May 01, 1999
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio May 1999 Current Issue
May 1999 Back to BasicsPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

Back to Basics


Lose Control: Delegate, Even if it Hurts

When the task pile up, use your staff to divide and conquer

Some people think planning a meeting is as simple as A-B-C, but without the D - delegation - no meeting, regardless of size, can be managed effectively and efficiently. The verb "delegate" means to assign responsibility or authority to someone else, which is not an easy task for control happy planners. Next to cloning, however, good delegating is a godsend for managers.

At least once after a difficult meeting, most planners have said, "Next time, I won't do everything." Yet many managers don't understand the true worth of delegating. It goes beyond telling someone what to do or assigning tasks. There are two aspects to delegation: First, the responsibility to get a job done is transferred. Second, the appropriate level of authority is conferred on the delegatee.

For example, the lead planner on a project traditionally has been responsible for processing registrations. The planner would like someone else to handle this task, freeing up time to concentrate on program changes and logistical requirements. So the executive assistant for the department is assigned the registration process and is trained on the basics: how to key in information and maintain the database. Yet, weeks into the registration period, the planner is bombarded, as usual, with questions from registrants and the assistant.

In this case, only a task has been assigned (the responsibility). By not giving the assistant the authority to make changes to the process and handle questions, the planner has not empowered her. Delegates must be able to act in the meeting manager's absence and to make decisions.

Many readers are saying, "But I have to know what's going on! Speakers have to know how many people have registered for their sessions. Are we on target? Do we need some last-minute marketing?" Do not mistake delegation for abdication. Soliciting regular reports and feedback on the tasks that have been passed off is part of this process.

The key to success is ensuring the planning still goes smoothly. After matching the person with the project, the lead planner must define the parameters clearly. Describe the desired outcome of the tasks and provide the information and authority to get it done. Focus on the desired result and the time frame. Be clear on the authority that is being delegated.

Managers also should identify what feedback they want and when they want it, and they should determine what resources and support the delegatee will need. Beware of asking too often for reassurance that the job is getting done; it only shows the manager's reluctance to give up the project and can destroy the delegatee's commitment.

Many meeting managers suffer from perfectionism, feeling they can do any job better themselves. To a certain degree, this may be true. But having one person doing all the work causes burnout at the expense of other staff members and volunteers.

Delegating helps everyone involved, freeing up time for the meeting manager and helping other employees and volunteers learn the planning process. Many managers are slow to delegate because they fear no one will do the job properly. But each veteran planner was once a naive novice, needing only a little education and hands-on experience. Consider delegation as a tool to propagate the profession.

A good delegator has learned which jobs to hand off and to whom. Managers looking to give away parts of the planning process need to sit down and identify the pieces that someone else can handle. Researching sites and vendors, overseeing registration and managing traffic are good places to start. Also, look for areas where stronger skills are needed. Tap into the special talents of staff members and volunteers, looking for those who want to learn new ways to use their knowledge. Then match those people with projects that have more responsibility and authority.

Even in an organization with a small staff, there are ways to delegate. One colleague distributed a list jobs to her staff members, promising trips to the meeting venue and other enticements to those who signed up for them. Also, volunteers and interns provide valuable support. And don't forget to delegate up. It does work in that direction, too. For example, the boss may be the best person to handle communications with board members.

Martha Jo Dendinger, CMP, is an independent meeting planner in Atlanta.

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