By Tom Moriarty for Plant Services Magazine
When assigning tasks, always sink your teeth into process, oversight, and objectives.
I squeeze my toothpaste tube from the bottom. Not the middle. Squeezing from the middle will eventually require that you spend time going back to the bottom of the tube and working the remaining toothpaste up to the top of the tube.
Middle squeezers may still get the job done. They get the toothpaste out of the tube and onto their toothbrush. But the way they squeeze the tube just seems wrong. It’s much better to squeeze the tube from the bottom. I know middle squeezers will say that they don’t waste time worrying about pushing the toothpaste from the bottom of the tube because they would be wasting time each time they brush their teeth.
Honestly, in the end, it doesn’t matter. Applying toothpaste to a toothbrush is a relatively unimportant task. Either approach ultimately will help you succeed in reaching the goal of brushing your teeth and avoiding cavities or bad breath.
This brings me to the point of this column: Dental hygiene is very important. Just kidding. The point is that there are any number of ways to accomplish objectives. Any task must be executed in a way that accomplishes the objective or meets the goal. Delegating some tasks will free your time to work on the most-important things, while still ensuring that many of the less-critical jobs get done.
For tasks that are critical or highly important, there should be formal guidance that states the most effective and efficient ways to accomplish the task. Critical or important tasks include those pertaining to safety, regulatory compliance, operational processes, or anything that significantly affects availability, throughput, or quality.
There never seems to be enough time do everything that needs to be done. Many tasks are not critical or important enough to require formal guidance. These less-important tasks can drive an endless number of small tasks that can overwhelm a leader’s available time. These small tasks are candidates for delegation to another person or persons. No matter how good a leader is at time management, he or she will not be able to get as much accomplished as is possible with proper delegation.
There are internal factors that may make you less prone to delegate—your own needs, attitudes, preferences, and limitations, for example. External factors include what senior leaders expect of you and the current organizational environment (high turnover, vacant positions, animosity between labor and management, etc.).
The first step in prioritizing and planning what you will do personally and what you will delegate is to define objectives and goals. Objectives are the desired end results. End results need to be observable and specific. Define objectives in terms of quantity, quality, cost, and time frame. Objectives are long-term. Goals are short-term and are milestones along the way to achieving objectives. Objectives and goals become the yardstick by which you measure what is important. The least-important tasks are the first ones to delegate.
Delegating is not just about telling people to do something (squeeze from the bottom of the tube). Delegating starts with discussing with the person to whom you’re delegating what the objectives or goals are – what you want to see accomplished. You don’t tell them how (squeeze the toothpaste from the bottom). You tell them what level of authority they have (the authority to squeeze the toothpaste tube) and the type of support or resources they will receive (toothpaste tube and toothbrush), and you’ll define a monitoring system (brush teeth with toothpaste three times per day).
The level of authority means the level of decision-making with which the person is entrusted. Type of support means what the person will receive in the form of resources (funding, equipment, software, etc.) and what interaction they can expect from you or from other experts. Monitoring means having some control over the situation so that you stay informed. Delegating tasks has risks for both parties. A monitoring system helps ensure this risk is minimized.
Finally, beware three common pitfalls in delegating. Not delegating enough and overmonitoring conveys lack of trust. Undermonitoring means accepting too much risk. Reverse delegation is taking on work from direct reports or peers when the tasking should remain with them.