Delegation, empowerment and decision making

Delegation and empowerment are two very trendy buzzwords used by modern managers. But I’m not sure that many people, both managers and staff, have anything more than a vague notion of what they mean in practice.

Every now and then someone comes to me and says,

“I’ve got this really good idea how to sort out this problem. It means us changing the way we work like this …”

to which I reply,

“Great idea. As you’ve thought of it I’d like to delegate managing this change to you.”

Now a very small percentage of people can’t wait to go and tell everyone else what to do, but most people are horrified at the idea and instead reply with either

“Thanks. So can I go and tell everyone they you’ve decided they have to change and if they have any problems to talk to you?


Thanks. So will you go and tell everyone that you’ve decided they have to change?

All three of them are making the same mistake, which is to assume that a management decision is about telling people what to do. So they react according to their personality when they think this is what they are being asked to do. I’ve learnt to spot a flicker in the eyes that gives away this internal conflict (or in some cases the eyes lighting up at the prospect) and explain exactly what I expect.

The steps are:

  • Start off by working out who will be affected by the change. Not just colleagues but managers as well.
  • Then consider how they are likely to react to the change.
  • If it looks like they will have some issues, then work out what to do about it
  • Then go and consult with the people who will be affected, explaining the change, listening to their views armed with the planning you have already done.
  • If there are any concerns, suggestions or other views, then listen to them and change your idea to accommodate these views. Don’t be stubborn, negotiate.
  • Aim for consensus, and when you have it then the get a firm plan agreed for implementation.
  • Keep the people affected informed every step of the way

And that’s all there is to delegation, empowerment and decision making – reaching consensus amongst colleagues and keeping people informed.

The most important thing I want them to realise, is that none of this takes the official role of ‘management’ to achieve. You can do it whether you are the most junior person in the team or the most senior, all it takes is good listening, persistence and a desire to get things done. Interestingly, it was following these steps before I was a manager that got me recognised as someone who got things done and helped me get promoted to management.

Unfortunately there are quite a few managers who don’t realise that this is how they should reach decisions, by consensus, not by the management big stick. I had one manager working for me a few years ago who was so bad at this that I had to draw a diagram in Visio to teach him how to make decisions without trampling over all his staff. He never really got it and was both unpopular and ineffectual as a result.

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