Delegation or abdication? 

How many of us have all the time we need? How many of us regularly tick off all of the things on our “To Do” list? How many of us spend enough time doing the strategically important (but not necessarily urgent) tasks… the box 2 tasks of the Eisenhower model ?

In order to do these things there is an argument for delegating.  But there’s a significant difference between delegation and abdication.

Have you ever been guilty of giving somebody a top line “objective” thinking that you’ve sufficiently explained what you need to get done then walked away expecting what you need to be done, to get done, only to be disappointed later?  I’m damn certain I have!  And it’s probably something I’ll (hopefully only inadvertently) do again.  That’s abdication.  So, when I want to delegate something, especially when it’s something big and juicy, I try very hard to structure my thoughts around exactly what it is that needs to be done prior to explaining it to the relevant individual. That’s delegation.

… and the tool I use for that is something called the Delegation Driver, a structured tool for ensuring delegated tasks are perfectly delivered.

… but before we dig into the detail how to use it, let’s just take a little diversion into what Brian Joiner described as the different “generations” of management.

The generations of management 

Brian Joiner (BJ to his friends?) is one of my favourite management thinkers and he’s written a great book called 4th Generation Management where he describes the four generations of management as:

  • First generation management by doing.  This is the domain of doing things by yourself for yourself, it’s the domain of the one man band or the sole trader.  The main problem here is it’s impossible to increase capacity. You are limited by the number of hours in the day.
  • Second generation management.  In medieval times gilded craftsman found that they could expand their capacity by teaching others their trade; exactly what to do and how to do it.  This is still the way various engineering and craft trades work by sharing their knowledge which allows the expert to “leverage” their time by getting apprentices to do some of the work.
  • 3rd generation management is “management by results”. The problem with second generation management is that people get sick and tired of being told exactly what to do and the detail of how to do it.  Third generation is about setting the expectation and leaving it up to the individual as to how stuff gets done.

This is typically the way of the world today, but unhelpfully, other than the delegation driver, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a structure or template for properly organising your thoughts with regard to delegating a task or activity.

4th generation management is really a culmination of the majority of the blogs we talk about because there are some problems with management by results.  Essentially, management by results is only really appropriate when objectives have very little interaction with other parts of the organisation, and actually we want the objectives in marketing to have an effect in sales and we want the objectives in sales to have an effect on production and we want the objectives in production to have an effect on the bottom line.  But that’s a story for a different day.  If you want to know more checkout BJ’s book, or perhaps if you just want a couple of 5 minute reads, start with our blogs Delivering value to your customer and Master your measures.

The arguments against delegation 

However, another diversion before we get to the template, we need to recognise and overcome those forces marshalled against delegation and just a few of them might include:

  • You might be able to do the job better yourself
  • You might not want to lose control or sight of the situation or outcome
  • You might be apprehensive of giving somebody too much responsibility too early
  • You might be afraid your people will fail

And the purpose of the delegation driver is to mitigate and allay these fears, as I firmly believe, you may have a different opinion, that if you want to grow and develop your organisation you have a responsibility to both grow yourself and your team, which means, to a greater or lesser extent, some degree of delegation will be required.  You need to free up your time to undertake the more strategic, more value adding, activities.

…but what to delegate? 

I think one of the privileges of being an owner manager is that knowing what you get fired up by and what you enjoy, you can decide exactly what it is you want to do!  Knowing that you have the privilege of organising others around you to do the things that you don’t enjoy…but they do!

So, another tool we use for determining specifically what to delegate is the Activity Inventory.  This asks you to list the tasks you undertake and rate each of them.  It allows you to think through in a structured way those tasks that take most of your time that you don’t enjoy.  It’s these that you jettison first.

The delegation driver method 

The delegation driver download takes you through a structured process which allows you to properly think through the outcomes you are looking for in delegating the task in question.  Once you have thought through what exactly it is you need to get done it’s then a case of working through your thinking with the relevant individual and updating the delegation driver accordingly.  Working through your thinking and taking on their ideas will increase the chances of you getting the outcome you desire.

1)      Choose an activity to be delegated that would free you up and leverage time, describe the activity / task to be delegated.

2)      What do you actually want to accomplish? The first step is to ask yourself what you want to achieve, what is the biggest difference achieving this will make and what will the completed outcome ideally looks like? Describe not only the more concrete details, but what you would see, think and feel once the task has been successfully delegated. Understanding this could point to some troubleshooting you might have to undertake, outside resources you might have to invest in, a change in timing, or any number of factors that will affect the success of the delegation.

3)      What is the biggest difference this delegation will make?  Describe what you will see, think and feel and the impact this will have on your time and energy if done well

4)      What does the result look like? What would be the positive outcome at the company, team / department and individual levels?

5)      Worst scenario. Describe some real-life stories where this has NOT worked well.  Real-life stories are great teaching tools. Look at the worst-case scenario in all its hideous detail. Detail is the key here: Put your imagination and articulation skills to work, capturing the worst result as fully as you can. Once you’re done, you’ll feel like you’re living that moment of defeat.

6)      Best scenario.  More positively, now describe some real-life stories where this has really worked well; let’s now take a good look at the best-case scenario in all its glorious detail.  Detail is again the key; really put your imagination and articulation skills to work, capture the very best result as brightly and fully as you can. Once you’re done, you want to be in the moment enjoying the elation!

7)      From the above determine the criteria that will be used to judge whether or not the delegation is a success.

8)      Flesh out, simplify or bullet point lower level issues so that the issues are easy to understand and communicate

9)      Identify any specific actions that need to be taken to best implement the delegation.

10)   With your thoughts collected, in order and written down, you are now ready to brief them

11)   Critically, on completion of your briefing get them to back brief you so you know (as far as you can know) that the brief has been understood

12)   As a result of the back brief and back brief make any revisions to the Delegation Driver.  Unleash the task and their imagination.

Additionally, depending on the size of the task to be delegated it may be that the delegation driver needs to be revisited on a number of occasions, there could even be a cascade of delegation drivers for different parts of the activity being jettisoned.  It’s a tool to use and abuse as you see fit.

How does this fit with my management system? 

Companies with a certified management system (ISO 9001140012700145001) might be thinking “where does delegation fit with my management system?”

I think it sits in a number of places but “resources” and “competence” being the most obvious.

We often come across companies where directors are managing, managers are supervising and supervisors are really still “on the tools”.  People may have the title but they’re actually doing the job below them.  Using the delegation driver is one tool in the management armoury that allows resources to be freed up and competence to be developed.


We started the blog asking questions about the time we have to get to the strategically important stuff, the stuff that moves the business forward, done.  And certainly in my world there never seems to be enough of that time. 

One way to increase that time is to use the delegation driver which I think does three things really well:

  1. it provides a structure for organising your thoughts so you delegate properly and effectively
  2. as a result of delegating effectively you develop the competence of your people proficiently
  3. which in turn frees up your time in order to spend more time on the strategically important stuff the deliver’s results

Check it out, have a go, see if you can use it to improve the way in which your work works…

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