Adviser: Delegation’s what you need

Partners in independent accountancy practices record, on average, over 1,000
chargeable hours per annum, according to the recent Kato managing partner
survey. What should be of great concern to every firm is exactly what the
partners are doing during those chargeable hours.

The fact is, in the vast majority of firms, partners are wasting time
undertaking work that should be done by others. For a number of reasons, they
are reluctant to delegate more mundane tasks and the business is suffering as a

Underdelegation will inevitably lead to higher job costs. The downside is
that it damages the morale and motivation of support staff by starving them of
more challenging work and ultimately leads to a loss of skill building.

But perhaps more damaging is the fact that partners spending too much time on
low-value client work neglect the high-value advisory and management tasks so
essential to the future success of the firm.

For some partners, client work provides a ‘comfort zone’ and they believe
their involvement in low value work means that the client is receiving a better
service, but the reverse is usually the case.

Decisions made by those closer to the action lead to speedier results, and
having properly trained ‘understudies’ at all levels leads to better
organisation and a more effective department.

For others it is the risk involved that makes them reluctant to delegate.
Although specific tasks, duties and authority can be delegated, accountability
remains with the delegator and this can cause problems for partners who do not
have faith in their subordinates. If this is the case, then the problem is
solved through better communication and training for junior staff and a more
structured approach to supervision and mentoring.

The process of delegation should be methodical and understood by everyone
involved. Partners need to analyse individual assignments and identify aspects
that can be delegated and to whom (a lack of suitable candidates may well
highlight a need for additional training).

Selecting and appointing the right people is just the start. Partners must
ensure subordinates understand the limits of the delegation, advise all
concerned of the delegation and give subordinates confidence by putting trust in
them. Firms should also use spot checks to monitor effectiveness, appraise
progress and set standards and targets with subordinates and revise job
descriptions when the task is completed.

Effective delegation of work will spread the load evenly without putting too
much pressure on any individual. It will enable jobs to be completed quickly and
cost effectively, while giving partners the freedom to concentrate on major
planning and creative work.

It will also improve staff morale as people are encouraged to develop and
make full use of their skills. Clients will receive a better service and the
firm will see a significant improvement in profitability.

Phil Shohet and Andrew Jenner are directors of Kato Consultancy

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