Reverse Delegation – what is it, how to prevent it and why this is imperative for your organisation

Reverse Delegation – what is it, how to prevent it and why this is imperative for your organisation

In a number of conversations that I have had with colleagues and clients recently, the issue of reverse delegation is one that seems to keep coming up.

If you’ve ever had an employee come to you for assistance with an issue and somehow, magically found yourself doing the task for them, you have experienced reverse delegation.

Reverse delegation damages your ability to leverage the time, skills and ability of others. Allowing this to continue within your business undermines the purpose of employing people, costing you time, money and ultimately harming you and your business.

This article provides some brief guidance to help businesses manage reverse delegation.


What is Reverse Delegation

Reverse delegation happens when a task you delegated to someone else ends up back on your to do list.

Just as important as knowing what it is, is recognising how and when it is happening. Reverse delegation usually occurs when:

1.       An employee:

  • approaches you for help,
  • encounters a problem,
  • is afraid or does not want accountability,
  • achieves a poor result, or
  • simply fails to complete a task


2.       You, take on the task:

  • without realising it,
  • because it’s quicker for you to do it,
  • because you’ll do a better job,
  • because there is a deadline approaching, or
  • just because you want to help.


Why does Reverse Delegation Occur?

The reasons an employee may engage in reverse delegation can be numerous and sometimes, they may not even realise that they are doing it at all.

Some of the more prominent causes of reverse delegation are because an employee:

  • Does not know or understand what is required of them
  • Does not understand the outcomes that you are seeking
  • Does not have the knowledge to properly fulfil the task
  • Does not have the capability to achieve the outcome required
  • Is insecure with accountability, performance, job security, etc.
  • Feels over worked and/or overwhelmed
  • Has always reverse delegated when they have encountered problems (habit)
  • Is attempting to “shirk” their responsibilities, or
  • Is just plain lazy

Whilst there may be many other reasons/justifications for reverse delegation, all of them can be reduced and prevented through effective people management.


Preventing Reverse Delegation

Reverse delegation is just one element in the effective management of people. This means that preventing reverse delegation, whilst challenging, is within your control.

Before you delegate, ensure:   

  1. Jobs and tasks are necessary, clear and logical
  2. Reference material is available (procedures, templates, manuals, guides, etc.)
  3. You employ people with necessary training, qualifications and/or experience
  4. You provide training (initial, ongoing and development) to employees

When delegating:

  1. Outline the requirements and expectations of the job, task or project clearly
  2. Establish regular review points to check in on progress and discuss any issues

When an Employee Attempts to Reverse Delegate

  1. Do not take the task on for them
  2. Ask the employee questions to elicit a solution or next steps
  3. Trust the employee to find solutions. This is what you hired them for
  4. If it’s a critical issue, once they have solutions, assist them evaluate options
  5. Offer ideas for solutions or where they may be able to find solutions
  6. Never allow them to leave the conversation waiting on you to get back to them.

Some ideas of what you can say to an employee when they attempt to reverse delegate:

  1. “What’s the next step you can take?” Use “You,” not “we.”
  2. “What do you think would be a good solution to that problem (or a good way to complete that task) and what steps can you take to achieve it”
  3. “Perhaps you should do some research and come up with some options” You can point them to resources, but they need to do the work.
  4. "Think back to your training, experience or strengths, how can you apply what you know to this issue/task?” Point to their capability without responding to reverse delegation.
  5. “What makes you reluctant to complete this task?”
  6. “Dividing this into pieces creates more complexity.” Use this when people try to give back a portion of the task.
  7. “I know it’s easier for me to do it. But it’s better for you to do it.” Use this when employees say, “It’s easier for you.”

Taking the time to implement the above and having the dedication to stick to it should help your business realise the true purpose of employing people by assisting you to leverage their time, skills and capabilities to achieve more.

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Should you have any issues that you would like me to write about in future articles, need any assistance with reverse delegation or any other people management issues please contact me via Chase Hunt.

Michael BombardiereComment