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The delegation game

IFS head of faculty financial regulation Mark Roberts looks at the pressing need for supervisors in the finance industry to master the basic skills of man-agement and supervision

You’ve almost certainly heard it said wherever you work, the boss, slapping his head in exasperation, bemoans the lack of progress of some project allocated to his staff and declares: “I could do it quicker myself.”

It is not true, of course. It might perhaps be true of one individual task but it is never true that the supervisor could personally carry out all the work allocated to his department. That is precisely why he has staff working for him and why he has been promoted to the role of supervisor.

What that remark does show is this. Here is a supervisor who has not grasped what delegation is really all about. He knows that work must be delegated but has he learned how to delegate?

Delegation is much more than merely passing on to others the work that you would rather not do yourself. It requires new skills that need to be first learned and then practiced. It requires, for example, the ability – and the personality – to share responsibility for parts of a project while retaining overall accountability for seeing it through to completion. It means agreeing targets and checking that they are met but without interfering every five minutes.

In particular, delegation involves telling your staff what needs to be achieved but not forcing on them your chosen method of achieving it. After all, they may have a much better idea.

Why the spotlight on this one aspect of supervision? Purely as an illustration. Delegation is just one of a whole host of skills that a supervisor needs to develop. We could equally have chosen to discuss planning, communication skills, coaching, motivation, time management, performance appraisal, team building, decision making, problem solving, resolution of disputes or disciplinary procedures. Each one would have illustrated how much is involved in learning just a single aspect of the complex business of being a supervisor.

The point is that the art of supervision is not something that most people bring with them when they are first promoted or appointed to a supervisory position. It is something that must be learned and yet it is still commonplace in expanding organisations for supervisors to be appointed from the ranks of the technicians and dropped into a supervisory role without any training in the necessary skills.

The result, as at least one academic has pointed out, is a double whammy for the employers. Not only do you lose a very competent (often your most competent) member of staff at the technician level, you also gain an employee at the supervisory level who, through no fault of their own, is anything but competent.

Anyone who has worked in financial services – and it is no doubt true of other industries too – will be able to recount tales of, for example, highly successful salespeople who, it has been rashly assumed, would therefore be equally and instantly successful as sales managers. Some, of course, have made the transition well but it is a fact that many have foundered in what turns out to be a very different role.

This is – or should be – a matter for real concern within the finance industry, particularly in those areas – mortgages, for instance, is one – that have seen such an expansion in the volume of business over recent years. Increasing business is good news, of course, but it is always necessary to be aware of the problems it brings with it. One of these is the need for a continuing supply of tech-nically sound, good quality, trained supervisory staff competent to fill an increasing number of posts, particularly at the first level of management.

There are two reasons why firms should grasp this nettle and commit themselves to supervisory skills training in 2005 and beyond. One can be thought of as a carrot and the other as a stick. There is first the very real prospect of improved performance – and greater profit – if a well-managed workforce delivers increased productivity (as studies have shown that they consistently do).

Second, there is the big stick, hovering always in the background. The FSA, as you hardly need to be told, has plenty to say about the competence of staff and about supervision itself. Basically, the FSA insists not only that staff should be supervised but also that supervisors must have the necessary skills to carry out the role.

There is no excuse in 2005 for inadequately skilled supervisors. Numerous training organisations offer appropriate courses and workshops, many of them specifically tailored to the finance industry. Nor is it difficult to provide evidence to the FSA and others of individual competence in the supervisory field. Various awarding bodies offer assessments at different levels and at least one of the industry’s own professional bodies offers a qualification specifically tailored to supervision within the highly regulated financial services environment.

Yes, it costs money, of course but as the saying goes, if you think training is expensive, try incompetence.

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