Why delegation is imperative
Leaders who aim for operational excellence and financial stability need to master the art of delegation, according to international business leader Eric Herbelin.
After specializing in leadership and change for global organizations spanning multiple decades, Herbelin has distilled many of the complexities involving leadership and transformational change into one key pillar – delegation.
“I’ve always been a natural delegator,” says Eric Herbelin, who has served in multiple international business roles in Canada, Switzerland, across Europe and around the world. Not only has Herbelin expanded products to new markets and built business divisions from the ground up, but he’s amassed a repository of strategic insights to add to his expertise in both local and global markets.
On his personal website, Herbellin has shared insights pertaining to leadership, change, growth, innovation as well as many timeless and modern leadership principles that executives can begin employing in their ventures and organizations.
Of all these skills, both hard skills and soft skills, it’s delegation that shines above them all in the long-term. One of the most difficult aspects of taking on the role of an executive (or a CEO in Herbelin’s case), is clearing operational runway. It’s easy for any executive to get bogged down with the day-to-day operations of an organization, and it takes conviction to know where to be at the right time to yield the highest return of investment and organizational impact.
“That’s why I empower teams,” he says. Rather than having every department check in with leadership, Herbelin emphasizes that every individual becoming an expert in their own unique department is the key to yielding the highest return on time, which translates to organizational effectiveness and consequently, growth.
Not only is delegation essential to a CEO’s operational runway, but it’s also a key skill that ensures no member of the organization faces roadblocks or challenges when it comes to knowing their role. It ensures that projects continue to move forward without grinding to a sudden halt, requiring leadership to stop what they’re doing to free up operations.
Delegation is also a skill that can be utilized by everyone within the organization. The impression that executives delegate all the work downwards within an organization is not entirely true. Every member within the organization has the ability to delegate and should be able to do so. The concept of a CEO delegating every single task is an example of an unrefined delegation strategy to begin with.
The ability to train teams within an organization to function not only in unison but independently is the secret to compounding the effectiveness of any organization, maximizing revenue, regularly meeting targets and ensuring customer retention. Without adequate time available, an organization will cease to scale and this could have devastating impacts on the bottom line. It’s delegation that creates the potential for more time and energy that can be better utilized towards the big-picture objective of the organization.
The data widely supports delegation as one of the fundamental practices that enable organizations to grow. Delegation still remains one of the most underutilized and underdeveloped management capabilities. A 2007 study on time management cited by the Harvard Business Review found that close to half of the 332 companies surveyed were concerned about their employees’ delegation skills. At the same time, only 28% of those companies offered any training on the topic.
Psychological barriers to delegation
“Most people will tell you they are too busy to delegate — that it’s more efficient for them to just do it themselves,” says Carol Walker, the president of Prepared to Lead, a consulting firm that specializes in developing young leaders.
Many managers fear that delegating tasks will result in loss of control over outcomes. The paradox of managing autonomy and control: An exploratory study examines this paradox: “Managers are frequently offered conflicting advice as to how to increase organizational success. One of these complex dilemmas is whether to grant employees autonomy, which may lead to self-management and empowerment or alternatively, exercise control which may enable managers to retain a well-focussed and goal driven workforce.”
The answer to this dilemma, according to Eric Herbelin, is empowering teams. When clear expectations are established and every member of the organization is aware of their individual roles and responsibilities as it pertains to the organization, it becomes easier to keep them accountable. It also becomes easier for members of the organization to keep themselves accountable.
From the beginning, Herbelin realized that he was a natural leader and most effective at setting big-picture goals. Delegation to Herbelin, was the most efficient way to accomplish organizational objectives, and that allowed him to expand operations and help global organizations expand into new markets.
When appointed to work in France, Eric Herbelin worked on fixing legal entities and the credit rating of an entirely different business unit, and he was tasked to accomplish this on a short timeline.
In an interview Herbelin gave with ABC Money, he recalled the project he was assigned at the time: “They said, ‘Eric, this is what needs to happen and you have X days to do it.’ It was very result-oriented, so I got the team together and said there’s one thing we’re going to do and this is what we’re going to do, and this is the time we have available.”
It was the ability to delegate that allowed Herbelin to meet objectives on a short and highly ambitious timeline.
According to Eric Herbelin, everyone should learn how to effectively delegate. While some leaders are natural delegators, others can benefit from acquiring the skill through practice. This is for good reason as well, because leaders are better suited to work on tasks that provide the greatest long-term organizational benefits.
When leaders like Eric Herbelin focus on operations that align the organization to work towards a shared vision or common goal, that’s when KPIs are met and challenges are surmounted.
Herbelin adds that in order to effectively delegate, leaders require a certain level of autonomy and capacity for decision-making. Not only should the entire organization be empowered, but leadership should also be empowered to implement effective delegation strategies. Without the latitude to delegate, projects are at risk of underperformance.
Herbelin’s assertion is supported by a McKinsey article, which emphasizes the critical role of managerial autonomy in the success of international business. Entitled, For Smarter Decisions, Empower Your Employees, McKinsey delves into the importance of employee empowerment to help make delegation seamless. The crux of the article points to a central point: too few employees know what decisions they can and cannot make. By making it clear that everyone from executives to individual employees can make specific divisions, delegation becomes automatic.
The piece also affirms that not all decisions are created equal. That means the first step to becoming an effective delegator is learning which decisions to take on and which to hand off.
Organizational decisions are often classified according to their frequency, risk and importance. Companies like Google and Spotify are role-models in the sense that they’ve developed models for organizations to untangle the decision-making process.
The solution is often for organizations to become more agile. That means that authority is more widely distributed across the organization, and with it, the caveat of accountability.
While every individual member of the organization gains more authority to make decisions, they also become accountable for the decisions they make. This balance of authority and accountability allows organizations to function much more efficiently. It also distributes risk and accountability among many different parts of the organization so every member is responsible for driving performance through their actions.
This “agile” model speeds up response to market changes and attracts top talent who prefer a more empowered work environment.
Conclusions about delegation
The organizational data along with Eric Herbelin’s insights make the importance of delegation abundantly clear: the key to organizational growth and performance is in empowering teams and delegating effectively.
It also paints a clear picture of what delegation actually is. It’s not handing responsibility to different facets of the organization from the top down. It’s empowering the entire organization so that it becomes much ‘flatter’ in a sense, allowing teams and individuals to take on a higher level of both responsibility and accountability.
As the old adage goes, with greater responsibility, comes greater reward.