"I’m a great leader! Things get done because I delegate effectively.” These words are powerful statements from productive executives. Have you said them recently?Are they true?

Effective delegation is truly a key tactic to successfully get subordinates and peers to work with you in achieving organizational goals. With all the activities and responsibilities that go into an accounting firm’s progress, getting others to absorb additional work is essential to maximizing overall productivity.

But is attaining the desired outcome the sole purpose of delegation? Is there more to it than just getting the job done?

Managers who delegate effectively consider the tasks that they are responsible for; accurately assess the capabilities of their team; consider priorities; and provide the appropriate level of support. At the end of the day, organizations want to attain stated, measurable goals.

The organization’s success is the objective, not inflating the ego of high-ranking professionals. Consequently, there may be more at stake than just getting the job done.

CLIENT DELEGATION

As part of The Rainmaker Academy’s practice development training, we often hear about partners taking managers along with them on sales calls. Once the client has been secured, in some cases the partner may delegate primary contact to the accompanying manager. As a result of this opportunity, the manager in this example realizes that his commitment and professional development is important to the firm.

Industry-specific surveys point to the fact that career growth opportunities and frequent client interaction are key factors in improving employee retention. Because employee retention continues to be a challenge in the industry, firms that can focus on using effective delegation practices to improve retention take advantage of a cost-effective solution.

Do not mistakenly believe that delegating client relationships for the sake of individual professional development cures all ills. A managing partner in a major market told the story of a business tax return that he delegated to a manager. The tax deadline was over a month away and the managing partner was swamped. The partner shifted from overwhelmed to horrified, however, when he discovered on the day before the deadline that his subordinate manager still needed additional documentation to complete the return. The managing partner now faced the responsibility of contacting his client to explain the need for additional documentation.

The client was enraged to learn that his CPA had his return for weeks without knowing that additional documentation was required. The client sternly instructed the managing partner to file an extension, and said he would manage the situation following the deadline.

Two weeks later, the managing partner received a call from the client, who calmly informed the managing partner that within the next week, he would hear from a partner at a competing firm and to follow his directions in forwarding the client’s financial records to his new CPA firm!

ACCOUNTABILITY REMAINS

This anecdote demonstrates that for effective delegation to take place, an accountability structure must be in place. Delegation is not throwing work off one desk and onto another desk. An accountability structure consists of milestones to ensure follow-through.

Likewise, the party delegating the task is responsible for evaluating the skill level of the recipient to ensure that they are motivated and equipped to complete the task. As one managing partner at a growth-focused firm shared, “A more-experienced professional does not want to receive too much detail. That individual already knows how to get things done. That individual wants more challenge and room for creativity in solving the problem.”

A key part of the accountability structure is having the proper rewards in place to encourage the task’s successful completion. Likewise, established consequences must be communicated and enforced to dissuade shoddy work. Examples of rewards can range from positive entries in the employee’s file, additional desirable assignments, recognition leading to additional training and eventual promotion, or participation in supplemental bonus pools. Conversely, consequences can include less attractive future assignments, derogatory work file entries, and exclusion from promotional opportunities.

DELEGATION SUCCESS

Many accounting professionals claim that they have never been trained in effective delegation; they don’t know where to start. Or worst of all, they think, “When I was growing up in the industry, you either did what you were told, or you got out!” Well, today’s successful firms consistently say that their people are their biggest advantage. It is a cliché ... and it is wrong. Their best people are their biggest advantage!

Effective delegation is a process that recognizes that fact and leverages it for more productivity.

Proven guidelines to standardize effective delegation in an organization include:

* Provide specific instructions, including expectations and due dates.

* Communicate priorities and leave time for questions.

* Give timely, informative and corrective performance-based feedback.

* Put in place rewards and consequences to celebrate the successful execution of the internal or external task.

The rules of delegation must be centered on assigning the task to the lowest level in terms of labor costs that can efficiently complete the work. Will someone else have to follow up for accuracy and completeness? Yes, someone will, so factor that into the cost equation.

Establish milestones for the follow-up. Otherwise, plan on lots of costly re-work following the completion of a poorly executed assignment. Finally, set yourself up for success — only delegate assignments to individuals who have the capacity to perform the task. If performance requires stretching them beyond their demonstrated capabilities, then the firm has embraced the opportunity to increase capacity.

Effective delegation is not magic. It’s a management technique that requires attention and structure. So invest the time and effort in building an accountability structure, then delegate more tasks. Now, marvel at the heights of your productivity improvement, as unexpected team members step up to new responsibilities and opportunities.

Glenn Hunter is the director of business development at The Rainmaker Academy in Nashville, Tenn.

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