The delicate art of delegation

N°181b – Synopsis (8p.) – Accountability
The delicate art of delegation
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Organizations need to be agile and responsive, and this means empowering employees. But how to avoid the many dangers of poorly managed delegation?

The ability to be both innovative and responsive lies at the heart of competitive advantage in today’s business world. This is why effective delegation is more than ever a requirement for company survival and an essential driver of managerial performance. Indeed, as Gary Hamel points out in “The Future of Management”, what makes the difference today is not obedience or the ability to follow orders, but primarily the willingness of employees to place their effort, knowledge and sense of initiative at the service of the company. This requires a management style that fosters empowerment and autonomy, while ensuring consistent execution of the company’s strategic plans.

In this context, delegation takes on a new dimension. Employees must do more than merely execute solutions that have been defined in advance by their superiors, but actually participate in designing these solutions. As they do so, they learn to take on greater responsibility, and the company can capitalize fully upon their expertise and creativity.

However, few managerial duties are more challenging than delegation. Generations of managers have run into the famous “monkey dilemma” described in the Harvard Business Review article “Management Time: Who’s Got The Monkey? ” The authors call each new task a monkey. Managers are faced with the following dilemma: given severe time constraints and pressure to produce results, it often seems more efficient to shoulder another monkey oneself than to take the time to delegate the task in question to a subordinate. However, managers who repeatedly do this end up collapsing under the weight of too many monkeys on their back, and their subordinates are incapable of taking on these tasks for lack of both training and motivation.

So how can one find the right balance to delegate effectively? Our selected authors emphasize that this driver is within reach of all managers, provided they learn to relinquish control of some operational aspects, follow the key principles of effective delegation, and understand when to implement this management style.

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