Key learning outcomes:
- Recognise the benefits of effective delegation for you and your team members.
- Implement a strategy for selecting the best person when delegating tasks.
- Understand the importance of communicating the outcomes, objectives and your expectations in a delegation.
- Describe the common issues that arise when delegating tasks.
Anyone can ask or tell someone else to do something for them; however, effective delegation takes skill and practice. When you learn to delegate effectively you not only free up your own time, but you also offer some real benefits to the person you delegate to. They will feel more engaged and empowered knowing that you trust them to do the job, and they potentially will learn new skills and gain experience doing things that they might not have had the opportunity to do previously in their role.
It is very important to note the word “effective” here. Delegation done badly results in tasks not being completed on time or satisfactorily, and can also lead to issues of micromanagement, distrust and resentment. We have outlined some very important guidelines in this article that you need to follow to ensure that your delegation is effective and successful.
1. Don’t be a hero
It is important to understand that people who find themselves in positions of leadership are usually there because they are very good at what they do. These people also tend to like to control the outcomes and consequently often have difficulty letting go. This is particularly an issue with new managers and we outline how to deal with this in our article “Top 10 Tips for New Managers”.
It is important for any leader to understand that to move forward they need to be able to delegate some of their tasks and responsibilities to others as this will allow them to spend time on more important issues and to focus on developing the business. If you find that you are often thinking such things as “it will be much easier if I just do it myself” or “no one really can do this quite like me”, you need to work towards changing your mindset as soon as possible.
2. Be prepared to train
Of course it might be quicker and easier for you to complete the task yourself when it is something that the person you plan to delegate to has either limited or no experience in. This can be frustrating and can lead to you either not delegating the task some or all of the time, and disappointment that the task is not completed correctly or quickly enough.
It is important that you do not set you and your team member up for failure. Make sure that they have the ability to do the task before you pass it on. This might mean that you will need to spend some additional time initially training the person. However, the time you save in the long run knowing that the task can be delegated effectively every time will be worthwhile.
Be mindful also that if you only delegate a task sporadically, it can affect the person’s confidence as they assume they are not completing it to your standard. You need to communicate clearly to them that if there is a time constraint you will need to complete the task yourself until the team member is fully up to speed with the task.
3. Identify what to delegate
Knowing what to delegate is one of the keys to effective delegation. It is important not to delegate something just because you are busy or overloaded. You need to think about what tasks and activities you can delegate on an ongoing basis. Go back through your daily, weekly and monthly tasks and ask yourself these important questions:
- Is this something that you need to do? There will be things that only you can do, for example dealing with the bank manager or accountant. Generally, if something is related to the strategy of your business you will probably want to maintain control of it. If it is not something that you need to do then it should go on your list of tasks that can be delegated.
- Is it a recurring task? If it is something that happens ad hoc, it might not be worth the effort of training another person to do the task. However, if it is something that happens every day or every week and it is something that you do not need to do, then this is the ideal task to hand over to someone else.
- Is there a deadline that needs to be met? If there is a timeline for the completion of the task, you should ensure there will be enough time for training and for the person to complete the required work.
- Is this something that will help develop and grow someone else? You should be looking to develop those around you. Enriching their job with new tasks is one of the best ways you can do this.
4. Identify the best person to delegate to
Once you have identified the tasks that you can delegate, you need to consider who will be the best person to delegate to. There are a few things to keep in mind when doing this:
- Think about the person’s current skill and experience level. You ideally want to delegate to the most junior person capable of completing the work, particularly if it is a routine task. How much time will be necessary for training to ensure that they are competent?
- What are the person’s goals and aspirations? Try to match tasks and activities to the interests of the person, as this will make them more keen to take on the additional work and responsibility. For example, there is little point delegating a purely administrative task to someone who is a people person and aspires to move into a sales or frontline position.
- How large is their current workload? It is important that by delegating to ensure that you are not overloading the person or creating a situation where other work gets put off.
5. Ask, don’t tell
It is important to understand when delegating that asking and telling are two very different things. In order to get the best outcome from delegating additional work to someone, you need to be clear on why you need them to do the job and to get their commitment to complete the task. Often delegation fails not because the person could not do the job but because their motivation to do it was not sufficient. You are going to get a far better response if you ask someone to help rather than tell someone that they have to do something just because you are the boss.
6. Delegate outcomes
When asking someone to do something, you need to delegate the outcome and objectives and not the procedure. This places the focus on the result and not on them simply replicating what you do. One of the things to remember is that there may always be a better way to do something. You never want to shut down this possibility but instead foster an environment of learning and growth. When you delegate, be clear on what the desired result is and then explain how you usually do things. When training, train the person on your technique and procedure but always be clear that they may choose to modify this as they gain some experience.
7. Be clear on expectations
Effective delegation requires you to set very clear expectations right from the outset. When do you expect the task to be completed? How often do you expect the person to give you a progress report? How do you want them to communicate the progress to you? How much latitude do they have to make decisions along the way? The clearer you are at the outset when delegating, the more effective it will be.
8. Give the bigger picture
As a general rule you will find that people tend to be more committed to undertaking tasks when they understand the reason behind it. By understanding the bigger picture and how the task fits into it, they tend to be more committed to ensuring they are successful. This is particularly important when they are completing just one component of a larger project. For example, perhaps you are considering branching out to a new location and you have delegated some of the research to someone else. By letting them know why you need it and how the results will impact on the decision and the business, they are more likely to be accurate and diligent.
9. Understand the consequences
As they say “forewarned is forearmed”. It is important to understand that delegation does not always run smoothly and some common issues can occur. It is important to think about what these might be every time you delegate a task or activity to someone else. The following are examples:
- The person’s other work might suffer. If you delegate additional work to someone who already has a full workload, you may find that the quality of their usual work suffers or falls behind. Always ascertain their current workload and discuss solutions for any potential issues before they start the new task.
- They might take longer than you would have. In the early stages this is very likely to happen, particularly if the task or activity is not something they have done before. Make sure you have set realistic deadlines on completion, factoring in the additional time that will be required.
- There might be some problems along the way. Once again this is not unusual and it is essential that you offer an appropriate level of support and set up a communication strategy that will allow for questions and ongoing training.
- They might make mistakes. It is important to let them know that mistakes are okay. Think back – perhaps you made some early on too? The key to mistakes is to ensure that they are used as a learning opportunity. A regular communication strategy will ensure they are identified and rectified as quickly as possible.
10. Say thank you
You will find a number of articles under the “Motivation” section of the website that reinforce how a simple “thank you” works to lift employee motivation and engagement. It is essential when delegating that you take the time to acknowledge the person for taking on the extra work and responsibility and for helping out. You want to foster an environment where people know that they will be recognised for going the extra mile and that they are not being taken for granted. If someone has put in an extra special effort, acknowledging this in front of their peers will boost their confidence and morale and it might also be appropriate to give them a small token of your thanks by way of a gift, bonus or afternoon off. People by their nature want to work for people who appreciate them, so do not be afraid to show it.
Delegation is an essential skill to learn if you want your business to develop and grow. Once you master the art of effective delegation, you will find that not only does it free up your time to work on your business rather than in it, you will also develop a more motivated and engaged team. These words from Ronald Reagan sum up effective delegation perfectly:
“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.”
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