Upward Delegation

As a newly promoted manager, Bob listened intently to Mary, one of his direct reports. She had found a software package that could make their department more efficient. Bob took the information from Mary and he then dug into more research and analysis. He had mixed feelings about this task. On the one hand, his job is to help his team be successful, and if this software package can help, he should look into it. On the other hand, as a new manager, his plate was already full, and he resented the fact that Mary had dumped this additional work on him.
Bob is a victim of Upward Delegation. That's the tendency of work to float upward to the highest level that will accept it. There are several downsides to Upward Delegation:
1. Team members don't develop skills.
2. Managers spend their time on the wrong tasks. The lower level tasks push out the higher level tasks the managers should be doing.
3. Accepting an upward delegation rewards poor performers, who intentionally push work off to their managers, and it discourages good performers, who would prefer to do challenging new assignments themselves.
Let's look at the causes of Upward Delegation and what managers can do to avoid or correct this problem.
Cause: You have not clarified roles and responsibilities. Who is responsible for performing which tasks, making which decisions, solving which problems? When this is unclear (and this often happens with a new manager), direct reports will bring more questions to their manager. If the manager takes this as a request for help, and if the manager "helps" by taking on the task himself or herself, then Upward Delegation has just occurred.
Solution: Clarify who's responsible for what. As a general principle, responsibility for tasks, decisions, and problem-solving should be assigned to the lowest level possible.

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