When Delegating Backfires

Last week’s topic was on the importance and value of delegating. I received a comment from a client who raised the issue of what to do when the person to whom you delegated messes up.

Great question, but tricky answers.

Managers don’t want to get burned, so of course they avoid getting too close to fire. But if you’re in a management or leadership role, you are responsible for overseeing work assigned to others. Here are some thoughts on why delegating can backfire and some solutions to minimize future episodes.

Lack of clear instructions. The employee fumbles, doesn’t ask for clarification, guesses wrong and makes a mistake. Solution: Make sure the person has full understanding of the assignment, particularly any nuances that are important to you, but may not be obvious.

Lack of training. The manager assumes that the employee has foundational knowledge but doesn’t. This happens more frequently than you might think. Solution: Creating formal training is a long term solution, but in the short term, think about informal mentoring from more experienced employees.

Fear of the manager. Do you bark a lot? If your employee is timid or introverted, he may not have the confidence to ask you to clarify. Solution: Be firm, yet kind. Think steel fist, velvet glove.

Work overload or personal distraction. The outcome is the same: when people are overwhelmed, their concentration suffers, and they are more prone to making mistakes. Solution: Try to reallocate workload to accommodate a short term disruption.

Honest mistakes. Stuff happens. Sometimes employees simply make mistakes. Solution: Accept the person’s sincere apology and move on.

Sometimes understanding the root of a problem can help reframe how you delegate. After thinking about these five categories, you’ll probably notice a pattern of where or when delegation may backfire on your assignments. Focus on the solution, and see if a shift in perspective makes a difference.

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