Practice Smarter columnist Mark Opperman is the president and founder of Veterinary Management Consultation Inc., director of veterinary practice management at Mission Veterinary Partners, and founder of the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association. His column won first place in the Florida Magazine Association’s 2020 Charlie Awards.Read Articles Written by Mark Opperman
I have a question for veterinary practice owners and managers: How good a delegator are you? Years ago, I would have answered by saying I was a very poor delegator. You see, I am a perfectionist, and I felt that only I could do things the way I wanted them done, so I was reluctant to delegate tasks to others. That inability stopped me from achieving my goals, and I became frustrated. Then I decided to learn to delegate. I became a student of it, though I won’t say I am now an expert. However, I will say I became a lot better at delegation and today get so much more done and achieve many of the goals I set.
Many practice owners and managers suffer from the same problem; they are not good delegators and might fear delegation. The most common reasons are:
- They think they must do everything and that no one else can do it as well. That’s a self-defeating prophecy.
- They lack confidence in the person to whom they wish to delegate.
- They might be perfectionists.
- They might dislike change.
10 Quick Tips
What I learned on my journey to becoming a better delegator is to:
- Make sure the person can do the job (or is adequately trained for it).
- Choose someone who is interested in the job.
- Clearly explain what you wish the person to do and the goals.
- Make the project that person’s project.
- Provide adequate support and reference materials.
- Establish a realistic timetable.
- Institute automatic feedback.
- Follow up.
- Never undermine a delegated responsibility.
- Use positive reinforcement during and after.
All those bullet points are important but let me highlight a few I had to work on. Making the project someone else’s is not as simple as it sounds. If you just tell someone to do something, the person might try to get it done, yet in the event of failure, it’s yours, not theirs. A delegatee must be brought into the project’s development and conception. You need to get the person’s input and incorporate it. The individual should have just as much interest and commitment to the project as you do, and maybe more. You want the person to take ownership and care about the project’s success.
Another critical point is to institute automatic feedback into the delegated project. That was another thing I had to work on. For example, if you delegate the management of accounts receivable, how do you know the work is being done and done well? You could wait for your year-end financial report and possibly discover that accounts receivable doubled or tripled. On the other hand, you could be proactive and request a monthly aged accounts receivable. If you were to delegate inventory control, you might wish to monitor the percentage of inventory costs to gross revenue each month or review the purchase orders.
The idea is that you will incorporate some type of feedback control into the delegated project without micromanaging. For example, requiring an employee to get approval before every purchase would be micromanaging. Moreover, you would become the inventory manager, which would mean you failed in your delegation.
If you undermine a delegated responsibility, you will demotivate the team member. The person might think, “Why should I do this job if he is going to undermine everything?” Remember that no one is perfect and that mistakes will be made. If the person makes a mistake, sit down and explain the error. Help the person to correct it and learn from it. Then, the right person won’t make the same mistake again.
So, why do team members resist delegated responsibilities? Among the most common reasons are:
- They do not wish to make the decisions necessary for the task you delegated.
- They are not sure of their authority or responsibility.
- They do not feel equipped to handle the work.
- They are not prepared to accept responsibility.
- They don’t see what’s in it for them.
- Their past mistakes angered you or were embarrassing.
- They are not aware that you delegated something.
- They think they have too much to do already.
- They think the task is inappropriate.
That is quite a list, but the points are very important. The one that seems to come up frequently is “They don’t see what’s in it for them.” Many practice owners and managers think an employed individual should do pretty much any delegated task. The employee might see the task as piling on.
First of all, go back to the employee’s job description. If a task is listed and the employee read the job description when hired, you are not piling on. On the other hand, if delegated tasks are outside of the job description, employees might have a valid concern and wonder what’s in it for them.
Let’s say you are attempting to delegate the OSHA safety officer role. A lot of additional work and responsibilities might be involved, but the task wasn’t listed in a job description. Does the person deserve additional compensation or a bonus for taking on the project? I say yes, but every situation is unique. Consider it.
Some individuals are receptive to added responsibilities, so we delegate more and more until they feel overwhelmed and burned out. Then, they might become ineffective and unhappy and quit. Also, take care not to overdelegate, and try to delegate evenly to all your employees.
Success Rests With You
Delegation is not abdication. If you delegate something, you as the practice owner or manager are ultimately responsible for it. You must ensure that things are done correctly, which is where feedback control comes into play.
The beauty of delegation is that you don’t have to do the day-to-day tasks necessary to get the job done. Instead, someone is doing them for you, freeing you to take on other responsibilities and challenges. Another benefit of delegation is the designated people often feel more motivated and empowered. By receiving a new task or responsibility, they are invigorated as well.
I am not the world’s best delegator, but I have gotten much better. I learned that delegation is necessary if you are to excel in your position. If you attempt to do most day-to-day tasks yourself, you won’t progress in your job. You might burn out or at least become frustrated.
If you are a poor delegator like I was, maybe it’s time to learn to delegate effectively.
WHAT ONE RESEARCHER SAYS
A University of Buffalo School of Management study explored why an employee might resist a delegated responsibility. “If employees think their manager is just passing off unwanted tasks, they probably won’t overtly fight back,” said study co-author Dr. James Lemoine. “Instead, they may make a half-hearted effort or pretend they forgot or don’t understand the request.” Learn more at bit.ly/3yAGPmw.