Greenhouse Canada

Business Management
Growing in the Green: Don’t wait to delegate

September 28, 2011
By Melhem Sawaya


Delegation means assigning tasks to subordinates and following up to
ensure they’re completed properly and on time. Unfortunately, for too
many managers, foremen and owners, this simply means pushing a lot of
“busy work” to lead hands, growers or other employees.

For some managers, it’s hard to let go of some of their responsibilities.


Delegation means assigning tasks to subordinates and following up to ensure they’re completed properly and on time. Unfortunately, for too many managers, foremen and owners, this simply means pushing a lot of “busy work” to lead hands, growers or other employees.


But in today’s market of global competition and accelerating change, owners and managers are forced to come to grips with the issue of delegating and give real decision-making freedom to foremen, growers and lead hands. They need to realize that delegation is a tool to be mastered, just like any other mana-gerial skill. It has to be learned and practised to be effective.

Delegation teaches foremen, growers and lead hand people to think and act like senior managers and owner/managers.

Despite these arguments, studies show that managers delegate for the wrong reasons. Managers were and are delegating jobs they think are unimportant. Not surprisingly, most managers keep “the good stuff” and the decision-making.

But this is just the type of autocratic delegation philosophy that is ineffective in today’s market. The autocratic delegator has his or her staff do all the spade work, but all the final decisions are still made by them. Orders must be followed to the letter and the manager alone receives the praise.

This style of delegation, which gives subordinates only the illusion of control, exacts a huge toll, especially among well-educated workers who expect a certain amount of autonomy. The result is usually lowered motivation and performance.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the free delegation or sink-or-swim policy. While the complete freedom that this type of manager allows may work with an extremely motivated staff, most people want a certain amount of guidance. They’re uncomfortable without structure and predictability.

Somewhere between free and autocratic delegation systems is the “participative delegator.” Fostering a well-run factory or greenhouse operation, which renowned management expert Peter Drucker would describe as a quiet place because the crises have been anticipated and converted into the routine, these managers are almost boring in their handling of delegation. They sit their people down, tell them what they want and give them several suggestions on how they might go about accomplishing the task.

They don’t, however, demand that employees do things “their way.” Nor do they hover over them, constantly checking and rechecking their work, or tie their hands when it comes to using company resources.

Such managers set extraordinarily high standards that are adopted by their workers. They grant a reasonable amount of authority, expect regular feedback, and know when to stop in to make a mid-course correction if things get out of hand.

Here is a 12-step process on how to delegate (let go!) and increase your chance of success.

  1. Set a clear and simple objective.
  2. Select a delegate. A challenging task may give an average person a chance to shine. So don’t automatically choose your best worker. Ask for volunteers and you’ll be surprised who raises his or her hand.
  3. If necessary, train the delegate to prepare him or her for the task. Remember, delegation should build confidence, so select an assignment that will stretch, but not break, the employee.
  4. When discussing the project, ask the employee for ideas. He or she may see the problem in an entirely different light. This also ensures they understand the project.
  5. Assign the task and explain to the person why they’ve been chosen for this work. This will tell them that you value their judgment and aren’t just pushing grunt work their way.
  6. Provide needed guidance. This doesn’t mean telling the person how to do it. It means giving them all the facts they need, suggesting carefully the possible approaches and describing the expected results.

  8. Make a delegation “contract.” This establishes how much freedom the employee will have with the company resources, how often you’ll follow up, and how their performance will be measured.
  9. Establish controls, such as a budget, deadlines, and when and how a formal review will take place.
  10. Maintain control over all aspects of the project. Set up a “tickler file” to remind you to check the progress of the project.
  11. Provide regular feedback, whether it is positive or negative.
  12. Evaluate the finished project. Notes made in your “tickler file” will remind you of what went wrong with the project.
  13. The employee isn’t the only person who benefits from delegation, so identify the lessons you’ve learned.


We hear growers all the time say that they can’t find qualified applicants. “Universities are not producing them. Nobody wants to work. No one knows how to do the job except me, and that’s why I work all these hours.”

But maybe we have to step back and look at the situation and see when was the last time we really took the time to delegate the job the proper way. When was the last time we gave a chance to the employee who has been holding the watering hose the last 10 years, or when did we really make the effort to prepare a son or daughter for the job they were asked to do?

Managers, bosses and owner/operators must learn to let go!

Melhem Sawaya of Focus Greenhouse Management is a consultant and research coordinator to the horticultural industry. Comments on this or any other article are always welcome; please e-mail, or visit

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