Michael’s Corner Article Number 0100
6 STEPS TO ENSURE SUCCESS WITH ACCOUNTABILITY AND DELEGATION IN THE WORKPLACE
Employees cannot deliver quality results if the task delegated to them is not fully thought out, or if expectations keep changing. Take the time and develop the discipline to map out exactly what you are asking for. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Once you have taken the time to map out exactly what you are looking for, you need to convey that information to your employees. Be sure to include clear information on timing, budget, and context, and set expectations for communication and updates, including frequency, content, and format.
- Confirm Understanding
One of the most common mistakes made in delegating is assuming that employees understand what you want, rather than making sure that they do. Confirming understanding only takes about 60 seconds but is the most important determinant of success or failure.
The best way to confirm understanding is to ask your employees to paraphrase the request or assignment in their own words. If you are not comfortable doing that (many managers feel–often correctly–that it makes them sound like a kindergarten teacher), you should, at the very least, ask questions to make sure employees understand all aspects of what’s required.
- Confirm Commitment
This is another part of the delegation process that most managers skip. They often just assume that employees have accepted the tasks they have been given. The most important part of a relay race is the handing of the baton to the next runner. Runners spend a huge amount of time learning this skill. It should be no different in the workplace. Commitment means making sure you have successfully handed over the baton.
Confirm that employees are committed to the expected results, and to the process that has been set out (including the schedule, budget, and tools), and that their overall goals for the task are aligned with yours. Make sure they are aware of any consequences (for the company and for themselves) that may result if they fail to deliver on the desired outcomes.
- Avoid “Reverse Delegating”
Many managers are extremely overworked. Sometimes, this is because their employees are better at delegating than they are: Managers often end up completing tasks they had delegated to others because those tasks somehow end up back on their plate. I call this “reverse delegating.”
It is rarely, if ever, necessary for a manager to take back a task that he or she had delegated to someone else. (If this is necessary, it likely means that not enough time was spent on the preparation stage, and that time, resource, or other constraints have led to problems that you did not foresee.)
If an employee reaches an impasse, treat it as a learning opportunity. Coach the employee through it, making sure he or she has the resources and knowledge needed to complete the task. That way, you will still be free to focus on other things, and the employee will be better equipped to carry out similar tasks in the future. The bottom line? Do not take tasks back.
- Ensure Accountability
Two-way communication is a key part of delegating. Finding out at the completion date that a deliverable has not been completed or has been done unsatisfactorily is the nightmare scenario of delegating. That is why you need to make sure your employees are accountable for the task.
Accountability is key to the process of delegation: It means employees are regularly communicating with you about the status of the deliverable and the timing of delivery so that there are no surprises at the eleventh hour. The delegation process becomes faster and more fluid the more you do it. Once you have mastered it, it will become a part of your managerial DNA, and you will consistently reap outstanding results.
Employers- Consider the Health & Safety of Those Working Outside of Normal Hours
Walker v Greenmountain Food Processing Pty Ltd  QSC 329
In the recent judgement of Walker v Greenmountain Food Processing Pty Ltd  QSC 329, the Supreme Court of Queensland found an employer liable for the loss and damage suffered by a worker who sustained serious injuries after falling through a roof at dusk while investigating an issue with a boiler.
On 12 June 2015, Scott Walker (plaintiff) finished his day’s work as the maintenance manager of the Greenmountain Food Processing Pty Ltd (employer) plant at Coominya and headed to the local pub for a couple of light beers. He left the pub at approximately 5 pm and as he was driving by the plant, he observed large plumes of steam venting from a boiler. The plaintiff decided to enter the premises to investigate the issue, which was most likely a malfunctioning relief valve on a boiler.
When the plaintiff arrived on site, he phoned a contractor from his mobile phone to commence the necessary arrangements for having the issue fixed over the weekend. The contractor told the plaintiff that he needed to know which relief valve was leaking so it could be fixed. Accordingly, the plaintiff, while still on the phone, scaled a platform near the top of the same large tanks to try and see which relief valve was leaking. He could not see from his position on the platform in the fading daylight and so stepped through a gap and onto the roof surface to see if he could get a better view. He subsequently stepped onto Alsynite sheeting which gave way, causing him to fall more than 7 metres onto the concrete floor. The plaintiff suffered a fractured skull, a moderate brain injury, multiple injuries to his spine, knees, and wrist.
His Honour, Justice Applegarth, made the following liability findings when ruling that the employer’s negligence caused the incident and consequent loss and damage suffered by the plaintiff.
- In his role as maintenance manager, the plaintiff was required to maintain all facility and manufacturing assets and was required to be on call at nights and on weekends.
- It was reasonably foreseeable that the plaintiff, in his role of the maintenance manager, would need to investigate steam venting from a boiler in order to identify the source of the leak.
- The risk of injury from falling off or through a roof was not insignificant.
- The burden of taking precautions to avoid the risk of injury was not great. Examples of simple and inexpensive precautions the employer could have taken include implementing a policy and safe work method statement for working at heights, fencing off access from the platform to the roof, erecting warning signs regarding the presence of Alsynite.
- If one or more of the above precautions had been taken by the employer, it would have prevented the incident.
The employer argued in its defence of the claim that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent for his own injuries for accessing a roof which he knew to have Alsynite panels, in failing dusk light such that he could not see those panels, and while engaged in a phone conversation with the contractor.
Justice Applegarth considered the relevant standard of care for establishing a contributory negligence argument (what a reasonable person in the plaintiff’s position would have done) and concluded that the plaintiff’s decision to step on the roof when he could not see what he expected to see from the platform was “an inadvertent error of judgment made under pressure”. His Honour also made the point that the small amount of alcohol in the plaintiff’s system did not add much to the equation.
Had contributory negligence been established, His Honour would have apportioned 10% liability to the plaintiff.
Justice Applegarth awarded the plaintiff $967,383.39 in damages clear of the WorkCover statutory refund.
The main component of the award for damages was for future economic loss. Despite the fact that the 37-year-old plaintiff (32 at the time of the incident) was able to return to his position as maintenance manager and the employer contending it had no plans to let him go, His Honour held that there was a reasonably significant risk that the plaintiff will lose his current employment, either in the near or not too distant future, and that he would be at a significant disadvantage on the open labour market. While the plaintiff has a residual capacity for work, his honour considered that any future work will likely be insecure and of a part-time nature.
His Honour noted it was not possible to assess the award for future economic loss in the current case with any “mathematical precision” and settled on an award of $765,600 for future economic loss.
Lessons for employers
This judgment is a timely reminder to all employers to:
- consider restricting the physical access of workers to work premises outside normal work hours. If workers do require access as part of their role then specific instruction and training should be provided regarding what activities are allowed / not allowed on site
- ensure policies and safe work method statements are in place or updated for working at heights
- consider erecting warning signs or barricades for identified risks
- ensure you foster a positive hazard reporting system within the workplace to encourage workers to report hazards that are not observed or known to management.
Please note that this is general advice for information only and any application of legislation and/or Industrial Relations or contractual requirements may require professional advice to suit your individual circumstances.
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