Many firms still haven’t cracked the challenges of delegating work properly. Here is a summary of the issues:
- Frankly most of us know that it often feels easier to do the work ourselves than to have to explain it to somebody else, who probably won’t get it right.
- It’s not only easier, but it feels quicker to do the work ourselves – even if it means adding more tasks to our to-do list.
- Many firms actually incentivise senior people to do the work themselves. They do this by offering bonuses to those who do the most work, regardless of whether it would have been better (ie cheaper) for clients if the work was done by a more junior competent person.
- By not delegating, it means we avoid the challenge of supervising somebody else and we can avoid having to give them potentially awkward feedback.
- The avoidance of delegation of course means that the junior employees don’t get stretched as much as they could be. This means in turn that they might well be less motivated and be attracted elsewhere which leads to the costs of having to recruit and train new staff. Again, there are negative consequences for clients.
Even if the work is delegated, there are potential issues. Here is what I’m told happens in many law firms, for example:
- The senior person tends to delegate ‘on the hoof’ rather than in a planned, well thought-through way. This can mean that important information can be missed out, such as the fact that the client appreciates a call on a Friday afternoon to reassure them about progress.
- The person receiving the work tends not to ask the senior person any questions. For a start the senior person seems busy (so might be irritated, if delayed from getting on with pressing matters). Also there is the risk that the junior person might ask what might be interpreted as an unintelligent question. They can think to themselves ‘I better not ask this – they might think I should know?’.
- The implications are often that the junior hands in something which isn’t quite right. The senior is disappointed, has to work late and hesitates to use the junior again. Not a great outcome!
So, what’s the answer to having more work delegated? Here are some ideas:
- Measuring and rewarding delegation can make a big improvement.
- Carrying out anonymous 360-degree feedback on senior staff and specifically asking about delegation, supervision and feedback performance.
- Encouraging juniors to ask for more work and more stretching work.
And what’s the answer to better, more rigorous delegation?
- Juniors having the courage to ask more questions during a delegation meeting – tactful asserting may be required!
- Seniors asking (in a non-patronising way) for summaries of what they have delegated (eg “Just to check if I’ve missed anything out, could you please repeat back what we’ve talked about…”).
- Juniors saying at the end of a delegation “Can I just check I’ve got this right, you’ve asked me to do this…”
There is a client role in this as well. When selecting firms, enquire about their delegation practices. For example, do they use checklists? Sometimes you will want the most experienced person on the case, but many times you won’t!
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