in the middle?
As written for YoungEntrepreneur, March 1, 2011