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A Middle Manager's Perspective on Delegation

An overburdened middle manager was heard to say, "One of my first-line supervisors continually claims he's capable of assuming greater responsibility, but every time I give him a special assignment, he quickly finds someone else to hand it off to-and he calls what he's doing delegation. How will I ever get to know what this person can really do?"


The manager asking the question should first decide whether "every time" is a fair representation of the first-line supervisor's behavior; one might better consider looking at 1 or 2 specific assignments that were not handled in the expected manner. Also, there is some prejudgment of the supervisor's behavior in the contention that he "quickly" passes assignments to others.


In assessing this subordinate supervisor, the manager will have to answer 1 question for each specific task handed over to someone else: was the task delegated properly? If he did indeed act within the limits suggested by the proper practice of delegation, that particular assignment was well handled by the supervisor. Any subordinate supervisor should be allowed-in fact encouraged-to practice delegation with employees just as the manager does with direct-reporting employees. Indeed, the manager's entire concern might reduce itself to a question of whether the supervisor delegated properly, including consideration of whether a particular task should have been delegated at all.


If there appear to be problems, the subordinate supervisor must be shown the difference between properly delegating and simply "dumping" a task. If the supervisor does not seem to know the difference, seeming to regard delegation as simply giving an employee an order, then the supervisor has to learn about proper delegation from the middle manager.


There is actually a simple answer to the middle manager's original question: If there is a task that the manager wishes the supervisor to attend to personally, the manager should simply tell the supervisor to do it himself. This suggests that the manager has a ready reason for this specific instruction, a reason that should probably be as direct as: "I want to see how you handle this by yourself." This will certainly assist the manager in evaluating the supervisor's claim of being capable of assuming greater responsibility. Or perhaps the manager is doing so specifically to give the supervisor the chance to learn and develop, to prove himself by exhibiting some of the capabilities he claims to possess.


In examining the supervisor's approach to delegation, again focusing on one specific assignment at a time, the manager should ask for the reasons for passing along a specific task to one of the employees. The supervisor needs to understand that he should not be delegating something simply because he dislikes doing it or is unable to do it. Because of all that is involved in proper delegation, the supervisor should have reasonable knowledge of how to perform a task before delegating it and should certainly understand why this particular task must be done.


The message that the middle manager really needs to hear in response to the question about the subordinate supervisor is: Treat the supervisor the same way you expect that supervisor to treat his employees. That is, do not simply "supervise." Rather, teach, train, coach, counsel-help the supervisor learn and grow as surely as you expect the supervisor to help his employees learn and grow.


This issue of The Health Care Manager (31:1, January-March 2012) offers the following for the reader's consideration:


* "The Effects of National Health Care Reform on Local Businesses: Part I-The Law and Its Applicability" is the first installment of a 3-part report addressing a comprehensive study of the potential effects of national Health Care Reform on businesses, suggesting that the business community could benefit from the legislation in the early years but could be adversely affected in subsequent years.


* "The Ethical Leadership Challenge to Do No Wrong: The Cognitive Imperative" addresses the manner in which cognition relates to human errors in the hospital setting and provides recommendations for reducing human error and thereby reducing deaths in hospitals.


* "Managing Information Technology Human Resources in Health Care" reports on the study of 3 major issues encountered in managing human resources in an information technology-enabled health care enterprise and recommends means for addressing these issues.


* "Mentoring in Health Services Management: Reflections on an Evolving Training Ground" addresses the crucial role of mentoring as essential in the development of future practitioners of management within the health services environment.


* "Positioning Patient-Perceived Medical Services to Develop a Marketing Strategy" reports on a study undertaken to aid in the establishment of a desirable medical marketing strategy through customer satisfaction and the positioning of patient perceptions by marketing entities.


* Case in Health Care Management: "The Bungled Assignment" asks the reader to consider what went wrong in a particular instance of intended delegation and to further consider how similar problems could be avoided in the future.


* "Learning From Other Industries: Lessons and Challenges for Health Care Organizations" examines how learning in health care has been influenced by innovation in other industries such as aviation, high-reliability organizations, auto manufacturing, and others.


* "Revenue Cycle Optimization in Health Care Institutions: A Conceptual Framework" presents an integrated change management model that addresses the challenge of optimizing a health care organization's revenue cycle so as to improve overall financial performance.


* "Network Analysis as a Tool for Community Capacity Measurement and Assessing Partnership Between Community-Based Organizations in Korea" reports on an exploratory community network survey addressing capacity building and assessed collaborations among community-based organizations and methods for the reconstruction of a resident-governing healthy network.


* "Leaders, Managers, and Employee Care" addresses the traits and characteristics that effective health care leaders and managers must demonstrate in caring for and supporting employees, recognizing that loyal and satisfied employees can be an organization's strongest asset.