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The act of delegating calls for and rests on trust. In organizations, delegation had better be understood as a web of tacit governance arrangements across quasi-boundaries rather than the execution of tasks with definable boundaries.
Proposition 81
Delegating in the Workplace
In a Word The act of delegating calls for and rests on trust. In organizations,
delegation had better be understood as a web of tacit governance arrangements
across quasi-boundaries rather than the execution of tasks with denable
Delegation Rules
No man is an island, entire of itself;, meditated John Donne. In more ways than
one, too: cooperation, especially the trust and graduated delegation of authority it
usually implies when people come together to realize societal and organizational
goals, determines how we live, learn, work, and play.
Because the perceived benets from cooperation normally outstrip those from
going it alonefor instance, by reducing transaction costs, collaboration mecha-
nisms are integral to necessary management of (scarce) natural, human, tangible,
and intangible resourceswe delegate (and pay for), say, procurement of foodstuff,
health care, education, entertainment, and protection to supermarkets, doctors,
schools, the lm industry, and armed forces. We do so by framing obligations for
exchange of valuable things in marketplaces. Most exchanges are straightforward,
self-executing matters giving satisfaction, e.g., the sale and purchase of a soft drink
©Asian Development Bank 2017
O. Serrat, Knowledge Solutions, DOI 10.1007/978-981-10-0983-9_81
if this were not so, controversy and dispute would soon suffocate society at large
and the commerce that nurtures it; however, others are not.
A Diversion on Contract Law, Oral Contracts,
and Psychological Contracts
Without contract law, agreements would immediately become impractical at many
levels, even in the simplest of cases. Contract law is based on the principle that what
has been agreed upon must be kept. In this respect, a formal contract is a voluntary,
binding promise between two or more persons or entities to produce or undertake in
good faith works or services in relation to a particular subject. To be enforceable,
certainly by law, it must include certain factual elements: (i) an offer; (ii) an
acceptance of the offer; (iii) a promise to perform; (iv) a valuable consideration,
which can be a promise or payment in some form; (v) a time or event when
performance must be made; (vi) terms and conditions for performance, which
includes the fulllment of promises; and (vii) performance. (Nonviolation of public
policy is, of course, expected.) The remedy at law for breach of contract to produce
or undertake is damagesor monetary compensation. Contracts can be written or
An oral contract isnt worth the paper its written on.
Samuel Goldwyn
Oral contracts are ordinarily valid and therefore legally binding if their terms can
be proved or are admitted by contracting parties. However, in the absence of proof
of the terms of an oral contract, the parties may be unable to enforce the agreement
or may be forced to settle for less than the original bargain. Therefore, in most
jurisdictions, certain types of contracts must be reduced to writing to be enforceable
(and prevent frauds and perjuries).
In addition to its palpably omnipresent role in daily life, delegation is a central feature of
government and governance. Representative democracy can be considered a chain of delegated
power: to simplify, in a parliamentary democracy, voters assign authority to representatives in
parliament; the parliamentarians entrust power to act to a prime minister and cabinet who later
deputize that to ministers heading government departments; in turn, the ministers task civil ser-
vants in the departments with related roles and responsibilities (as well as accountability). Without
a doubt, the modern nation-state could not exist without delegation: lawmakers would have to
personally enforce every law they pass. Nowadays, many use the language of agency theory to
describe the logic of delegation.
738 81 Delegating in the Workplace
The best way to appreciate your job is to imagine yourself without one, quipped
Oscar Wilde. Since most of us work for a living, formal contracts of employment
are a familiar cornerstone of cooperation in the workplace, thereby embedding
contract law in the heart of legal systems. For this reason, formal contracts serve as
the foundation of entire societies and their economies. To be sure, Argyris (1960)
coined the notion of the psychological contract50 years ago to refer also to the
quid-pro-quo expectations that exist between employers and employees, namely,
aspirations, diligence, loyalty, mutual obligations, and corporate values. These
operate over and above formal contracts of employment to impact behavior over
time. His delineation of implicit understandings was and certainly remains of
strategic signicance. Even so, the erosion of corporate career structures in the last
20 years and far-reaching changes in society and the global economy have since
emphasized, beyond individuals and their career niches, how organizations can
leverage psychological contracts to sustain performance.
In The Individualized
Corporation, Ghoshal and Bartlett (1997)
promoted the idea of a new moral
contractwhereby organizations and senior management respect the individual as a
value creator and bear a responsibility to help him or her develop to full potential.
The features of a contract of employment, specically, its conditions, detail in labor law the terms
to which an employer and an employee agree. They include the start and end dates. Specics on
the services to be rendered are detailed therein, including the general tasks or functions of the
position lled, key roles and responsibilities, location of work performance, reporting require-
ments, evaluation metrics, etc. Of course, the contract species what compensation and other rights
an employee will receive in exchange for the work delivered. (If the contract is eligible for
renewal, the method and circumstances for that might also be listed.)
The Dorsey Press. If the term is new, the notion of mutual expectations goes back thousands of
years; social exchange theory posits that human relationships are shaped by negotiated
give-and-take. While Chris Argyris originally referred to a specic understanding between a work
group and their foreman or team leader, Schein (1965) later focused on the high-level collective
relationship between individuals and senior management of the organization on the other. (He is
credited with inventing the term corporate culture.).
Boundary-less organizations that emphasize knowledge work are typied by horizontal career
moves and a diversity of employeremployee relations. Wellin (2007) sees that, in support, they
also operate a range of psychological contracts, a summary of which would read: (i) the organi-
zation and its personnel are both adult,(ii) staff dene their own worth and identity, (iii) a
regular ow of people in and out of the organization is healthy, (iv) long-term employment is
unlikelyone should expect and prepare for multiple employments, and (v) growth is through
personal accomplishment.
In that book, and in three admirable articles published in 19941995, Ghoshal and Bartlett (1994,
1995a,b) explained that great organizations are dened by purpose, processes, and people, not
outmoded concerns for strategy, structure, and systems. Managers should focus on leveraging the
individuals unique talents and skills, an organizations most important source of sustainable
competitive advantage.
A Diversion on Contract Law, Oral Contracts 739
Dening Delegation
The nest plans are always ruined by the littleness of those who ought to carry them
out, for the Emperors can actually do nothing.
Bertolt Brecht
In broad terms, delegation is the grant of authority by one party to another for an
agreed purpose. In the language of agency theory, it is the transfer to an agent of the
right to act for a principal that can take place only with the acquiescence of the
principal, where it is customary or where it is necessary for the performance of the
entrusted duty. From a management perspective, it is the sharing or transfer of
authority and associated responsibility from an employer or superiorhaving the
right to delegate to an employee or subordinate.
The Relevance of Contracts to Delegation
To delegate well in the workplace and help transform that into a place that works
for all, it is important to appreciate contract law, oral contracts, and psychological
contracts as well as the transactional, implicit, and inferred deals they severally
promulgate. Why? Because the act of delegating, meaning, empowering, calls for
and rests on trust.
However, the sociality of work and the complex actions and
interactions in social networks that characterize workows can never be accurately
codied (even if software applications sometimes model workows in particular
domains). If trust, the fundamental basis of all value, does not come easily in
traditional exchange agreements over price and quantity, it is even more difcult to
build and maintain when it must also embody elements of responsiveness, cre-
ativity, innovation, quality, and reliability in eeting interpersonal relationships.
Delegation entails a transfer of power and the danger is that trust will be abused. This can only be
avoided if the principal and the agent share interests and if the principal is knowledgeable about
the activities of the agent as well as their possible consequences.
Again, agency theory provides valuable insights. In delegation, an agent is granted freedom to
make decisions subject to constraints that the principal may have specied. Full delegation can
only come about if information and preferences are fully congruent or, more usually, the principal
feels secure about an uncertain situation.
740 81 Delegating in the Workplace
Only free men can negotiate; prisoners cannot enter into contracts. Your freedom
and mine cannot be separated.
Nelson Mandela
Delegation is a fundamental, winwin management process that cannot be
readily contracted in the hustle and bustle of the workplace.
Hence, within orga-
nizations, it had better be understood as a web of tacit governance arrangements
across quasi-boundaries rather than the execution of tasks with denable bound-
aries. To a much greater extent than contract-based forms of transaction, disag-
gregated structures require high-powered incentives along a continuum of boss-
centered and distributed leadership. The predictors of delegation along that con-
tinuum would be distinctions based on the characteristics of supervisors, the (real or
perceived) characteristics of their subordinates, and situational factors.
Of Continuums, Predictors, and Consequences
Forces in the supervisor, in the subordinate, and in the situation drive delegation in
the workplace. The continuum that depicts the locus of authority in decision making
is typically anchored at one end by completely autocratic decision making and at
the other by a delegation process that permits maximum inuence by subordinates.
Participation is the midpoint between autocratic and delegative arrangements.
You must trust and believe in people or life becomes impossible.
Anton Chekhov
The Tannenbaum and Schmidt Continuum is the best known model of areas of
freedom for supervisors and subordinates (Tannenbaum and Warren 1958). In the
range of behaviors the model depicts, a supervisor makes the decision and announces
Of course, SMART delegation rules are supposedly at hand to help formalize the process. [The
acronym stands for Specic, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic, and Time-bound. SMARTER rules
are also Ethical (to which Enjoyable or Exciting are sometimes substituted) and Recorded.] In
truth, not all delegated work can ever be subject to such precision (let alone be enjoyable or
Many argue that, however he or she may vest others with authority, a supervisor can never
entirely delegate nal accountability for results. The only resort is to make sure things go right
through executive participation.
The Relevance of Contracts to Delegation 741
it; sells the decision; presents his ideas and invites questions; presents a tentative
decision subject to change; presents the problem, gets suggestions, and then makes
the decision; denes the limits and requests the subordinate to make a decision; or
permits the subordinate to make decisions within prescribed limits. We are all
familiar with the subtle nuances between telling, selling, checking, including,
involving, and empowering.
Leana (1986)
has conducted useful work on delegation as a distinct man-
agement practice that complements better known investigations of delegation as one
point in a continuum of involvement in (un)participative decision making. She
hypothesized sensibly and then demonstrated that the perceptions that supervisors
have of subordinates, e.g., capability, responsibility, and trustworthiness, as well as
situational characteristics, such as the importance of the decision to make and the
supervisors workload, are signicant predictors of delegation. To boot, the actual
job competence of subordinates and the degree of congruence in the goals of
supervisors and subordinates moderate the effects of delegation on the performance
of subordinates. Interestingly, neither the characteristics of supervisors nor the
satisfaction of subordinates were found to be signicantly related to delegation.
Spieglein, Spieglein an der Wand
Literature offers many tips on how one should delegate; linear advice commonly
runs thus: (i) dene the task, (ii) assess ability and training needs, (iii) explain the
reasons, (iv) state the results required, (v) consider the resources needed, (vi) agree
on deadline, (vii) support and communicate, and (viii) feedback on results. A little
more introspection would certainly help if, as argued earlier, it is more sagacious to
frame delegation as a web of inferred governance arrangements.
She generally gave herself very good advice, (though she very seldom followed it).
Lewis Carroll
Following a modicum of soul-searching supervisors might even say mea culpa.
From the health sector, where professionals and patients alike need clear knowledge
The survey that underpinned research covered 19 branch ofces of a large national insurance
company in the United States, or 198 claims adjusters reporting to 44 supervisors. Research in
other sectors, professions, and disciplines might reveal different weights in the predictors and
Those who see job enrichment as a basic function of delegation, besides efcient completion of
assigned work and enhanced effectiveness of a supervisors performancethese, habitually, being
deemed the higher benets from delegationmight be troubled by that last nding.
742 81 Delegating in the Workplace
for decision-making and so much rests on nurses, comes pithy advice on delegation
from the receiving end. In the United States, the following principles guide dele-
gation of nursing activities, for which nurses must ultimately bear accountability
for. The ve rightsof delegation are (i) the right task (one that is delegable);
(ii) the right circumstances (appropriate setting, available resources, and other
relevant factors considered); (iii) the right person (the right person is delegating the
right task to the right person); (iv) the right direction and communication (clear,
concise description of the task, including its objective, limits, and expectations);
and (v) the right supervision (appropriate monitoring, evaluation, intervention as
needed, and feedback).
Argyris C (1960) Understanding organizational behavior. The Dorsey Press
Ghoshal S, Bartlett C (NovemberDecember 1994) Changing the role of top management: beyond
strategy to purpose. Harvard Business Review
Ghoshal S, Bartlett C (JanuaryFebruary 1995a) Changing the role of top management: beyond
structure to processes. Harvard Business Review
Ghoshal S, Bartlett C (MayJune 1995b) Changing the role of top management: beyond systems
to people. Harvard Business Review
Ghoshal S, Bartlett C (1997) The individualized corporation: a fundamentally new approach to
management. Harper Paperbacks
Leana C (1986) Predictors and consequences of delegation. Academy of Management Journal 29
Schein E (1965) Organizational psychology. Prentice Hall
Tannenbaum R, Warren (MarchApril 1958) How to choose a leadership pattern. In: Harvard
Business Review
Wellin M (2007) Managing the psychological contract: using the personal deal to increase
performance. Gower Publishing Ltd
These parallel the ve rights of medication safety: (i) the right patient, (ii) the right drug, (iii) the
right dose, (iv) the right route, and (v) the right time.
Spieglein, Spieglein an der Wand 743
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views of the Asian Development Bank, its Board of Directors, or the countries they represent.
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744 81 Delegating in the Workplace
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Full-text available
Sumario: Over the last decade, technological, competitive, and market changes have eroded its effectiveness. The problems of companies as diverse as GM and IBM in the United States, Philips and Daimler-Benz in Europe, and Matsushita and Hitachi in Japan can be traced, at least in part, to top management's cleaving to this philosophy too tinghtly and for too long. The great power -and fatal flaw- of the strategy-structure-systems framework lay in its objective: to create a management system that could minimize the idiosyncrasies of human behavior
This research examined predictors and consequences of delegation. Participants were 44 supervisors and 198 claims adjusters employed in 19 branch offices of a large insurance company. Delegation was operationally defined as the dollar level of authority exercised by adjusters to settle claims. Results indicated that supervisors' perceptions of subordinates, the volume of supervisors' workloads, and the importance of decisions were significant predictors of delegation. In addition, subordinates' job competence and congruence between supervisors' and subordinates' goals moderated the effects of delegation on subordinates' job performance. Neither supervisors' personalities or predispositions to share authority nor subordinates' satisfaction were significantly related to delegation. Implications of the findings for research on participative decision making and leadership are discussed.
The outline of the author's theoretical model for defining and studying relevant variables in human personality and in organizations and the processes by which they influence one another. The data collection method, semi-structured interviews, is described, along with considerations involved in the interviewer-respondent relationship. The model for analyzing the data involves quantifications of demands made by the formal organization on the employee; predispositions employees may wish to express, informal activities employees create to adapt to the formal organization, and administrative reactions to the informal activities. Chapters are devoted to usefulness of this approach both to the researcher and to management. Examples of the usefulness of the framework are presented in deepening of understanding of the organization and in predicting human behavior within it. Evaluations of the usefulness of organizational analysis are provided from feedback sessions and interviews with various levels of management. A section is devoted to key questions which yet remain unanswered. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Organizational psychology How to choose a leadership pattern Managing the psychological contract: using the personal deal to increase performance
  • E Schein
Schein E (1965) Organizational psychology. Prentice Hall Tannenbaum R, Warren (March–April 1958) How to choose a leadership pattern. In: Harvard Business Review Wellin M (2007) Managing the psychological contract: using the personal deal to increase performance. Gower Publishing Ltd 12