How to successfully delegate decision making

There’s some irony in the fact that taking the decision to delegate decision making can sometimes be a tough one, and particularly within a small company where autonomy has generally rested with you. It can be a time-consuming process and often requires a mindset change on your part, along with a willingness to let go of a certain amount of control. It can sometimes be tricky to find the right balance but when managed successfully, the delegation of some decisions brings with it great benefits and can be highly worth the investment of time.

Primarily, your workload and pressures will be lightened, but beyond that the people you choose to delegate to will feel challenged in new and exciting ways, and encouraged to develop skills and responsibilities that will set them up for future projects and promotions. Furthermore, they’ll feel trusted and respected, which will inspire them to be more committed to your organisation and have a greater sense of ownership of their work. As the saying goes, two heads are better than one, and when you involve others in decisions relating directly to their work, they bring valuable insights which can often lead to resolutions you may not have thought of.

It’s important to have the correct infrastructure in place, before you begin to delegate any decision making, and…

  • Choose the right people – you need to have confidence in the individuals you’ve chosen to delegate to.
  • Ensure processes are well documented – you need to be able to clearly communicate how you expect decisions to be made, and the process you want individuals to follow. Within this, objectives need to be clearly defined, along with the bigger picture.
  • Have an escalation procedure in place – when problems arise, have a protocol in place which will avoid upward delegation back to you, unless in extreme scenarios.
  • Clearly define resources available – what budgets, people (including HR), tools, equipment etc will individuals have access to in order to see through the decisions that have been delegated to them.
  • Have a system for tracking workflow – it’s important to have progress and measurement checks in place, to ensure the decisions you’re delegating are being made effectively.

Once you have these elements in place, you can gradually begin the process of delegating some decisions to carefully selected individuals. It’s wise to avoid throwing anyone in at the deep end, but rather have a development plan in place which will help delegation to happen over a period of time, ensuring that the individual is ready for such responsibility. Here’s a suggested four-step process:

1. Individuals offer a recommended solution

Encourage your selected individuals to be problem-solvers, before they become fully fledged decision makers. Involve them in situations that need resolution and ask them to come to you with a solution. Consider this as a first step toward independent decision making, which can be sensible and beneficial to both parties. Ultimately the final decision will still be yours, but if you are able to go with their suggestion that will give the individual a huge confidence boost; and if their solution is unrealistic you will be able to coach them towards a better conclusion. This process can also be helpful for assessing the types of tasks the individual would be comfortable taking responsibility for.

2. Approve decisions before they are executed

The next step is to encourage individuals to begin making decisions, which relate to the level of discretion that’s been agreed; but ask these employees to bring these decisions to you just prior to implementation, for approval. Also make them aware that from this point, they must be fully committed to the decisions they’ve made and be prepared to see them through. This helps to ensure that for the necessary time period, there’s a safety buffer in place to avoid any poor decisions being executed. While the temptation will be to modify or change their resolutions to be more in tune with what you might have done, the idea is that you only halt decisions which would be seriously detrimental to the business. It’s important the individual feels that they have some autonomy at this stage, and have enough freedom to learn from their mistakes.

3. Decisions are made, within clear parameters, and reported immediately

Once the employee in question has proven their ability to make well-informed decisions and resolutions with successful outcomes over a good length of time, the next step is to grant them the authority to act independently within the boundaries that you’ve agreed. Those parameters will be personal to each business. Once a decision has been made it’s critical that the individual lets you know immediately what they have done, despite the fact that if it’s a poor decision, it may be too late to u-turn or rectify. It’s also important that others within the business are informed of the responsibility that’s been delegated to this individual, and particularly if others within the team or project may be personally affected.

4. Individuals are granted the autonomy to make decisions, with measurement attached

Once the above steps have been completed, ideally in small increments, the final part is to grant the individual full autonomy to make decisions without involving you. There shouldn’t be any deadline or time pressure to reach this point as it’s important it happens organically. Complex decisions can often require additional support, so be sure to convey that you are always available for advice or input when needed. Furthermore, it’s important to continue coaching or training the individual in relevant skills to help enhance their decision making capabilities.

To avoid finding yourself in a situation where decisions have been delegated, but you’re unsure of the outcome, it’s important that results are tracked and monitored to ensure nothing is running off course. This can also avoid you needing to ‘check up’ on an individual in a way that could be embarrassing and suggest you lack faith in them.

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