Tip #1028: Three Steps to Stop Upward Delegation

“Resist reverse or upward delegation. Don’t let others hand the job back to you.”Brian Tracy

Upward delegation can take up a lot of a manager’s time. Upward delegation is when an employee brings a problem or issue to you to solve. Whether intentional or not, the employee is shifting the ownership of the problem to you, their manager. These are things your employee should know how to handle themselves. Perhaps they don’t have the level of skill yet, so they come to you for the answer, or they just don’t feel comfortable making a decision.

And, because you are first and foremost a problem solver, often you fall victim to telling the employee what to do instead of requiring the employee to think through the problem and come up with their own solution.

How to Stop Upward Delegation

How do you stop upward delegation and get your employees to take responsibility for more of their own decisions? Here are three strategies:

Don’t take the problem on yourself.  There may be legitimate times when an employee needs your help or guidance, but more often than not, the problem isn’t urgent or is something they can solve themselves with a little resourcefulness.

To stop upward delegation, if an employee comes to you and says, “How do you want me to handle this?” or “What should I do?” turn the question back to them. Ask:

  • What do you think?
  • How might you handle this issue?
  • What have you tried so far?
  • Who have you reached out to?
  • What is your obstacle?
  • What do you think would be the best next step?
  • If I wasn’t available – how would you proceed in order to stay on task and on time with this?

Your goal is to get your employees to think for themselves. You are teaching them critical thinking skills and ultimately coaching them to think through problems before they come to you. It may take a few times before they make it a habit to think things through on their own, but if you stick to shifting the ownership, they will eventually only interrupt you for urgent matters that really need your attention.

Don’t shortcut the delegation process. Make sure the employees understand the task and your expectations, as well as the degree of decision making authority provided. They need to know they are allowed to make decisions on their own. Clarify performance consequences and inform others that the delegation has occurred. Be consistent in not tolerating any upward delegation once tasks are assigned and direction clarified.

If problems arise, make it clear that the employees should come prepared to identify not only the problem but also the specific involvement they need from you; what they have already tried; at least two possible solutions; and their recommendation as to the best alternative. You have delegated the task to them for a reason.

This allows for teachable moments in which everyone wins. The manager instructs and stretches the capabilities of the employees. Employees are reinforced and praised for their initiative and better quality problem solving.

The manager has more time for the more important strategic issues and for developing the overall capabilities of employees, including potential successors. All of this creates a more collaborative environment in which the employees take ownership.

Close your door. Yes, everyone talks about the “open door policy” and your organization may even have a formal policy. While the intention is meant to ensure an engaging work environment, it’s just not realistic to have your door open all day and get anything done. Keeping your door open all day invites interruptions. If you are working on a project or task that requires your focus and attention, close your door.

The key is how you do it. For example, walk out to your staff and say, “I’m going to close my door for an hour to work on an important project. If something urgent comes up, just knock.” This lets your employees know you need focus time and that you are available if something is truly urgent. Employees are more engaged when they have an approachable and connected leader, which is more about who you are as a leader than how many hours your door is open.

As a manager, your time needs to be spent on high-value content and tasks. You cannot manage the business and focus on your team’s growth and development if your time is consumed with issues that occur in each and every project/assignment. Sometimes you need to set the expectation, clarify the expectation, and then let employees show their professional character and initiative.

P.S. How do you stop upward delegation?

May your learning be sweet,


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