Upward Delegation - an Expensive, Frustrating Practice

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A client in a professional services firm recently expressed frustration at the amount of time he spends editing the written materials of those who report to him.

They write a draft report, for example, give it a cursory review and then submit it to him as ready to go out to the client. In his experienced opinion, it’s nowhere near ready to go out, and he spends too much of his time fixing it up.

Are you doing this? Or are you making your manager do this for you?

This is called upward delegation, and it’s a very expensive practice. Here’s what should be done on each side to correct the problem.


Writers need to spend more time and effort editing their own materials before sending them up to the next level for review. In writing courses and workshops, I see many pieces that were very good first drafts, but unfortunately they were sent out without the editing that would have made them first class reports.

I realize you are busy and your time is precious. But what about pride of ownership? After all the work you have done on this project, the written report may be the only tangible record — don’t you want it to represent you well?


You’ve created a monster, and you must slay it! If people know you will correct their written work, they will become lazy and leave it up to you. Why spend all that time editing when they don’t have to? Next time, send the draft back and tell the person it is unacceptable. You might point out some general areas that need work, but leave the actual editing and rewriting to them. Once you’ve done this a few times, they’ll pay a bit more attention to what they send on to you.

There’s more than one correct version. People often complain that it doesn’t matter what they write in their reports, their managers always make changes. Sometimes there’s nothing actually wrong with the writing, and the managers’ corrections may be simply a knee-jerk reaction. Remember, just because it’s not what you would write doesn’t make it wrong. If your changes make it better, take a few moments to chat with the writer about why this is. If they are an unimportant detail, perhaps you don’t need to make them.

An investment in a business writing skills course or workshop could well be returned many times in the savings of senior managers’ time — not to mention their frustration!


Helen Wilkie is a professional keynote speaker and workshop leader who specializes in communication at work. This includes business writing workshops and courses. Visit her main website at http://www.mhwcom.com and if you’d like to explore how she can help your firm, call her at 416-966-5023 or drop her a line by email at hwilkie@mhwcom.com .