Audit Advantage: The Problem with Delegation

Audit Advantage: The Problem with Delegation


I’ve written about it before; many, many, many times, in fact.  Doubtless we all agree it’s a good thing, a great opportunity, exemplifying best practice, a veritable professional imperative. It’s an essential tool in our armoury of rendering our work physically doable, protecting the fragility of work life balance, safeguarding us from overwhelm and ensuring the investment in skills and experience for the future. Clearly a no brainer, but why then, do we seem to find it so difficult to do it in practice?  I’m talking delegation of course, according to the Oxford Dictionary, that fine art of: entrusting (a task or responsibility) to another person, typically one who is less senior than oneself.

It’s quicker to do it myself

Yes maybe it is this time but your team members will never learn and develop without on-the-job practical training.  Delegation resistance makes a rod for your own back – all you are doing is strengthening the very truism that gave rise to the resistance in the first place!

There’s no time or budget for coaching on this job

We’ve all been on audit jobs or specific projects where this is indeed true.  But can it really always be the case... in every instance?  Of course not! Take a critical look at all the times you’ve used this excuse and challenge yourself; as a minimum what could have been passed on under supervision?  Open your mind to spot the ‘shadowing’ opportunities for learning; at the very least break down tasks to their components, that is, to a level that is simple enough to be delegate-able!

I’m the best person for the task

Are you really?  Admit it – do you secretly love this particular job?  Does it hold some secret personal satisfaction for you?  Is it one of your favourites?  Own up and then ask yourself if it is truly one of your highest value activities.  Is it really what you are being paid for?  You might just be kidding yourself, especially as you rise through the ranks to senior/supervisor/manager and you’re now being remunerated to manage others.  Wise up and look to better leverage human resources by assigning tasks to the best person to do the job. 

They always make a mess of it

Well were they the right person to do it in the first place?  If not, why not?  Did you plan the work allocation, assigning the best skill set?  Or did you recognise an on-the-job development opportunity but failed to take supervisory responsibility?  Please don’t tell me you abdicated, rather than delegated?

There’s no one to delegate to

This could be an opportunity to present a business case for additional human resource.  Can you come up with a commercial rationale for bringing in additional bodies?  Staff with different skills or perhaps, less highly skilled at a lower cost to the business.  How can you demonstrate the business benefits of such proposals?  What would it enable you to do with the time saved?  You might be faced with a formal embargo on staff recruitment but there can be more creative ways of bringing in resource – outsourcing, partial secondments from other parts of the business, internships....And don’t forget, delegation is not always downwards, you may be able to call on your own peer group and there is such a thing as upwards delegation too...

How many monkeys do you have on your back?

Yes delegation works both ways! ‘Who’s got the Monkey’ is a classic article published by the Harvard Business Review way back when, but it is as pertinent today as it was over forty years ago.  The ‘monkey’ refers to the next move in any task, job or project, as in when one of your team members says, ‘I’m stuck; I’m waiting for your input’.  This is passing the monkey and you may be unfortunate enough to be carrying a number of other people’s monkeys, kindly shared by your boss, your team and even your wider colleagues. Eventually you might have so many monkeys on your back that you become the bottleneck.  You’ve been delegated to – from 360 degrees!

This is really about problem ownership.  By accepting a monkey – you are taking ownership.  True, you will always personally own some monkeys – but definitely not all of them! Ask yourself: are you in control of all these monkeys?  Have you unwittingly volunteered for their care? Is this your monkey or does it belong to someone else? Your answers will quickly clarify if you should, perhaps, be passing them back.  Use an enquiry-led approach or non-directive coaching to help the true monkey owner get unstuck but, under no circumstances, should you accept ownership! Still in doubt, here’s the wisdom from 1974...

Get tough and stay tough

‘At no time while I am helping you with this or any other problem will your problem become my problem. The instant your problem becomes mine, you no longer have a problem. I cannot help a person who hasn’t got a problem. When this meeting is over, the problem will leave this office exactly the way it came in—on your back. You may ask my help at any appointed time, and we will make a joint determination of what the next move will be and which of us will make it.  In those rare instances where the next move turns out to be mine, you and I will determine it together. I will not make any move alone’, William Oncken & Donald L Wass, Harvard Business Review.

Auditors, please don’t wait to be told twice; time to get actively managing those monkeys!


Which topic would you like to read about next month? Look over the list of topics in the original Audit Advantage article here and let us know your choice for the next topic we should cover.

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