Someone once called me a “Dazzling Delegator” and he wasn’t being complimentary!

At the time he was describing someone so interested in strategy and the bigger picture that she had very little idea of what was actually going on. She loved working out what to do, scanning the horizon and reading the press. On the other hand she was bored by detail and let the organisation run itself. She kept the interesting job of formulating strategy and managing the Group Board for herself and allowed her five Executive Directors to run their empires without too much interference.

Sound familiar?

Eventually, through trial and error and some very helpful mentoring from an expert in culture and organisations, my team decided we needed to change. Five Directors and I realised that we needed strong, collective leadership and the ability to manage the organisation as a team. I needed to give up more of my job (strategy making and board management) if I was to help my team to develop fully. We needed to avoid the organisation becoming a “one-man” band. I knew in my heart that my own view was inevitably one sided and that listening to the team’s views would give us a better perception as well as a stronger buy-in.

So what did we do? And why was delegation the key?

Working with the Board we agreed what areas were “reserved for the Board” which only the Group Board can decide: issues such as the appointment of the CE, board members and the auditors; shareholder policy and shareholder members; the budget;  investment strategy;  treasury policy. And so on. This division of labour is embodied in the rules of the association and other key documents.

All other matters were delegated to me.  As the Chief Executive I would, for example, work closely with the Chairman while all other Board members had their primary relationship with the appropriate director.  I would sign off the largest financial transactions on behalf of the board with a written resolution, or smaller amounts on my own, or alongside a second director (all this is outlined in our financial regulations etc.). My key accountabilities (on the budget or health and safety, for example) appear in my job description and I am assessed against these at my annual appraisal. In a few words, I am responsible for running the organisation day to day.

However, I cannot actually run the organisation day to day – I don’t have the time or the skills to do most of the jobs that need doing, from procuring asset management contractors to dealing with a death in a sheltered scheme. So once my responsibilities were established I then worked with my Executive Directors to agree with them what I had to do, and what they could do. They then delegate very consciously to their managers and so it goes on.

All the time the principle was to delegate as far down the organisation as possible.

The critical issue with delegation is that power and authority has to be delegated too, along with the work.

If you just dump work on people not only will they find it ultimately unsatisfying, they will have to keep reverting to you, ensuring you are busy and needed which might be rewarding in the short term but it is a killer as an approach.

If, on the other hand, delegation is carried out effectively, consciously and with confidence, the delegate gets the chance to do the job in the way that they want. They can make the job their own. They choose, train and delegate to their teams, again setting the overall framework and expectations, but leaving the style and method to those doing the work.

In other words delegators don’t determine the process but provide clarity on what they would like achieved allowing the manager considerable freedom in doing the job their way.

Our old way of working created little Kingdoms where the King or Queen would rule the roost and say what was going to happen. I had absolute control over our strategy and would literally dream it up on my own and then present it to the team and the Board. People seemed happy – I was in my comfort zone and I wasn’t bad at producing a short list of things we would concentrate on. But actually I was behaving like an old fashioned Patriarch.  My word was law. No one bothered to challenge it because they saw it as my legitimate job.

Our new way of working is generally very successful. The Housing Officer (front line worker) is empowered to sort things out for his or her tenants (of which there are usually 150 per officer), with considerable budgetary control and discretion. Their manager is employed to support them in delivering the service rather telling them exactly what to do or how to do it. We work hard to get the staff to think for themselves and make judgments that get the balance right between commercial and compassionate considerations.

When I started this blog I mentioned how much I enjoyed the trust and creativity that allow me to do my job. This comes from my boss delegating effectively to me. I would say that the effective delegation of both tasks and the authority to do the job is one of the most important principles in running a successful organisation. It creates strong loyalty, develops people rapidly, encourages personal responsibility and innovation and the most efficient approach to using our “human resources”.

Kate Davies
Kate Davies

After obtaining a Master’s degree in Sociology, Kate Davies got her first job in Housing by chance. She embraced the opportunity it gave her to make a difference to people’s lives. In this stimulating milieu and while acquiring further qualifications, Kate’s career quickly progressed. She has now held management positions for over 30 years in both Housing Associations and Local Authorities. During that time, the nature of her role as leader has changed. The authoritative, handing-down management model of yesterday stopped working as the workforce became diverse, younger and more receptive to a consultative approach.