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When a manager delegates duties to others, it's usually to save time, increase productivity and strengthen work teams. Any good manager knows, however, that this strategy has its disadvantages as well as its advantages. The key is to know what to delegate, who to choose and how to keep an eye on progress. When managers are aware of how to delegate effectively they can focus more of their time on the overall performance of the company or team.
Loss of Control over Critical Tasks
One disadvantage of delegating to employees is giving up control over tasks that should be under your direct charge. While there are many responsibilities that are appropriate to share, there are others that the company expects you alone to undertake. Examples include conducting performance and salary reviews as well as training, reprimanding and terminating employees. In addition, when you delegate tasks that have to do with highly sensitive areas -- like corporate restructuring -- you risk having superiors question your judgment and having employees gain undue influence. Before you delegate an item, decide if it’s something you should complete to ensure it is done correctly.
Unclear Lines of Authority
Ideally, delegating involves analyzing the work at hand and then determining where employees can and cannot make their own decisions. For instance, as an overextended manager, you might identify an employee as the "go to" person to manage the completion of a grant-writing project. You review an outline with him of internal deadlines, roles and responsibilities, then trust him to coordinate the moving parts. He ensures you that the schedule will stay on track. However, he's constantly approached by peers with questions about the proposed grant budget. Because you did not instruct him that his colleagues should approach you with questions, he inadvertently oversteps his bounds and provides the wrong information to his colleagues. To prevent these kinds of misunderstandings, it is important that you provide clear instructions on who should be authorized to make certain decisions.
Incomplete or Lower Quality Results
When managers delegate work, they typically try to identify subordinates who bring the best attitudes and skills to ensure the job is done. Managers also try to balance things by spelling out what needs to be done and how to do it. But even with the best laid plans, you always face the prospect that the work will not be done properly, or on time. An employee might meet your deadline but certain aspects of her work do not meet quality expectations. Or, she might fulfill quality expectations but still fall short of the deadline. This is always a risk when you delegate work to those who have not been formally trained on how to manage work projects, or don't have the day-to-day experience a manager brings to the job. The best way to avoid negative outcomes is to regularly check on progress.
Less Time for Your Own Work
Managers who delegate often slow down their own progress in order to share responsibilities. First, they analyze tasks and decide who should take them on. They also must take time to determine the best way to accomplish goals. Then, they meet with employees to explain the work and designate protocols. In some cases they must also providing training. Finally, they monitor progress along the way and evaluate outcomes. Because of these demands on your time, you should delegate no more than a few items at a time. You should also cover an item yourself if it’s easier or faster for you to simply handle it than to train someone else to do it.
Kenya Lucas has been writing professionally since 1998. Her work has appeared in “Anthropology & Medicine,” “New Directions for Evaluation,” “Psychology of Women Quarterly” and “Journal of the Grant Professionals Association.” She holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from Johns Hopkins University and Brown University.