Proper delegation builds partnerships was previously published in The Bottom Line, Education for Accountants, Mid-May 2016.
There are many different ways to delegate, some just barely get
the job done and others are the foundation on which successful firms were built.
A few of the prototypically, less effective methods:
a file on someone’s desk and telling them that it’s due Tuesday at 9am
sharp, without further explanation as you breeze through the door.
someone’s in progress assignment without further collaboration or credit.
someone to take on a new assignment, but without the actual authority to
make any meaningful decisions on their own.
Whether they’ve had first hand experience with these
scenarios or not, most accountants know that the old style of delegating
alienates, rather than strengthens, teams. It gets the item off the ‘to do’
list, at least in the interim. But in the process it can demotivate and frustrate,
not the best predictors of successful delegation.
If the old style of delegation is on its way out of
accounting firms and other professional practices, what is it being replaced
by? And what should it be replaced by? Being
polite? While not a bad habit to get into, it’s not actually a delegation
On the other hand, partnership is.
Good delegation builds partnership between delegator and delegatee. It pulls people up through the ranks, building
bench strength for the firm throughout the process. It is the source from which new leadership
So, to keep a task off their to do list through to
completion, rather than bouncing right back every time an obstacle is
encountered, accountants need to think about how, not only to get the delegatee
to care about what they’ve taken on, but also how to change their own role in
the process. In practical terms how can accountants delegate better? They need
to delegate with HEART – Honesty, Engagement, Accountability, Respect and Trust:
Before delegating a thing, it can be helpful
to recognize that one of the obstacles to the process is risk (the work won’t
get done on time, it won’t be good enough, it will have to be redone at the
11th hour and so on).
In a transparent manner, minimize exposure by building
quality control into the process.
Assign authority along with
responsibility (decision-making, client contact, financial administration).
But build quality control steps into the process. Hands off. Not eyes off. Follow through. Plan to meet as often
as is needed to maintain an eye on the progress of the assignment and not lose
the opportunity to provide timely feedback along the way.
Don’t hold back if
things aren’t meeting the firm’s standard for quality. Be clear and provide
references to illustrate the desired end result, rather than accepting
something substandard or redoing the work.
Individualize delegation, for best results.
Assess the situation. First decide, is the task at hand appropriate for
delegation, as opposed to directives? Is the individual sufficiently skilled (would
it be considered a stretch or jumping into something completely new)? Does time
allow for any necessary coaching along the way?
Assess the individual. Is
this person the right individual for the task at hand? Or just convenient and
available? Have they indicated an interest in this type or work or in the
advancement that it would eventually lead to?
Assess how much development will
be needed to get the task done on time and properly. Communicate
effectively. Take the time to consider how to best communicate with each
individual. Everyone communicates differently. If the person is introverted,
the delegator may need to be prepared for lengthy pauses in coaching
conversations while the delegatee processes their ideas. On the other hand, if
the person is extroverted, the delegator may need to be prepared for immediate,
unformed responses as the delegatee organizes their ideas out loud.
to maximize engagement, don’t interrupt and don’t micromanage. Allow the
delegatees’ ideas and interest to emerge, at their own pace.
Coach for ownership and
accountability. Don’t just manage for results. Identify the issue. What
really needs to be done? Is it obvious? Is the task being delegated because it
needs to be done or because that’s the way it’s always been done? Is there a
better way? Identifying objectives, with the delegate, establishes buy in, clarity
Problem solve, together. True coaching doesn’t mean
babysitting or paint by numbers. It means enabling the delegatee to think for
themselves. Ask non-leading questions and share past experiences, to open up
their thinking about how they might take on this new task. Stay open to new
ways of doing things. Establish a plan.
Agree on everything: next steps,
milestones and deliverables. But don’t set the pace. Allow the delegatee to
create the plan and change it as they move ahead. This will breed ownership,
interest and creativity.
Invest in skill development and firm
infrastructure. Consider the long term. Where development is needed, develop
effectively. There is no one size fits all. For some, an itemized description
of a new process will be all they’ll ever need. Others will need to talk it
through. Yet others will need to observe how new tasks are undertaken firsthand,
before jumping in themselves.
Get organized. Is the firm’s hierarchy
understood by all? Will the delegatee be expecting to receive assignments from
the delegator? Are people familiar with their own job descriptions and the job
descriptions that represent advancement in the firm? If people understand how
certain tasks will make them more promotable, they may be more amenable to
Don’t take it back. Though it will be tempting
to answer questions about missing details with “I’ll get back to you on that”
or edit requirements with “oh just leave that with me”, the delegator should be
aware that doing so means the task will land right back on their to do list.
Instead, consider how to empower the delegatee to keep hold of their task by
offering examples, training tools, meetings to review questions or other
Accountants that build their teams with HEART will be sure to be rewarded
with a shrinking pile of work on their desks and less worries about the quality
of what comes back from their teams.
The bonus will be the lift in confidence and morale as everyone
starts to take on more, propelling both the individuals and the firm itself
towards growth and success.
- Sandra Bekhor, Toronto