Effective delegation is an essential supervisory skill. Any supervisor or manager must learn to delegate effectively in order to accomplish his or her goals. By definition, to supervise the work of others means that you have to take time away from the technical aspects of your job and tend to the people side of things. Therefore, because time resources are finite, you must remove some of the work you were previously able to accomplish on your own from your task-list in order to make time for performance management and leadership tasks. And because that work still must be completed, you will need to delegate it to your staff.
In this post, I will summarize the barriers and benefits of delegating, and offer a step-by-step process to help you delegate successfully.
What is delegation?
Delegation involves assigning responsibility to another person for a task for which you are still ultimately accountable. At the core of delegation are the opposite concepts of autonomy and control. How much autonomy the delegate has to decide how to complete the task is negatively correlated with how much direct influence you choose to exercise over how the delegate will do the work.
There is a broad spectrum of possible combinations and the right one is dependent on contextual issues such as the task, the time available, and the experience level and/or fitness of the delegate to perform the task. The difference between delegating, micromanaging, and dumping lies in the results of that decision matrix.
Barriers to delegating
Inevitably, leaders and managers tell me about the myriad barriers they see when they think about delegating. Here are some of their challenges – see if they ring a bell for you:
- I don’t have time to train someone else to do it; it’s faster to just do it myself…
- I’m not sure I can trust someone new with this task…
- I don’t feel right asking others to do ‘my’ work…
- I worry people on my team don’t have the right skills to do this task…
- What if the person I delegate to feels this is too [boring, easy, hard] for them…
- What if they do it wrong and I have to re-do it anyway?...
Well, here’s the reality:
First, unless you give people a chance to learn a task and earn your trust, you’ll be overloaded and overwhelmed forever – nothing will change. How’s your current workload working for ya?
You have to have a long-view mentality on delegation.
You do want to ensure you don’t just ‘dump’ boring or mundane tasks on folks who can handle more challenging and satisfying work – try to delegate a process or project whenever you can to give them the satisfaction of seeing something full-circle.
Benefits of delegating
There are lots of benefits that delegating well can yield. Some of them include:
- Develops new competencies and skills in your staff, which helps them feel more satisfied in their job and feel more engaged (translation: they’ll be less likely to bail)
- Develops more self-sufficiency and autonomy in your staff over time, which helps them feel good and relieves you of having to spend as much time providing support and input
- Builds trust between you and your staff (it goes both ways)
- Allows your staff to have a wider variety of experiences and makes them more well-rounded and satisfied
- Improves service to clients – more qualified employees and faster/more efficient processes are possible when you share the work and remove the backlog
- You become less overwhelmed and can feel less overworked (imagine that!)
Sound good? Are you ready to get started? Good, but first, some cautionary words.
Some tasks should NOT be delegated
Before you get all delegation-happy, beware: it’s not always appropriate to delegate. There are actually some things that you should keep on your to-do list.
For example, you shouldn’t delegate performance conversations or giving feedback. It’s your job to manage performance and you’re the only one who should do it.
Also, you should never delegate firing an employee (although Human Resources professionals will tell you plenty of managers try to…).
And managing a change process is also something that you should not delegate. You can delegate some aspects of the change management process, but the overall leadership of the change must stay with you.
What are other tasks, activities, or processes you shouldn’t delegate? Chime-in in the comments below!
The process of delegation
Now that we’re clear on the barriers and benefits of delegating and also what should not be delegated in the first place, here’s a five step process that can help you delegate effectively.
- Analyze your time and tasks. Take a close look at your time and the tasks on your to-do list. Break them down into the smallest chunks, but also keep them connected to the bigger project of which they’re a part. Choose the tasks that you can and should delegate and those that you should keep. Consider grouping them to give that deeper meaning and satisfaction of seeing a process rather than just a tiny, boring, meaningless task.
- Choose a delegate. What factors affect how you select a delegate? Think about their current skill level as well as their desired skill development, their current workload, and the distribution of delegated tasks among your staff. Take a big picture view before zeroing in on who will be the best person for the job. Be extra aware of any tendency you may have to go to the ‘rock stars’ again and again: you’re not only burning them out, you’re inadvertently missing the opportunity to develop others and possibly causing them to get disappointed and disengaged.
- Brief the delegate about the task and your expectations. Tell them both the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of the delegated task. Here are some of the important points to cover:
- Define the objectives clearly and concisely (create a checklist)
- Specify resources available (human, financial, equipment, facilities)
- Set a schedule with deadlines, milestones, review/check-in points
- Describe the ‘how’: the methodology and procedures – allowing as much input as appropriate. Note: the more experienced they are with the work, the less you should specify the ‘how’ and the more autonomy you should allow them.
- Specifically define levels of authority, decision-making range, and level of monitoring/autonomy (where on the Responsibility Ladder should they be?)
- Ask the person to summarize the task in their own words (this is where you can catch any gaps between your vision and their understanding of it)
- Get agreement and commitment
- Offer support without removing responsibility
Tip: No one likes being micromanaged but some tasks or some people could really benefit from more hands on support. Assess the contextual factors I’ve described previously here and provide the right level of balance between autonomy and control.
- Monitor and encourage. Be sure to do this in accordance with the appropriate level of autonomy and control that were discussed between you. This should prevent any surprises and also help you ensure that you’re helpful but not crossing the line into being overbearing or the ‘dead-beat boss’, nowhere to be found. [Here’s a funny video I found that shows the wrong way to do it…]
- Evaluate, extract lessons-learned, and celebrate successes. This is a step that you should do for yourself as well as with the delegate. Get and give feedback, and keep developing the person up the Responsibility Ladder to take on more autonomy and to free you up from having to exert as much control.
I hope that now you feel more empowered to delegate more often and more effectively. Just think of all the opportunities you will be able to pursue when you reduce your stress and have more slack in your day!
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