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Learning to Delegate Effectively

Learning to delegate effectively

Artwork by: Sasha Bogatov

  • Why is delegation critical for career success?
  • Tips for deriving continued benefits from delegation
  • Action: Assess Your Work Load
  • Action: Understand and Utilize Guidelines for Delegating
  • Action: Ask for Feedback
  • Action: Reading Resources

“Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don't interfere as long as the policy you've decided upon is being carried out” — Ronald Reagan

You have probably heard the expression, “If you want something done, you have to do it yourself.” Doing everything can negatively impact both your effectiveness in your current role and your career advancement. Delegation can benefit the organization by improving the quality of work performed and strengthening employee motivation.

Expert Tip

What is delegation?

Delegation is the process of giving decision-making authority and tasks to lower-level employees. It involves empowering others by providing resources, tools, training, and support to accomplish a task.

Why is delegation critical for career success?

Delegation fosters success on multiple levels:

  • Time –When you delegate effectively, you have more time to focus on managerial tasks and/or take on more significant assignments and higher responsibilities.

  • Developed Workforce – Developing skills of others allows for more flexibility in assignments and efficient decision-making.

  • Quality – Empowerment to expand job tasks/responsibilities may improve employees’ motivation and personal accountability for outcomes.

  • Succession Planning – A main task of a manager in a thriving organization is to, ultimately, develop a successor.

  • Value – You provide more value to the organization and are likely to be more valued by the organization.

Delegating effectively requires assigning the right task to the right person, with clear direction. Be aware of potential obstacles, which include lack of trust, not wanting to be seen as lazy, reluctance to take risks, and fear of competition from subordinates. If you are hesitant to delegate, determine the reason(s) and take a “leap of faith” by stepping into the process.

Tips for deriving continued benefits from delegation

  • Do not wait for a heavy workload or crisis to delegate, which communicates to employees that you are using them to your benefit. Instead, delegate assignments that develop or stretch employees’ talents and skills so that everyone benefits. This also builds “bench strength” for the organization and strengthens employee motivation and confidence.

  • Balance assignments across the team so that the same employees are not getting the same/challenging/dull assignments. Be careful about what you delegate to the more productive and least productive employees.

Focus on results and consistency of the process. Employees that can make their own choices foster innovation. Intervene only when the standards have been violated.

Action: Assess Your Work Load

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What am I doing today that would be better, faster and more cost-effective for someone else to do?

  2. What are the top 3 things that I can assign to others?

  3. What would be best for me to stop doing today? (Consider tasks that are simple enough to delegate, or are not in your area of expertise, e.g., filing, copying, legal work, etc.)

Your time is likely better spent managing projects, marketing, engineering, planning, meeting with potential clients, and executing revenue generating activities.

Action: Understand and Utilize Guidelines for Delegating

Take a look at these key guidelines before delegating authority to others.

Clearly define success and select an employee to take on the task(s)

Determine a) successful performance of the assigned task and 2) appropriate processes, tools, and resources needed to complete the task. Consider the alignment between job requirements and the employee’s competencies.

Assess employee capabilities

Think about the employee’s work history, skills, past behaviors, and accomplishments to assess how you think he/she will perform on the assignment. It is important to have a basis for the delegation, so you do not worry about the outcome or the process used to reach it.

Include the employee in the delegation process

Promote buy-in for accepting the assignment by discussing with the employee why the task is being delegated, when and how it will be accomplished, and what the assignment will be. Ask about availability and welcome open communication to avoid misunderstandings.

Clearly explain performance standards

Specify the expected level of performance, deadlines, documentation and reporting, and any constraints under which the employee will be operating. Discuss, rather than dictate, and ask for input.

Support the employee through task completion

Provide the opportunity for the employee to do what needs to be done, making necessary decisions along the way. Allow the employee to secure resources needed for the task, and provide information and feedback as needed.  If others are affected by the assignment, let them know that it has been delegated and to whom. Avoid close supervision of the employee. Schedule regular meetings to review action items, status updates, and next steps.

Give credit where credit is due

Let others know about the successful completion of the task to enhance the employee’s motivation and authority for future assignments.

Action: Ask for Feedback

Ask your manager and accountability partner for feedback on your delegation skills.  If you are having trouble determining what to delegate, ask them for some help.  Develop an action plan to improve your delegation skills and check in periodically for feedback against that plan.

Action: Reading Resources

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, by David Allen 

Delegating Work: Expert Solutions to Everyday Challenges (Pocket Mentor), by Harvard Business School Press

Motivation, by Brian Tracy (audio book)

Delegation & Supervision, by Brian Tracy (audio book)

The Busy Manager's Guide to Delegation, by Richard A. Luecke, Perry McIntosh 

The One Minute Manager, by Kenneth H. Blanchard, Spencer Johnson

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