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Your Staff Needs You to Delegate Responsibility to Them: Talent Advisory Board

June 27, 2023
It's easy to say leaders should hand off tasks to their teams, but it's a lot harder to let go and trust people to perform, manufacturing leaders say in response to our June question. Part 2 of 2.

The IndustryWeek Talent Advisory Board offers monthly advice on how its members got to where they are in the manufacturing world. They offered so much great advice for June that we're breaking it into two parts, with half of the responses running Monday, June 26, 2023, and half running Tuesday, June 27, 2023. If you have a question for the group, please send it to [email protected]. This month's question was:

One of the biggest challenges in moving into leadership roles is learning how to delegate tasks instead of taking on more work yourself. How did you manage that transition, and how do you decide which tasks to delegate to which people?

Why Many Managers Don’t Delegate

Bill Scilingo, Vice President of Operations, Penn Color Inc.

There are two main reasons people do not delegate early in their leadership appointments: lack of confidence in the capabilities of team members and the propensity to think that it is easier to complete tasks themselves as opposed to deferring to others. This mindset leads to lower productivity, less employee engagement and reduced success and growth of the leader.

To delegate, you first have to trust in the capabilities of your team. Most managers feel their people are overworked and offer narrow bandwidth in competency. Thus, people are often underutilized as their manager focuses on the tactical aspects of the job and the conventional duties of a role. Leaders, on the other hand, look past the tactical duties of a role and believe in the capabilities of their team, challenging them with the intent of helping them grow in contribution and organizational knowledge. Although this may seem like adding more work to busy team members, good leaders can balance the additional challenges with the cessation of non-value, tactical duties.

In addition, technical experts often feel that they can complete responsibilities more efficiently than team members. However, this approach does not permit innovation from the team to improve on processes and limits the leader’s ability to learn new perspectives and be open to novel continuous improvement opportunities. Although it may take a bit more time to initially mentor team members through an assignment, their long-term maturation not only improves employee engagement and contribution but allows leaders more time to concentrate more strategically. Delegation becomes an investment in employee growth.

Lastly, when deciding on what tasks to delegate and to whom, be careful not to fall into the common trap of overwhelming your top performers due to the lack of performance of others. Top performers need to be challenged and fully engaged, but additional work should not be a result of lack of accountability and performance of others. Furthermore, although it is intuitive to delegate tasks within a team member’s experience, it is important to challenge people outside their comfort zone to promote developmental growth.

Move away from managing and focus on leading. In a leadership role, the focus needs to be on strategy, vision and team member support and development. There is no better way to develop team members and to free time to for strategic intent than to empower and entrust others to handle responsibilities for the team.

Giving Up Control to Grow

Bill Good, Vice President Supply Chain, GE Appliances

Delegation and control are some of the most difficult leadership skills to master. As leaders grow from very tactical positions into higher-level, more strategic ones, they tend to gravitate to what got them where they are because that’s what they are comfortable with. It’s common to struggle with giving up control. Admittedly, I have struggled with this in my own career. It can be difficult to put your fate in the hands of others. However, if you continue to grow vertically in an organization, it’s inevitable.

What I had to learn is giving up control had the inverse effect of what I expected. I have a great team, so there have been very few times where I delegated or gave up control where the person I empowered fell short of expectations.

Giving up control and delegating shows confidence in the team member and empowers them to demonstrate a mastery of the delegated task. Employees take it as a vote of confidence and rise to the occasion. A leader must find the delicate balance of delegating tasks to the appropriate level to drive organizational growth without over-extending their organization. I found that delegation of duties to promote skill development and growth fostered better teamwork and collaboration. It also helped to decentralize decision-making and drive accountability across the organization.

Overall, delegating drives superior buy-in and results, so make the leap and trust your team.

Delegation Leads to Development

Audrey Van de Castle, Director of Digital Transformation - Operations Excellence, Stanley Black & Decker Inc.

When thinking about how to delegate, I consider the areas that my employees are:
  • a) Interested in
  • b) Excel at
  • c) In need of development

These three factors can help me effectively direct meaningful work to the right people. I often reflect on things that helped me learn when I was coming up to speed in a role and try to create similar opportunities for domain learning in the way that I delegate tasks. I also like to directly ask, “Do you like doing this type of task?” “Do you have bandwidth to help on a special project?” “I could really use some support from you on X.”

It can be hard when transitioning into a leadership role to relinquish the control of tasks that you are used to owning, but the best way to establish trust in your team is to show them that you trust them. What better way than by handing over some responsibility so that you can have more time to focus on the bigger picture!

Working with More-Experienced Employees

Carlos Torres, Head of Industry 4.0 at USA 5G Smart Factory, Ericsson

I had the opportunity to be in leadership roles from very early on in my career. It was very intimidating to delegate tasks when the individuals I was leading had more experience. To survive, I had to be very deliberate and intentional in learning how to communicate with clarity.

The key to clear and concise communication is organizing your thoughts before communicating, using simple and familiar language and taking the time to condense complex thoughts or ideas into a concise form.

Deciding what to delegate can be a very simple decision or a very difficult one. Some tasks lend themselves to delegation and some do not. For me, even if it would be simpler in the short term, I remind myself to never rob an individual of the opportunity of being empowered and taking ownership of something. These opportunities will strengthen their capabilities, improve motivation and ultimately improve the output of the team.

Delegating Is More than Assigning Tasks

Rebecca Morgan, President, Fulcrum ConsultingWorks Inc.

I had people reporting to me while I still believed my primary responsibility was to “get the work done.” As a young female in very male-dominated industries, I may have suffered from the “prove I can do it all” syndrome longer than I should have, to the advantage of no one.

Initially I focused on understanding the work content and timing of each role. That work had already been delegated, but “assigned” might be the better description.

As I began to understand my role in developing people, teams and effective improvement, I began to design the work differently. I included my top performer in those conversations.

As I observed other leaders and became aware of my own style, I recognized that assign, delegate and abdicate were different concepts.

It was only then that I could work with my group and our major interfaces in the company to delegate in a way consistent with accountability and their personal interests.

Effective delegation is much more than putting it on someone else’s plate.

Small, Medium and Large Strategies

Kathy Perry, Manager of Human Resources, Orlando Baking Co.

For some, delegation may be challenging, but for me, it never has been. Very early in my career, I learned that if I can cross-train or delegate, I have more time in my schedule to do the things that I prefer to do.

I am a stronger manager because I had management that believed in me enough to give me additional tasks that helped enrich my work. We are all going to get stronger after being battle tested. Sometimes, we win the battle, and sometimes we learn how to win next time.

It’s my job to make my team stronger. I am going to be more successful as the people around me become more successful. How would you learn a basic skill, like processing unemployment claims, if someone didn’t delegate that task—even if the task delegated was to train someone on how to process.

But how do I decide who gets what? Start in small bite-size chunks. Give them a small task, then a medium task, then a large task, then a time-sensitive task. Gauge how they react and how they respond to each challenge. If you take your time to get to know your staff/teammates, you will learn who does have/has more capability, who is more pliable, who can multitask better and inevitably who can handle the most amount of pressure.

Follow up is key! You must inspect what you expect! If you periodically monitor, you get a real-time window into if you have delegated the right tasks to the right person. I enjoy the delegation because there’s so much work I need to get done. If I can assign different tasks, it opens the door for me to be able to do more challenging work for myself while given new opportunities to others. It’s a win-win.

About the Author

IW Talent Advisory Board

An expert panel of manufacturing leaders offering advice on how to advance your career.

Beginning a career in any industry is challenging, and many people early in their journeys in manufacturing need advice on how to advance and reach the next milestone. IndustryWeek’s Talent Advisory Board collects manufacturing leaders who rose through the ranks and are happy to share stories and advice on how they got to where they are now. This group includes senior-level people and young leaders who advanced quickly in their organizations. They work for large companies or run their own businesses, representing a wide swathe of careers within manufacturing. 

Every month, we ask the group a new question about their careers or life experiences. If you have a question for the group, please send it to IndustryWeek [email protected].

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