What is Delegation?

There is a limit to the number of subordinates a manager can effectively supervise. Once this limit is reached, delegation of authority becomes necessary. Delegation of authority is the most important step in the organising process.

To delegate means to grant authority to the subordinate to accomplish a particular assignment. Delegation enables a manager to distribute his work load to others and concentrate on more important functions which he can perform better because of his organisational position. Delegation is the process which a manager follows in dividing the work assigned to him so that he performs that part which only he, because of his unique organisational placement, can perform effectively, and so that he can get others’ help for whatever remains to be done.

Delegation of authority is widely recognised as an art of getting the best results. The process of delegation comprises the following three components:

  1. Entrustment of responsibility (duty or work) to the subordinate for performance;
  2. Granting of authority to make use of resources, take necessary decisions and so on for carrying out the responsibility; and
  3. Creation of an obligation or accountability on the part of the person accepting the authority to perform in terms of the standards established.

Let us briefly discuss these components:

1. Entrustment of Responsibility: Responsibility means the work or duty assigned to a person. It arises from the superior-subordinate relationship. In order to enable the subordinate to perform his responsibility well, the superior must clearly tell him as to what is expected of him.

2. Granting of Authority: Authority is the right granted to an individual to make possible the performance of work assigned. Power to use resources, power to hire and fire people, power to take necessary decisions, etc., has to be delegated to individuals to whom the work is assigned.

3. Creation of Accountability: Once a subordinate is entrusted with responsibility to perform certain jobs and he is given sufficient authority to perform the assigned work, the final phase in delegation is holding the subordinate answerable to his superior for the actual results. Accountability is the obligation to carry out responsibility and exercise authority in terms of performance standards established. For accountability to be effective, the standards of performance should be determined before entrusting a task and should be understood and accepted by the subordinate.

The three components of delegation are like three legs of a stool. Each depends on the other two. If one leg is weaker or shorter, the stool of delegation will be unstable See fig. V.

 Principles of Delegation

The following principles are guides to delegation of authority:

1. Delegation by Results Expected: This principle states that before delegating authority the manager should look first at the goals to be achieved and then delegate authority sufficient to achieve the expected results.

2. Principle of Functional Definition: This principle states that there must be clear definitions of  results expected and activities to be undertaken. The more clear the definitions, the more adequately the individuals can contribute towards accomplishing enterprise objectives.

3. Scalar Principle: The scalar principle refers to the chain of direct authority-relationships from superior to subordinate throughout the organisation.  Subordinates must have a clear idea as to who delegates authority to them and to whom matters beyond their authority must be referred.

4. Authority-level Principle: This principle states that decisions within the authority of individuals must be made by them and not be referred upward in the organisational structure. In other words managers at each level should make whatever decisions they can in the light of their delegated authority, and only matters that they can not decide because of limitations on their authority should be referred to superiors.

5. Unity of Command: This principle requires that an individual should report to only one superior to avoid conflict.

6. Absoluteness of Responsibility: This principle states that a manager who has delegated authority and assigned duties cannot escape his responsibility for the activities of his subordinates. This responsibility of the manager is absolute and cannot be delegated.

7. Parity of Authority and Responsibility: This principle requires that the amount of authority should correspond to the amount of responsibility. It should neither be more, nor less. According to this principle, managers should not hold their subordinates responsible for duties for which they have not been given the necessary authority.

Advantages of Effective Delegation: 

When used properly, delegation has several important advantages. The first and most obvious is that the more task managers are able to delegate, the more opportunity they have to seek and accept increased responsibility from higher-level managers.

Another advantage of delegation is that it frequently leads to better decisions, since subordinates closest to the actual operating level are likely to have a clearer view of facts.

In addition, effective delegation speeds up decision making. Valuable time is lost when subordinates must check with their superiors before making a decision. This delay is eliminated when subordinates are authorised to make the necessary decisions on the spot. Finally, delegation causes subordinates to accept responsibility and exercise judgement. This not only helps to train subordinates but also improves their self-confidence and willingness to take initiative.

Barriers to Effective Delegation

Inspite of the advantages, many managers are reluctant to delegate authority and many subordinates are reluctant to accept it. Both these barriers hinder effective delegation:

Reluctance to Delegate: 

There are a number of reasons that managers commonly offer to explain why they do not delegate: “I can do it better myself; “My subordinates are just not capable enough”; “It takes too much time to explain what I want to be done”. These reasons are often excuses that managers use to hide the real reasons.

Insecurity may be a major reason behind reluctance to delegate. Managers are accountable for the actions of subordinates, and this may make them reluctant to ‘take chances’ and delegate tasks. Or the manager may fear a loss of power if the subordinate does too good a job.

An additional case of reluctance to delegate is a manager’s lack of ability. Some managers may simply be too disorganised or inflexible to plan ahead and decide which tasks should be delegated to whom or to set up a control system so that subordinates’ action can be monitored.

Lack of confidence in subordinates is a third major reason why managers avoid delegation. In the short run, this lack of confidence may be justified if subordinates lack knowledge and skill. In the long run, there is no justification for failing to train subordinates. Managers who lack confidence in their subordinates—perhaps because of an inflated sense of their own worth will severely limit their subordinates’ freedom to act.

Reluctance to Accept Delegation: 

Insecurity can also be a barrier to the acceptance of delegation. Some subordinates want to avoid responsibility and risks and would like their bosses to make all decisions. Similarly, subordinates who fear criticism of dismissal for mistakes are frequently reluctant to accept delegation.

Another common reason for reluctance is that subordinates may not be given sufficient incentive for assuming extra responsibility. Accepting delegation frequently means that they will have to work harder under greater pressure. Without adequate compensation subordinates may be unwilling to do so.

Overcoming the Barriers: 

The most basic prerequisite to effective delegation is the willingness of managers to give their subordinates real freedom to accomplish delegated tasks. Managers have to accept  the fact that there are usually several ways to solve a problem and that subordinates may legitimately choose a path different from their own. And, subordinates will make errors in carrying out their tasks. But they must be allowed to develop their own solutions to problems and to learn from their mistakes. The solution to subordinates’ mistakes is not for the manager to delegate less, but to train subordinates more.

Improved communication between managers and subordinates will reduce mutual understanding and thus  help to make delegation more effective. Managers who know the abilities of their subordinates can more realistically decide which tasks can be delegated to whom.

A useful method for overcoming barriers to delegation is to reduce the complexity of delegated assignments and increase the degree of delegation over a span of time. Thus, a manager can delegate successfully more work and subordinates will accept more responsibility for particular tasks.

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