How to stop upwards delegation (particularly when working remotely)

How many times have you said “oh, just give it to me. I’ll get it done?” Delegating isn’t an easy thing for most managers to do and it’s even harder when your whole team is working remotely. When employees are struggling, especially if it’s a task you can do quickly, it can be really tempting to take it off them and do it yourself ‘because it’s quicker.’ You might see this as saving your staff and saving time, but it’s extremely detrimental. Here’s why and how to stop upwards delegation.

What is upwards delegation?

Upwards delegation is when staff pass their tasks to you. Sounds crazy? Let's just think about your current situation.

  • Do your staff members come to you with questions or problems that they could work out themselves just by using their initiative?
  • Are you often saying to them “just give it to me and I’ll get it done, it’ll be quicker?”
  • Do you find yourself working longer hours with more "busywork" that isn’t anything to do with growing your firm?

If you answered yes to any of these, then upwards delegation may be a problem!

It’s easy to let this happen. You start off trying not to micromanage and delegating low-value tasks.  Suddenly you’re taking over and doing it for them. So why the switch? How do things creep back to upwards delegation?

Many accountancy owners believe that they are saving time by swooping in and completing tasks. Especially now that whole teams are working remotely!

Of course, it's quicker to do it for them!. Your employee comes to you asking for help with a simple task. If you’re in the middle of something, it seems that it’ll take less time for you to just do it rather than explaining to them how.

Unfortunately by doing this (regularly) you are training your employees to be helpless. You're training them to think that whenever they run into a problem they can bring it to you. What they really need to do is to work it out for themselves.

Over time this results in employees who are less productive and who don’t use their initiative. And you end up doing work that you should be delegating downwards (Find out how to stop being the bottleneck in your growing accounting firm)

Essential tips for how to stop upwards delegation

If you want to know how to stop upwards delegation, you first need to stop training your employees to be helpless. Resist the urge to take tasks off their hands. Yes, this is going to take up more time initially but it’ll save you so much time in the long run.

To prevent upwards delegation, especially for remote managers, here are some essential tips:

  1. Communicate clearly and concisely – remote working requires more frequent communication as well as clear and concise instructions. Make sure to give clear briefs and explain the impact this task has on the work of others to inspire action.
  2. Discuss and assign key tasks and projects via phone or video call – even with a proper structure in place, many people wait until halfway through a project to admit that they don't understand something. To avoid this, have a one-to-one first to check their knowledge and give them the opportunity to ask any questions or voice any concerns. Doing this in real-time is very effective.  It also gives you peace of mind that you’ve set clear expectations and that they understand.
  3. Match the communication tool to the task – miscommunication is a real challenge with remote working so use virtual collaboration tools such as, Zoom, Slack, and What’s App. These allow you to communicate quickly and effectively with your whole team. Just make sure that you know which is the best to use with what person and which task. Instant messaging and emails work well with assigning tasks.  A phone or video call is best for new projects and for making sure everyone is on the same page.
  4. Make sure employees have the right tools to succeed - working remotely requires new apps and software. Your employees may need plenty of training. To reduce the chances of them coming to you for help, make sure that they have the right tools for a task and they know how to use them before delegating.

Take the time to coach your employees

  1. Take the time to coach your employees – if an employee has an issue or needs help with a task, take the time to coach them through it. Instead of giving them the answer immediately, ask them questions to help them get to a solution by themselves. Ask them what they would do if you weren’t here. If you know where they made a mistake, ask them where they think they went wrong and how they could approach it differently.
  2. Focus on results rather than methods - a lot of the time, upwards delegation happens because employees are too afraid to make mistakes. To avoid this, delegate authority as well as tasks.  Focus on results rather than methods. Encourage initiative and make them responsible for the results. Trust that they will give their best and deliver on their promises.  Employees find this extremely empowering.
  3. Praise individuals and collective success – Everyone is craving some social interaction at the moment.  Plus, who doesn’t love to be praised for good work? If a team member has done a good job or they’ve picked up a task really quickly or they’ve made a difference to your day, tell them. There’s nothing more powerful than positive reinforcement, especially when it comes to motivation, so praise them and celebrate the collective success together.

Stop managing and start coaching

Stop training your employees to be helpless; working remotely and managing a completely virtual team is hard enough as it is! Yes, taking a few tasks on is quicker in the short term, but it’s extremely detrimental for your employees, for your business, and for your own sanity.

If you resist the temptation to take on ‘quick tasks’ and invest some time to coach your employees through their problems, you’ll soon see that your employees will turn into innovative workers who take the initiative. That’s how to stop upwards delegation.

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