Delegation Does Not Mean Negation

I was once invited by Steve*) to speak at a conference. I accepted and reserved the dates on my calendar. But the conference was moved by Steve’s fellow organizers to other dates, and nobody told me about the change. All my subsequent efforts to schedule my travels and resolve a conflict with another conference turned out to have been done in vain.

I was once invited by Claire*) to speak at a business seminar. I accepted and Claire delegated the rest to her business partner, who would get back to me about the details. But nobody got back to me. Only when I started asking about location & times it turned out the seminar had been cancelled. Unfortunately I had just declined another offer for the same date.

I was once asked by John*) to organize an open course with his company. I said yes, and heard that the details would be handled by his planning department. But each time I asked about logistics, nobody answered me. By the time I understood that nothing was happening, it was already too late for me to organize another course on the same dates.

I was once asked by Mary*) to speak at a conference. I accepted and we agreed that my travel costs would be compensated. But Mary delegated the financial part to someone else, who didn’t pay anything. Until, after three months and several messages, I sent them an email threatening to reveal their incompetence to all the speakers I know. Suddenly they all woke up.

I understand people make mistakes.

(I make plenty.)

But what bothers me most is when Steve, Claire, John, or Mary, at any sign of trouble, point their fingers to others to whom they delegated their work. Because delegation of work does not mean negation of accountability.

I’m not interested in the failures of people that I don’t even know. I don’t care if you do the work yourself or if you delegate it to a dozen other people. I don’t have contact with those other people. I have contact with you.

When you agree on something with me I hold you accountable for anything that is related to our agreement. This includes following up on changes, cancellations, payments, and everything else. If something goes wrong, and you hide behind the failures of others (usually people I don’t know), you’re just trying to mask your own failure at delegating your work safely. I’m not asking you to do everything yourself. I’m asking you to monitor everything yourself.

With delegation of work you do not delegate your accountability.

Instead, you share it.

(If I sound annoyed it’s because I emerged from public transport in Belgium. Now there’s a story in delegation that could cover a book. Or three.)

*) The names have been changed to protect the guilty.

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