Q. You talk a lot about delegation. Well, I’ve been trying to delegate responsibility to one of my employees, but it’s not going well. I tell him to do something, he says he will, but it doesn’t happen. This delegation thing just isn’t working. What am I doing wrong?
A. Your problem isn’t delegating. Your problem is managing—you aren’t doing it. The notion that you have an employee who commits to do something and then doesn’t follow through is completely unacceptable. There must be consequences for this type of behavior. If there aren’t, expect it to continue. You are sanctioning it. You are sending a very strong signal that compliance with your directions is optional. You cannot be an effective manager under these circumstances.
However, before termination or disciplining the employee, we’d suggest that you consider these five questions. They are invaluable when determining if there is more that you, as the manager, should be doing, or if it’s time to take punitive action:
1. Does the employee clearly understand your expectations? More than 50 percent of the disciplinary actions we’ve dealt with in our careers have had at least some aspect of misunderstanding between the employee and the manager. First, explain your expectations in detail. Next ask your employee to explain to you how he will fulfill the requirements. This will help to eliminate miscommunication. Be certain that you are clear regarding deadlines. Explain that if the employee is not going to meet the commitment, he needs to discuss this with you before the deadline.
2. Have you removed all organizational roadblocks? Sometimes there are organizational impediments that keep employees from performing. Management only has the power to remove roadblocks that are internal to the organization. You can’t be responsible for removing employee-generated roadblocks (e.g., personal problems). Organizational speed bumps may include policies, procedures, internal politics or a lack of critical resources. Removing hurdles helps employees to be more effective.
3. Is the employee fully trained and has he had enough time to practice? Don’t expect your employee to deliver work he doesn’t know how to do. Make sure the employee is appropriately trained and has had sufficient time to practice the new skills.
4. Have you motivated the employee to perform? Most employees need both rewards and consequences to perform well. An environment that is skewed heavily to either one or the other will result in dysfunction. Giving employees praise for a job well done often results in them repeating the behavior. Catch employees doing something right and tell them about it. Likewise, employees must understand that poor performance will result in discipline and/or termination. Avoiding negative feedback may make things easier for the manager in the short-term, but it’s unfair to the employee and will result in greater problems in the long-term.
If you can answer the first four questions with a resounding “Yes,” you are ready to consider number five:
5. Is the employee capable and/or willing to do the work? “Capable” is easier to understand. Some jobs aren’t suited to certain individuals. Perhaps the physical requirements are too strenuous or the intellectual demands are above his cognitive capabilities. If this is the case, you might be tempted to move the employee to a new role. We urge pursuing this option with great caution. Termination is usually the best course. Under any circumstances, you need to examine your hiring process. How did an incapable employee get the job in the first place?
Sometimes the person is fully capable and for whatever reason, internal to him, is unwilling to perform. At this point, you must discipline and ultimately terminate the employee. You simply cannot have employees who does not perform because he is unwilling to do so.
Delegation is important, but to delegate effectively you must hold your employees accountable. Good management skills are essential. Honestly answering the questions above will help you determine if there is more you as the manager need to do or if it is time for the consequences associated with poor performance.