AMA’s Ask The Experts Series Explores Virtual Delegation with Dr. Joseph Reed

Jul 10, 2020



For every manager, getting work done through others is a critical responsibility—but doing so virtually has its own special challenges. The second webcast (on May 27) in AMA’s New Online Management Series Ask the Experts discussed these concerns and pinpointed solutions with expert Dr. Joseph Reed, Master Trainer and authority on management, influence and productivity. AMA’s Dorothy Deming, Director of Education, Content and Operations at AMA, moderated the discussion.

“I don’t think it’s just new managers, I think even experienced managers have difficulties with virtual delegation, and even in the best of times,” said Dr. Reed. “And if it doesn’t go well, you’re the one who is ultimately accountable for it.”

According to Reed, ineffective communication is typically the derailing factor in virtual delegation, starting with alignment of expectations.

“Research conducted by the Gallup Organization indicates 50% of employees aren’t sure what’s expected of them,” he explained, “and physical separation only compounds the problem.”

Deming observed, “And when that happens [in a virtual environment], it can go all the way down the line, and you can’t even see that happening.”

Reed also warned that many managers go too far and try to manage their employees’ time for them, and over-track and over-justify what they do. As he explained, “There needs to be a balance. If we don’t demonstrate the right level of trust in employees, there’s a negative impact on productivity and engagement and it can damage the relationship.”

He added that, based on research, “There are four cores of trust: benevolence, integrity, competence, and consistency. And these become more difficult to track when we’re not co-located. It only takes one little disconnect and suddenly, trust goes out the window.”

Deming asked what strategies can be implemented to help open the communications and build trust.

“Start by being thoughtful about delegating,” said Reed. “Think, ‘What can I delegate to distribute the work? And what can I delegate to help develop people?’”

After that’s decided, Reed suggested the manager chunk it out”: break down the tasks the employee will need to undertake to complete the assignment. “Next, the manager should over-communicate the “why’s” to the employee by having a real-time conversation with the person, and tie the assignment back to the organization’s goals and the strategic initiative. Make your intentions transparent. That’s the benevolence component, because otherwise, people climb the ladder of inference.”

“Go in with a roadmap for the delegation process,” advises Reed. “Make sure you and they are on the same page, and contract or reach agreements on how you’ll communicate and work together; identify what the potential problems may be, then close out the conversation.”

Summing up, Reed said the key takeaway is: “Be mindful about all of the potential problems that can happen when you’re delegating virtually. Think through the process, and over-communicate. If you do that, and if you have the right intentions, everything’s going to turn out well.”

AMA’s Ask the Experts Online Management Series is complimentary. Each webcast is available on demand after its initial broadcast for a limited time.

To learn more about Ask the Experts, plus a wide range of development opportunities for you and your team, visit