Don't Do It All?Delegate

31 Jul, 2002 By: Mark Middlebrook

In my CAD consulting work and in discussions with CAD managers, I find that the most daunting challenges are not managing computers and software. The hardest job, and the most interesting one, is managing people. This month, I look at delegating—that frightening, difficult, and absolutely essential practice of every good manager.


Many of you CAD managers got where you are because you're take-charge types who do things when you see that they need to be done. When the CAD program first arrived in your office, you grabbed the manuals, sweated through the learning curve, and mastered the program, while everyone else whined about how difficult it was. When computers need fixing or software needs configuring, you figure out how to do it. When project deadlines approach, you stay late and crank out extra drawings.

You probably possess, along with a take-charge mentality, a keen desire to have things done a certain way. Those of us who instinctively take charge usually have strong opinions about how computers should be configured, how CAD programs should be used, and so on. The chaotic jumble that results from letting everyone else do things every which way offends our sensibilities and thwarts our attempts to impose order on our little corner of the universe.

Now, there's nothing wrong with a tendency to take charge and a yearning to have things done just so. In fact, I think those are admirable characteristics—and not just because I possess them! The problem is that these characteristics usually combine to produce "just-do-it-yourself" syndrome. This syndrome is not fatal, as far as I know, but it does lead to long hours at work. Even so, you probably don't have time to do everything, and even if you do, it's not a healthy situation for you or your company.

More to the point of this article, the just-do-it-yourself syndrome severely hampers youreffectiveness as a manager. The whole point of managing is to harness the efforts of many people to accomplish work that's beyond the abilities of a single person. If you're going to do everything yourself, you might as well give up managing and become a sole proprietor.


So now that I've diagnosed (accurately, I hope) the CAD manager's dreaded just-do-it-yourself syndrome, what's my prescription? Delegate, of course. "All right," you say, "I can swallow that, but where do I get some of this magic delegating medicine, what doses should I take, and are there any unpleasant side effects?"

The Mind Tools Web page (a worthwhile, succinct summary of how to del egate and why people so often fail at it) says: "Delegation involves passing responsibility for completion of work to other people." Note the phrase "responsibility for completion," which is central to effective delegation. If you give a set of step-by-step, algorithmic instructions to someone, you're not delegating, you're training. Algorithms are for computer programs and robots. Delegation requires entrusting another human being with responsibility.

You first need to figure out what tasks to delegate. In many cases, the answer is obvious. You want to delegate things that you don't have time to do, that you don't want to do, or that you're not good at. In addition, you probably want to limit delegation to those tasks that your pool of delegatees has a reasonable hope of accomplishing. Bear in mind, though, that delegation is not just about you and your tasks. Those to whom you delegate can benefit from the increased sense of responsibility and the chance to learn something. Your company can benefit, not just from more work completed in less time, but also from an increased sense of cohesiveness and camaraderie. (Yes, I know it doesn't always work out that way. We'll get to the pitfalls shortly.)

It's All in Your Technique

At first glance, the technique of delegating seems so simple as to be hardly worth describing. You just tell someone to do something and then let him or her do it. To put some classical polish on it, we might note that delegate is from the Latin word delegare, to send away. The essence of delegating is that you tell delegatees what you want done and then send them away. You don't hover, coax, or otherwise make an officious nuisance of yourself. You wait for the completed task, provide coaching when it's requested, and let the people to whom you delegated the work do it.

Fine, but what if the person neglects to do it, or does it wrong, or doesn't do it on time? Even worse, what if you delegate a task that you started (such as completing a drawing), and the delegatee messes it up? Oh, man, do we really have to swallow this nasty delegating stuff?

Side Effects

Delegating doesn't always work as you want it to, but that's no reason to retreat into just-do-it-yourself mode. Because delegation is a subset of management, you need to apply the principles and techniques that I mentioned in the May 2000 CAD Manager column, "Work with people who work with CAD: Tips to help improve your people management skills". These tips include determine motivations, make a team, keep an eye on the ends, and more. Here are some additional techniques for improving both the experience and the outcome of delegating:

Make sure that you're delegating the right tasks to the right people. There's nothing wrong with giving people tasks that are a little bit beyond their current abilities. But delegation can fail when delegatees don't have enough skill or insight to complete the tasks that you assign them.

Supplement delegation with training. If a delegatee (or potential delegatee) lacks the necessary skills and the task comes up repeatedly, then maybe it's worth spending some time up front to demonstrate how you'd like it done.

Explain the context. Tasks sometimes get done incorrectly because the person doesn't understand the larger context. Take the time to explain how delegated tasks fit into the project, office policy, or whatever. This context helps everyone make better-informed decisions. It also gives people the satisfaction of being part of a meaningful project, rather than simply a cog in an enormous machine that they don't understand.

Provide feedback. Of course you'll give positive reinforcement and public recognition when they're warranted. When they're not, look for ways to criticize constructively. Aim at troubleshooting the process (rather than criticizing the person) and improving the outcome the next time around. And don't forget to listen. Those to whom you delegate probably have something to teach you, too, about how to hone your delegation skills and maybe even about how to accomplish the delegated tasks.

Take the Plunge

Delegating is scary because it involves an apparent loss of control over quality, influence, projects, and so on. But if you're a real CAD manager—not just the head CAD geek who does everything—you need to delegate.

Paradoxically, good delegation can lead to an increase of control and influence. If you're able to harness more people to do more work more effectively, the people who manage you are likely to give you more responsibility in turn. When that happens, you'll agree that delegation isn't such a bitter pill after all.

About the Author: Mark Middlebrook

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