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Problem: “My staff aren’t pro-active enough”

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Does this ring any bells? I frequently hear managers complaining that “I tell my staff what needs to get done, even how to do it, and they still don’t do it right”, or “I have to continually keep telling them what to do – they never seem to take the initiative. What should I do?”

This is normally symptomatic of tasks being delegated rather than responsibilities. Firstly, what do I mean by delegating tasks? This is where you dictate to your staff “how” to do the task.

Let’s firstly think about why we delegate. Delegation should be used to save yourself time or to help to develop a member of your staff.

Sounds simple? There are three questions that you should use to “sell” the responsibility to your member of staff:

  • why the job needs to be done
  • what the required end result is
  • when the job needs to be done bY

However, if you start to specify “how you want the job done”, you have started to delegate a task rather than the responsibility.

The benefits of delegating responsibilities are many. It means that staff are more likely to take full ownership for the task, which is likely to result in a better completion rate. If you delegate the responsibility, your staff are more likely to take the initiative and take over this part of your workload permanently, rather than you always having to tell them how to do the task.

So let’s think about why we often fall into the trap of telling our staff how we want the job done. This often happens with small business owners – they believe that their way is the right way (and consequently quicker), and so their staff should do it their way. This may be correct, but for a member of staff to take full ownership of a task, they need to personally decide – and often learn – how they will get the task done.

Secondly, a new member of staff, who has limited experience, may initially need direction on how to tackle a task. But as time goes by the relationship sometimes doesn’t change, and the manager falls into the trap of still telling the staff member how to do the task.

Thirdly, in order to relinquish full control of a responsibility or activity, delegation requires trust. Very often managers don’t like to lose control of a task and consequently micro-manage their staff and what they do. And very often this is exceptionally time consuming for the manager, and very frustrating for the members of staff!

What is your personal obstacle to delegating properly?

Heather Townsend, Britain’s queen of networking, is the founder of The Efficiency Coach, a company that helps professionals achieve better business results for less effort. Follow her Joined Up Networking blog for more useful tips and tricks. She has just been commissioned to write the FT Guide to Business Networking.

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