By entrusting some of your duties to your staff, you can not only give yourself a break but also aid their development.
In my last column, I discussed how to set boundaries for your staff by training them to be more self-sufficient and better able to solve problems. In this column, I discuss how to set boundaries for yourself by effectively delegating routine tasks to your staff.
Effective delegation is the mark of a smart manager. Farming out minor jobs that are time-consuming and can easily be done by staff who have more downtime than you do helps keep you from feeling drained and allows you to focus on the big picture. It also empowers your staff, boosts their morale and teaches them new skills. It makes the entire company more productive and efficient. If you’re not delegating already, it’s time to start.
However, to delegate successfully, you must be clear about why you appoint staff members to cover different aspects of your job. You must also decide what to delegate and when it needs to be done. In addition, you must determine who is best suited for the responsibility. Finally, you must decide how to brief employees on what needs to be accomplished.
The decision to delegate is fundamental in developing your staff into a well-oiled machine. However, for various reasons, some fitness managers are reluctant to delegate. They may prefer to maintain full control of all tasks associated with their position or may figure that doing certain tasks themselves takes less time than explaining the procedures to employees. They may feel that delegating is a sign of laziness. Another possibility is that they strive for perfection and think that they can do a task better than anyone else.
In truth, delegation can take more time than doing a job yourself, and you do give up some control. Furthermore, an employee may not do a task exactly as you would do it. Nonetheless, successful managers understand that this tradeoff is sometimes integral to keeping their departments running at top capacity.
“I can’t expect 10 different employees to do a job just like I would,” says Isabelle Guay, group exercise coordinator at FitCity for Women, a chain of women-only fitness clubs based in Vancouver, British Columbia. “On the other hand, if I tried to control it all myself, I’d go crazy. When something is done adequately but not perfectly, you just have to take a deep breath and move on.”
Vickie Lang is a regional group exercise manager based in Simi Valley, California, where she oversees 30 clubs within the Central California Division for 24 Hour Fitness. By “training, empowering and mentoring” her staff, she helps bridge the gap between how she completes a project and how her employees do it. “This ensures that they understand what is expected of them and feel confident about carrying out those assigned duties,” she explains.
A delegated task should have clear parameters and not involve responsibilities typically associated with management. For example, you might appoint a weight room attendant to perform weekly maintenance on indoor bikes or create posters to promote a special Spinning class, but you wouldn’t ask him to hire cycling instructors.
Guay often combs the three clubs that she oversees for available staff who can assist with operational jobs, such as updating the group exercise board, keeping stability balls properly inflated and preparing instructor timesheets for the next pay period. “It doesn’t make sense for me to run to one of the clubs every time its group exercise board needs changing,” she says. “When I am able to delegate some of these details, I can focus more on interacting with instructors and planning future programs and policies.”
However small a task, try to allow lead time between when you delegate it and when you expect it to be completed. For example, when asking a receptionist to photocopy 10 or 20 flyers, don’t make her feel as if she must drop everything to attend to your request. Instead, you could say, “When you have a free moment in the next 2 hours, could you please make 20 copies of this flyer? I need them by 5 pm today.” You may have to plan ahead, but the payoff is a staff member who likely feels more committed to the task, more valued as an employee and more involved as part of a team.
You may choose either to farm out tasks to a number of staff members or to appoint one highly self-sufficient employee as your unofficial assistant or “second in command.” This person might be either a reliable instructor who aspires to become a director of group exercise or a member of your sales team with budding management potential.
Whomever you delegate tasks, remember that clear communication is the cornerstone of effective delegation. To ensure success, map out how you will brief staff on a delegated task.
Determining an employee’s level of responsibility for a job dictates how often, if at all, you prompt that employee’s completion of the task. For example, if you delegate the weekly maintenance of indoor bikes to one weight room employee, you probably need to communicate delegation of the task only once instead of reminding the employee every week. However, reminding an employee to complete a task delegated to him is not following up (explained in the next section).
If a task requires preparation and training, you must plan for that as well. Also consider whether a task requires your close and continuous support, no special guidance or something in between. Refer to “Considerations for Delegating Tasks to Staff” on page 7 for more details.
As with any form of communication, varying your approach ensures that you send the right message. For example, you can either tell an employee about a delegated duty face- to-face and then give her written guidelines regarding your expectations or ask her to take notes as you explain the task orally.
The final step in successful delegation is follow-up. This is important because, although you may entrust a job to an employee, you remain ultimately accountable for its progress and resolution.
Geoff Bagshaw, group exercise manager for Bally Total Fitness at the Eaton Centre in Toronto, recognized this when appointing staff to handle the upkeep of his department’s indoor bikes. “I have turned this duty over to our maintenance staff but still have to follow up regularly to ensure that it is attended to,” he attests.
Delegating little things not only better enables you to concentrate on the crux of your management duties but also provides more opportunities for your staff to grow by learning valuable job skills. However, it does not allow you to remove yourself from your company completely.
“I place special emphasis on mentoring and making sure that I remain hands-on with my staff,” Lang says. “I believe this is one area that good managers should not delegate!”