Delegation is a crucial skill for managers, but it’s easy to do incorrectly. When we delegate, we give someone else the authority and responsibility to make decisions on our behalf. While this may seem like an easy way out of having to perform specific tasks ourselves, delegating isn’t always as simple as just handing off work from one employee to another. Managers typically overlook several things when delegating tasks.
I designed on-demand webinars and live workshops on effective delegation. The programs help managers and supervisors accelerate the growth of high-performing and value-added professionals.
This article will give you a bird’s eye view and some quick tips on effective delegation. You can print a copy of this short guide and pick the advice that applies to you.
What is delegation?
Delegation is the act of assigning responsibility for a project, activity, or task to someone else. Delegation gives managers more time and energy to focus on more important tasks while allowing employees better suited for the job to take on more challenging responsibilities.
Delegation is an effective way to help direct reports develop skills. The best teaching method is learning-by-doing, and delegation makes people learn by doing. A delegation skills training program can help managers and subordinates get things done.
Not a way out of doing anything.
Delegation is not a way to avoid work. It’s not a way to avoid responsibility. It’s not a way to avoid accountability.
It is a way to show your trust and your willingness to teach others. You are allowing your direct reports to learn by doing.
Leading by example is the single most important way to influence people. Your people need to know that you are willing to do the dirty work – those jobs which are dull or unwanted.
You are not avoiding work. You are not putting off stress. On the contrary, you are enabling others to succeed.
Delegation is an important management skill.
Delegation is an essential skill for managers. Through delegation, you get things done. You build the skills of your subordinates. Increased skills position them for success and help them delight customers. You make everyone win.
But many managers get it wrong.
It is not always easy to know what your employees need and how they will perform on delegated jobs. Therefore, delegating effectively requires you to answer some questions:
Many managers who fail in delegation do not ask these questions. Instead, they make people do the jobs they don’t want to do themselves.
In some organizations, the “trusted ones” get all the delegated work. Delegated work overwhelms them and makes them quiet quit their jobs.
Delegation vs. Empowerment
Frankly, I am not comfortable using the word empowerment. It suggests that the supervisor “gives power” to employees. People already have powers. They only need to exercise them.
But since many experts are talking about delegation as empowerment, let’s discuss this briefly.
Delegation is a manager’s way of getting work done by others. It involves giving employees more authority and responsibility, which can be a long-term goal if you want to “empower” your employees. However, delegation is also an immediate solution that lets you get things done immediately without losing control over the process.
Empowerment is when you give people the power to do something. An election, for example, gives politicians the power to make decisions on our behalf.
Employees who feel “empowered” by their managers will do well and have better relationships with them. As a result, they demonstrate higher performance levels.
In the workplace, delegation can enable someone to make decisions. But delegation’s primary objective is to get things through others while enabling them in the process.
To enable a person is to help them gain the ability to do jobs they’ve never done before. Delegation is also a means to make someone effective in doing a routine job so you can focus on things only you can do.
When to delegate work?
I once coached a supervisor. Let’s call her Carla. She said that she does not have enough time to accomplish all the tasks required to achieve her goals. Though she was a high-performing individual contributor, her manager expects her to get things done, something which the previous supervisor failed to do too.
I told her that delegating a task is one solution.
She said that she did not know if she was doing it right. She’s also unsure what to delegate and to whom, as everyone complained about too much work. She is uncertain if everyone on the team will accept delegated tasks.
I taught her the five easy steps to delegating work. After a week, she came back to me. She said that though she was still “mastering the steps,” she already saw a significant improvement.
Let us answer this question first.
The task is important. You don’t give a task that is not important. People don’t like to do dirty jobs for you. So if you were to lead by example, you must show that you also want to do the dirty jobs with them. And that you are delegating the job because you trust them.
The task can be a regular thing or can be done in the long term.
One purpose of delegation is to help direct reports develop skills. If something is a regular thing (for example, organizing events), the person will develop skills to do the job effectively. You may delegate one-off activity, but it is often better to do it yourself.
Somebody can do the task well. If you know someone in your team who can do the job better than anyone else (except you), you can delegate the work. If that person has many things to do, find out if you can give some of her jobs to someone else. Remember, you are delegating a more important task or project.
Somebody in the team can learn how to do the task. Find someone who has the willingness to learn and can learn fast. If you have enough time for teaching, allow the person to observe you doing some of the tasks too. If you don’t have enough time, do it yourself.
Managers need to delegate effectively. It will give you much free time to do the most important things. It shows our people which task to pay more attention to. And more importantly, you demonstrate to everyone your desire to help them grow.
What should you not delegate?
You cannot delegate to everyone, and you should not delegate everything. You may transfer or give authority and responsibility, but the accountability for results is yours. As a leader, you manage how things work and make decisions that will impact employees and customers.
You should not delegate tasks that require you to make decisions. For example, you don’t delegate hiring, promoting, and firing people to your direct reports. These are decisions that managers must make. You may involve others in the process, but if the mandate is given to you, then you must not delegate it.
You should not delegate tasks that require you to provide specialist knowledge. As a manager, you have received training that others do not have.
You should not delegate tasks that require you to be available at short notice. This is akin to you working on the project yourself. If your direct report needs time to learn how to do the work, it is best to do it yourself.
Who should a manager delegate to?
Carla became more productive because she learned how to delegate. She hesitated at first. Her direct reports already have much on their plate.
What made her go all-in to building delegation skills was our discussion on the 80/20 principle. Doing a lot does not mean all the tasks they do are important. So, she tried.
But it was not easy at first.
Not every employee has the right personality traits for success as a team member.
- They may lack motivation or drive.
- They may not be skilled at what they do.
- Many employees are not interested in growing beyond their current level of expertise!
You can delegate to these people, though it is more challenging.
So, it is best to start with employees who are able, motivated, and open to new learning opportunities.
Choose employees who are good at what they do but also want growth opportunities within your organization. Choose someone who has a positive attitude about learning new things. Choose someone willing and able (and even excited!) to work together as part of an effective team.
You cannot delegate to everyone.
I learned how to delegate the hard way. I failed many times. So, I studied how to delegate authority to people. I have already shared with you how to delegate a project or task.
It can also help you to know to whom not to delegate work.
Don’t delegate to someone who doesn’t have the skills or experience needed for the job. Remember, we don’t delegate unimportant tasks. You may give someone the responsibility and make decisions, but the accountability for results is yours.
A work delegated is your job. Even if the person has not done the job but has the skills or similar experience, you may take risks. Without skills and expertise, you better look for someone else.
Don’t delegate to someone who isn’t motivated or interested in the work. If a team member gives you excuses why he cannot work on an assignment you have provided, he is not likely to do his best to work on it. This could lead to failure and frustration for you and your direct report.
Being not motivated to accept delegated tasks does not mean that that employee is useless to you. It only means that you have a problem with employee engagement. It would be best if you coached this employee.
Don’t delegate tasks just because they seem like too much work. Instead, ask yourself if there are other ways to accomplish those tasks efficiently. For example: Instead of assigning one of your employees to send 500 emails to 500 prospective clients, find out if you can use CRM software that will allow you to send to 500 people in one click. It is best to find better ways before you delegate.
The best team members are those who are good at what they do and want to grow and take on new responsibilities.
It is not always easy to identify these people. Sometimes, your company’s culture is a big challenge. For example, if you are a manager or supervisor, you need to find ways to know your people.
You can solve this challenge by creating your delegation plan. Your plan must allow employees with specific skill sets or experience levels to accept new challenges while still receiving your guidance. A delegation plan will let you entrust a project or activity while still in control. It also allows you to maintain a healthy relationship with your direct reports.
Make delegation an essential part of your work culture.
Set aside time for your employees.
Delegating tasks is a great way to ensure that your employees do the work they were hired to do. It also helps you stay on top of what’s going on in your business.
It is an effective time management strategy too. In my time management workshops, I emphasize that delegation is the first thing you do in the morning. It is one of the 4Ds of time management: do, delegate, delay, and dump.
You can sort your work into 4Ds. And before you start working, ensure you’ve delegated all the projects and tasks you need to delegate to others. Doing so is practical and a show of respect.
You give your employees enough time to plan for their day when you delegate early. (I plan my tasks for the day ahead. My staff receives my emails at 8 in the morning as all delegated tasks are pre-scheduled on my Gmail account.)
If a task is time-consuming or tedious that comes up regularly, but isn’t suitable for one of your employees, consider assigning it to someone who can do it half the time because of experience and skill. Help everyone focus on their areas of expertise and strengths.
If a task is too big for one person – you can give it to a team. Set clear expectations and ask the time how they intend to work on the project. Another way is to break down more significant projects into smaller but independent parts so each can work on the task effectively.
Just keep in mind to assign complete tasks to projects. You don’t want someone to fail or get frustrated waiting for others to finish first.
Assign complete tasks or projects.
You give a complete task or project so your direct reports know they are accomplishing something. However, doing one step in a 10-step does not provide a sense of ownership.
Ask if you are unsure how long your direct report can do the job. It is good to give people a deadline, but your delegated tasks must fit in with their existing responsibilities.
When I was still teaching, I had three supervisors. Each gave me tasks they wanted me to submit at once (within the day). But that was impossible since I had to work on my lesson plans and grade students’ papers when I was not in the classroom. I got high ratings from students and helped them pass college entrance examinations, but all my supervisors gave me very low ratings. Frustrated, I resigned.
I did not know how to say know. I had not learned assertive communication skills. You likely have an employee who was like me before.
Remember, the purpose of delegation is not only to help you become more productive. You delegate to enable people, not to frustrate them.
Provide support and encouragement.
Give your employees space to do the job, but also ensure they know you are there for them if they need help or advice. Let them know that you understand the tasks’ challenges and want to be there when things get tough.
You can encourage them in small ways: give feedback on their progress or provide resources such as new equipment or training opportunities.
Successful delegation is all about finding the right person for the job, trusting them, and supporting them in their new role.
Trust your employees. They will only be able to do their best work if they feel valued and appreciated by their manager or supervisor.
You should always support your employees when they ask for help or assistance with a project or task, which shows that you care about them as people.
Delegation is a valuable skill, but learning takes time and practice. Who should you delegate to? How do you know if they’re doing a good job?
Knowing where your strengths lie can be challenging. Everyone on your team must understand their role. Give them the support needed when they come up against challenges or obstacles.
You can become an effective leader by developing your skills. A good leader uses delegation to enable people and become more productive.
You will find more useful tips, tools, and strategies. Read the following articles and share them with your co-workers.