At Marriott Consulting, when we help an organization with a strategic plan, one of the things we look at is how the firm's managers manage. It is well documented that decentralizing decision-making often improves productivity and leads to innovative solutions to many problems. But it's difficult for many managers to delegate well. Why?
London Business School professor and Financial Times columnist John Hunt has an answer: in most organizations, there is no reward for letting others make decisions that affect you. He notes that only 30 percent of managers think they can delegate well, and of those, only one in three is considered a good delegator by his or her subordinates. This means only one manager in 10 really knows how to empower subordinates. Such a tendency towards keeping decision making power starts in grade school, Hunt says, and is reinforced by the way most organizations reward their people: "A poor record of delegation often reflects a mutually beneficial arrangement between bosses and their direct reports." See the whole article here.
Some excerpts: "It soon becomes clear why delegation is so difficult. Managers in their twenties know little about delegation. Childhood hardly encourages it: schools are familiar with the practice of a pupil delegating math homework to a friend. It is called cheating."
"Delegation is much easier in theory than in practice. That is partly because the effect of decisions can be dramatically different from what they [i.e., managers] anticipated. To commit a serious cock-up is a relatively simple - and frighteningly public achievement."
"Most [middle managers] feel that preserving the status quo is more attractive than foisting revolution. Delegation is all very well, but exposes them to uncomfortable scrutiny. Before long, these middle-managers tend to look for havens where they can sit on resources and watch for threats."
"Do not misunderstand me: many are brilliant managers of the status quo. Routine services are their forte. They centralise control, minimise delegation and insist that others follow their systems."
"There are notable exceptions, but most are in their thirties or early forties and will not rest. They learnt in their twenties that their future depended on delegating. They are risk-takers who delegate courageously and expect others to deliver."
"But even among this small number of high-flyers, time will eventually tell. Younger managers leave to create their own excitement. Older managers become less willing to take risks. The head office tightens its grip."
Hunt says that delegation can be taught, but it is difficult to learn until the organization itself changes so that delegation is regarded as a strength and not a potential career hazard.