Effective Delegation is the Key to Success

Similar pain points, different solutions – it’s all in a day’s work for Leading Change, the business consultancy with proven expertise in business change and strategy implementation. Having supported organisations in many different sectors over an 11 year period , Leading Change is well-placed to provide insights to help corporates successfully overcome some of the pain points associated with effective delegation of power.

“Delegation often gets a bad name because tasks and activities are more readily delegated than ‘power’,” said Mark Bouch, Leading Change’s managing director, who has spent over 30 years helping corporates to bridge the gap between the business objectives they want to achieve and their ability to make it happen.

“Delegating power is about the need to distribute appropriate power with accountability. What I mean by power is sharing authority, resources and the freedom to make decisions, with a clear outcome in mind” continued Bouch.

A common issue likely to cause pain, identified by Leading Change, occurs when organisational culture more readily supports control than empowerment. Delegation then has inherent limitations because:

  • People are only willing to be accountable for what they directly control.

Accountability is eroded by the layers of governance people need to navigate before they can make things happen.

A business experiences ‘pain points’ resulting from the friction caused when business leaders fail to address:

  • Accountability for delivery of strategic priorities
  • Reward systems favouring activity or input rather than outcomes.
  • The primacy of functional lines leading to a lack of cross-functional cohesion

Operating models that fail to clarify relationships between asset/project ownership and supporting functions

Leading Change helps its clients to understand that, to delegate power effectively, business leaders must create clarity around ‘what’ and ‘why’ then use this to create operational freedom (or autonomy) about ‘how’ the outcome is to be delivered. It is imperative that when people are delegated power, they understand how they fit into the bigger picture, what success looks like and have clear expectations how they can contribute to the overall intent.

Bouch’s change management expertise enabled him to develop a best practice framework to enable effective delegation of power by business leaders:

  1. Context: discuss the business environment surrounding the delegation
  2. Intent: be clear what success looks like
  3. Outcome: agree the desired outcome and purpose – the what and the why
  4. Specify Tasks: agree specific accountabilities – be clear on priorities
  5. Resources: agree resources over which the person accepting delegation has authority
  6. Freedoms and Constraints: clarify the boundaries within which the ‘challenge’ is to be addressed, but don’t solve the problem. Additionally, discuss with those who whom power has been delegated, how they are making use of this freedom and what additional freedom they need

“Many of the corporates we work with claim that ‘people are their most important assets’, so it would seem intuitively obvious they would want to delegate effectively to them,” said Bouch.

“But it’s not just above effective delegation – it’s relatively easy to transfer responsibility for a task or outcome, the real issue for business leaders is how to match delegation with appropriate authority over outcomes and resources necessary to deliver those outcomes. It’s a trust based question. Trust and confidence is exactly what Leading Change helps them to build.”

To delegate effectively, Bouch advises:

  • Use a structured conversation, to reinforce accountability and build the confidence of those who have been empowered
  • Offer support to those who have been empowered – don’t look constantly look over their shoulders, second guess how they should be doing the task, think ‘how can I support them?’
  • Only insist on approving decisions when there are immutable reasons to do so
  • Embrace well-intentioned failure

Case study:

Leading Change worked with the UK’s established market leader in automotive classified advertising. At the time they intended to transform into a digital publisher whilst, concurrently, managing the print publication for as long as it was commercially viable.

The company established a corporate vision and five strategic priorities for growth. Success could be interpreted in different ways and connections between annual budgets, team & individual performance objectives and the strategic priorities was obscure.

Accountability for delivery of the five strategic priorities was very clear when the priority sat predominantly in one function, but less obvious where they did not. There was limited alignment between strategic priorities and what people were actually doing day-to-day, which meant that functional arguments tended to prevail in meetings: people didn’t routinely ask the question “how will this help deliver our priority objectives”. Their challenge was to establish a way to ensure accountability and leadership, business-wide alignment and coherence around their 5 strategic priorities, ensuring their delivery was at the heart of their operating and governance model.

Leading Change helped the business develop and implement a process to create business-wide alignment around their 5 strategic priorities. They introduced a strategy to action process (known as 5MAP™) to the company’s executive team and top 80 managers to align team outputs to the CEO’s strategic priorities. Executive team members completed a structured analysis of what was required to deliver the strategic priorities, using the 5MAP™ process, then back briefed the CEO.

Leading Change rolled out the process through functional and cross functional teams, providing coaching, materials and quality control. Introduction of a mission-based operating framework helped this highly operational business focus attention and effort on their strategic priorities.

Bouch notes, “in the three years following the programme, our client delivered outstanding results and growth relative to their competitors throughout a global economic crisis and very challenging market conditions. The 5MAP™ process became an integral part of their operating model, supporting the translation of high-level business objectives into team and personal accountabilities”.

From the client’s perspective, “The session really helped to move the exec team forward,” the Group HR Director reported, “we’ve used Leading Change Limited multiple times now and they always deliver great results”.

The Digital Media Director commented, “the work Leading Change has delivered has always been of excellent quality. They’ve been influential in driving focus, and I would highly recommend them.”