I have read many of the books and articles compelling managers to delegate more. The implied, if not stated, conclusion is that managers should delegate everything possible. The problem with these quick fix gurus is the reality that each level of management has a defined role and all work at that level should be done by that role, not delegated. The manager should however delegate appropriate tasks to the next level, with proper context and definition, which fits with the work defined for that subordinate role. This cascade can continue through the organization but a manager must keep the part of the work which matches his/her LoWa and must be held accountable for the proper level of assignment of tasks to their team.
Let me explain by use of an example. Let’s say that a CEO sets the organization on the path of a new direction. The VP, Human Resources, realizes the need to develop a talent management plan to make sure the organization has the proper capabilities to execute the new strategies. This VP delegates the task for designing the talent management system to a subordinate director of HR. The director of HR tells one of his/her managers to design a talent management system. Great example of delegation, right?
Wrong! In this example taken from a real discussion I had recently, the manager is overwhelmed, frustrated with managers above, and will likely deliver a set of hiring policies and not a true talent management system. Here is a better way to handle this situation. The VP should design the talent management system. Not all the details but the overarching concepts and its components. I suspect they would include structure review, role description revisions, talent acquisition, performance management, pay and benefits policies, talent retention, etc. Each of these components would be broadly defined and assigned to one or more directors at the next level to refine and complete. Naturally these director may assign small components of these areas to their next level management according to the complexity of the work. But the director take special care to oversee and design each sub-component as assigned by the VP. One of the managers in this example is assigned the task of developing hiring policies which is completed on time with a high level of personal satisfaction for completing a challenging task.
In the original example the organization fails to create an effective talent management system likely causing mediocre or poor execution of strategy. The VP wonders why the results are so bad. The director agrees to fix it. The manager may be blamed and even terminated for poor performance. The gurus congratulate the VP and director on their great delegation skills.
In the second example, the organization creates a highly effective talent management system and is likely highly successful in executing the new strategies. People in the organization know how to deliver results and feel a sense of accomplishment, which cause them even more success in talent retention.
LoWa is part of the science of management. Following the principles of science gets one result and breaking the rules in the name of delegation gets another. Define the work at every level of the organization and make sure managers are doing the right level of work for their role.