We’re all familiar with the story we tell our kids. The one that happens every year at the strike of midnight on December 25. The one about a jolly old man with a beard as white as snow, and a belly that shakes like a bowl full of jelly. Operating from a sequestered location off the map in the middle of an icy wonderland, he runs a global conglomerate that delivers and facilitates a gargantuan yearly phenomenon. On the day itself, he rides his reindeer-powered sleigh, and pops into our houses while we’re asleep to plant gifts under our Christmas trees, before going back to the North Pole to celebrate with his army of hard-working elves.
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We know him as Santa Claus (or Saint Nicholas), the universal symbol of Christmas. But behind the scenes, he is the unsung figurehead for the art of delegation. While it is impossible for one person to prepare for a global one-night-only event (even if they had 364 days to do it), Santa always seems to leave his clients – a group that comes by the billions – happy. How he manages to do it every single year, deliver every single gift on time to the right kids, is nothing short of a Christmas miracle. But it’s also thanks to the veteran head honcho’s supreme leadership skills that allow him to successfully delegate the many tasks on his to-do list to his trusty elves. With centuries of experience under his big black belt, there is no doubt one or two things about effective delegation that we can learn from him. Whether it is in a make-believe MNC of elves or a young SME of regular human beings, here is a list of delegation tips gleaned from the master himself that applies in every work setting and situation.
1. Selecting the right person for the right job.
The first rule of effective delegation is to delegate the appropriate work to the appropriate staff members who are best equipped for the task. There is a reason why elves don’t operate Santa’s sleigh, and reindeers don’t craft presents in the workshop. Heck, even the different tasks in the expansive process of gift-making have a specific species of elves working on each one. To do this, you need to know the strengths and weaknesses of your employees as well. Don’t simply throw them into the deep-end without considering whether they have the necessary skills, knowledge and, rather importantly, interest. Another thing you need to find out from your staff is their level of commitment to the task. Ignore these steps, and you’ll be headed towards not only reducing the quality of your staff’s output, but also hampering their motivation as well.
2. What is the purpose of delegation?
It is essential to be clear on why you’re delegating work. Don’t do it just to reduce your personal workload, or escape from the things you’re not willing to do – tasks that you perhaps feel are beneath you or not worth your time. The purpose of delegation should not be based on a selfish, narrow desire, but one that is focused on the bigger picture, such as developing the skills of your staff so they can undertake heavier projects, and boosting the workforce’s performance and productivity.
In line with avoiding a self-centred approach and grooming staff members for more major roles and responsibilities, always remember to give credit where credit’s due. Everyone knows that Christmas isn’t a one-man job, and Santa’s helpers certainly never go unnoticed or unrewarded. Crediting your employees increases accountability and ownership, which inspires them to put their best foot forward. Giving them due praise for a job well done instills confidence in them and encourages them to step forward more into leadership roles.
Of course, we can’t talk about praises without addressing criticism. As a supervisor, you still have to guide your employees as they embark on their delegated tasks, making sure they’re on the right track. A thoughtless and aloof leader simply checks out after the delegation, kicks back and relaxes while the employees are left to their own devices. A leader who cares about the company and its staff, on the other hand, would regularly seek updates on the assignments. Remember this: Delegation without participation is resignation. So be present and available to your personnel in case they run into any trouble or need to clarify certain things with you. This doesn’t mean you should be overbearing to the point of micromanagement though because this would defeat the purpose of delegation, which should grant employees some level of professional independence.
3. Communication, as always, is key.
Image: My Own Fairy
One of the first and most crucial things to establish and communicate to your staff are clear goals for the project. Employees need to know exactly what’s expected of them, and what they need to do. This includes the timeline of the delegated tasks. From compiling lists of naughty and nice children, to sourcing and building the presents on their wish lists, to wrapping, labelling and packing them into Santa’s sack, there is a lot to be done before the annual December 25 deadline. And there’s no way to fulfill them unless Santa follows a tight schedule that’s clearly conveyed to the rest of the team. Santa’s elves work all year round to keep to the time table he enforces, and it is foolproof, considering how he hasn’t missed a single delivery in the centuries he’s been doing this.
A behemoth corporation like Santa’s has a colossal workforce of elves, split into several departments working both within and outside the North Pole (some monitoring the children as elves on shelves). Needless to say, it relies on a practical and effective system of communication to aid in the production of Christmas gifts. Likewise, in a real-life situation, especially for larger companies, work is delegated to various teams headed by various managers. In such cases, communication goes from the top down and is filtered through multiple levels of authority before reaching the most junior employees. A competent system of communication makes sure information doesn’t get muddied in the process. One way to do that is to adopt a streamlined form of communication, and not shy away from providing direct access between the CEO of the company and the rest of the staff (no matter their department or level of seniority). As Elon Musk said, a firm that filters its communication through many layers of management will only waste time.