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“The man is simply not good enough” said Bhushan, the Head of Purchase in a large multinational when I was having a meeting with him. “I assigned him a negotiation task and he missed out on one item”.

Further conversation revealed the following: He had assigned the task of negotiating a contract with a vendor to Raju, his subordinate. This was the first time Raju was doing such a task. Raju had negotiated favourable terms on 19 items but had missed out on the 20 th. The terms for the 20th item were not unfavourable to their organisation, it was just that they were less favourable than the first 19!

It was the age old story. You cannot expect the person to whom you delegate a task to do it as well as you would.

Bhushan was conveniently forgetting the fact that Raju had got 19/20 items right. He was harping only on the one item that went wrong. Obviously, Raju would make more mistakes than Bhushan. That is part of the learning process. When you delegate, don’t expect perfect results at first. The person delegated the task learns from experience. He doesn’t repeat mistakes.

Delegation involves a certain amount of risk taking. That’s the price one pays for getting people up the learning curve. If you want things done in exactly the way you would do it, there is only one answer. Do it yourself. But that doesn’t help in the long run.

Delegation is a powerful developmental process. Give people tasks they are capable of handling. Move from the simple to the complex as the person gets more confidence. Dumping a task on someone’s head and calling it delegation is the worst thing you can do. That’s abdication of your responsibilities.

Preparing a person for delegation is the first step, which is often missed out. Clearly state the objectives of the task, the expected results, the performance measures, the time frames, the resources available, the authority shared. Ask the person to think through and come up with his/her plan to execute the task. Point out improvements in their efforts.

After execution, review their performance and see what went right. Compliment them on the good things done. Ask them where they could have done better. get them to realize the places where they went wrong or could have done better. Encourage them to think of better ways of doing the task the next time around.

Delegation works. But it works after you have spent time and energy in coaching the person to whom you are delegating the task. Delegating does not mean spoon feeding. You assess the capability of the person, the complexity of the task and the risks involved before you delegate the task.


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This is the 119 th of the “A Step A Day” series : To provide perspective and provoke thought to facilitate self-development across a wide spectrum of issues- big and small- crucial for executive success

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