I'm not sure that “undelgation” is even a word. Yet it is what you do when someone is not getting the job done.
Last month I wrote about assigning tasks to others and delegating authority, responsibility and function. I presented what I thought were good steps in a proper delegation of a task or area. I need to heed my own advice as I have often not done the best job I could in this area. Now I move to what to do when you have made the wrong decision or when the person you have chosen has not played out as well as you had hoped.
When we delegate a task or assignment or even an area of oversight to someone, there may be times when the assignment does not work out as well as we hoped. When that happens you could get frustrated or mad and be tempted to pull back the assignment. This should be thought out and not just a reactionary move.
Here are some ideas…
Think it through first. Don’t react too fast. Weigh the outcome of the process and the impact on your employee. Taking away a task and doing it yourself or giving it to another can cripple the employees development path. These things hurt. Think from their perspective as to what it will look like to others.
When not to take back an assignment
Not because you can do it better. Chances are very likely that you can do it better. The point in delegating is to free you up to do other things. By taking it back on yourself, you increase your burden again.
Not because someone else may do it better. You should have thought through this at the beginning. Choosing the right person for a task involve reasoning through your options. Just because you gave it to the wrong person does not mean that you should take it back. Even if someone’s time is now freed up to take on the task, it has already been assigned. Don’t pull it back and give it to someone else.
Not because it is taking too long. The person may be slower than you and slower than you expect. Give this person some time to work through the learning curve. Allow him or her to learn. You were slower once also. Take that into consideration when you assign something.
Not because others are complaining. Support your people. Back them up when others criticize them or your choice of them. Do not let naysayers cloud the waters after you have delegated.
When to consider taking back an assignment
(Notice I wrote "consider" – it is not a definite just because one of the things below happens.)
Because they are failing. Failure is a multi-level thing. Failing in one area does not mean you need to rip the task away from someone. Failure should be consistent and include a failure in some capability. They are failing if they are truly incapable of getting the job done. (You shouldn't have given it to them in the first place.) They are failing if they are consistently not making progress or meeting deadlines. They are failing if they have not grasped the importance of the task and have pushed it aside.
Because their failure will jeopardize a critical area. If the task or assignment is critical and will not be completed on time or on budget or whatever other metric you may have then you might consider taking it back. If the assignment is going to fail and it will be detrimental to the firm, this is a concern. Failures that impact clients must be avoided. Failures that impact large portions of the firm are not wise. Small failures within your department may be tolerable if it is a learning process for a team member.
Before you take it back
Restate it. Go back and clarify your purpose and the expected outcome. Most of the time the success in a delegated task is greatly impacted by the wisdom of the one passing it one. Make sure you clearly outline the target, milestones, and expectations.
Support it. Support “them” actually. Give them advice. Help them along. Discuss the concerns and the troubles and create a game plan for getting back on track. They may just need a little more coaching. They may need additional resources. Help them succeed.
Add someone to the team. Maybe they need some help. If they are going it alone, will a teammate help? You could expand the team to give them some support. This would not be putting someone in charge over them, but asking others to chip in.
How to take it back
So you have decided that the only way possible to salvage this disaster is to take back the assignment. Before you do, think through the entire remaining tasks and milestones. Know where the assignment will go when you take the process back. Will you complete it? Will you give it to someone else? Giving it to someone else does not engender team spirit. It may cause some friction.
Do it gently. Don’t just barge into someone cubicle and snatch away their work. It is theirs, remember? You gave it to them and gave them responsibility and authority over it. They need to be convinced that the best thing to happen is to have someone else do it. That is reasonable. If the person is not reasonable and is overly upset, then maybe they have larger problems and you should learn from this that they need much more coaching before a task is assigned.
Do it with respect. Allow them to "save face." After all, this is a team member who will mature at some point (or be moved out of your team). Even when taking something back, you need to keep in mind that you will be giving them more tasks later. Leave them with some dignity.
Do it with a warning. Don’t be so gentle or respectful that they fail to realize that they did not meet the expectation you had for them. Remind them of the agreed upon outcome. Remind them of the unmet standards and the exact reasons that you are taking back the project. Don't leave any doubt. Make sure that they understand the impact of not achieving the goal.
When things go wrong, use that time to teach your team member and to learn yourself. Don't let this opportunity pass without some growth.