how to delegate effectively

New to leadership? Learn how to delegate effectively

At some point in every professional’s career there comes a time to delegate tasks.

Knowing how to delegate tasks effectively is a necessary step for growth – it’s important for efficiency and development. If others on your team can’t embrace new skills, you won’t be able to build your business.

For those of you passionate about your work, giving up a beloved task can be the most significant obstacle to delegating. When do you know it’s time to assign work to colleagues? How can you ensure the best possible outcome for the project?

The first step to delegation is understanding the need for it. From there, when it’s time to hand off an assignment, follow these best practices on how to delegate tasks effectively.

Why managers don’t delegate

Managers often feel reluctant to delegate. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking a manager needs to do everything if the work is to be done well. It can also be perceived as a sign of weakness. 

In fact, delegation is a sign of leadership.

Delegation is the act of assigning responsibility for outcomes along with the authority to do what is needed to produce the desired results.

Delegation incorporates empowering your team through effective leadership. Managers who don’t delegate are at great risk of not staying in their role long or are less apt to receive promotions. 

New managers may lack the confidence to direct others or feel that they are the only ones who can do things properly, especially if they were promoted over a department in which they previously worked.

For someone who’s been with a company for a long time or who has a deep knowledge of the work, it’s often easier to maintain control and “get it done right” rather than hand the reins to someone else.

It’s a simple fact that one person can’t do everything. Trying to accomplish or micromanage too many tasks leads to burnout, poor quality and missed deadlines, not to mention time management problems.

Many reasons exist around why supervisors and managers don’t delegate as much as they should. These include:

  • Training other employees on a new task takes extra effort upfront
  • Thinking other employees may not be as committed to achieving results
  • Feeling the need to be indispensable within the organization
  • Losing out on pleasure that comes from working on particular tasks
  • Lacking knowledge on how to delegate effectively

Know when to delegate

Everyone is busy in your business, but how do you know if or when you should assign some of your workload to others?

To determine when delegation is most appropriate there are five key questions to consider:  

  1. Is there someone else who can be given the necessary information or expertise to complete the task?
  2. Does the task provide an opportunity to grow and develop another person’s skills?
  3. Is this a reoccurring task that will happen again in the future?
  4. Is there enough time to delegate the job effectively?
  5. Is this a task that should be delegated? (Some tasks that are critical for a manager or leader to do – like recruiting for a team.)

When done well, delegation is a win-win.

However, that doesn’t mean that you can delegate anything. Plus, just because someone can complete a task doesn’t mean the delegated task will be completed successfully.

Consider to whom you will delegate the task and how it will be done. Remember for any task that is delegated time must be available for:

  • Adequate training
  • Questions and answers
  • Opportunities to check progress
  • Rework, if necessary

Delegation 101

Are you unsure of what to delegate?

Review processes and job tasks regularly to identify whether there are duties or procedures that can be delegated.

Projects can be delegated when:

  • There’s more than one way to complete it
  • It’s no longer part of your core job description
  • It’s a skill an employee should learn
  • The task is not mission-critical
  • The task is mission-critical, and there’s value in cross-training others
  • There’s time to train someone on the work

It takes time

Creating a valuable opportunity to cross-train a colleague on a new skill builds your organization’s capacity and capabilities.

Be patient as you may find that in the beginning a delegated task is taking longer to hand-off than if you did it yourself. There will be a learning curve. 

If you’ve chose the right person and given them enough time to learn, you will find success.

Remember, delegating effectively means taking time to explain:

  • Why the task is being delegated
  • What’s expected from the employee during the project (or task)
  • The employee’s task-related goals
  • All timelines, deadlines and available resources   

Different strokes for different folks

There are typically various ways of completing any given task or process that still result in the desired outcome.

A different approach won’t necessarily affect the quality of the final product. Allowing your team to own an assignment builds trust, which provide a tangible morale boost.

You might even discover an employee develops an innovative way of getting the job done. If there’s a problem, don’t allow the person to shift responsibility back to you.  Ask for recommended solutions. Don’t simply provide an answer. 

To whom should you delegate?

Choose employees who are closest to the work to be delegated.

Consider the individual’s:

  • Experience
  • Knowledge
  • Skills

Also, match the amount of responsibility with the amount of authority. While you may delegate some responsibility, you can’t delegate away ultimate accountability. That should continue to reside with you until the organization reorganizes job roles and responsibilities.

Also, take into consideration their current workload. Can they spend the necessary amount of time on the project, or do other responsibilities need to be shuffled?

Avoid delegation pitfalls

We all know that you shouldn’t micromanage. However, you should abdicate control either.

Knowing how to delegate effectively means striking a balance between allowing employees leeway to develop new skills and monitoring work to ensure quality.

Avoid “upward delegation,” the temptation for the employee to shift responsibility for the task back to you. Instead, make sure that the team member knows to approach you for guidance and to answer questions if any problems occur.

Also, avoid unloading difficult tasks on an employee without consideration of how it fits in with that person’s career path and future at your company.

Consider how the work can build employee engagement, motivation and commitment. You can do this with the employee, as appropriate, by discussing how success may bring about rewards. These could include:

  • A possible bonus
  • Career opportunities
  • Recognition for good work
  • Other benefits

Accepting delegated work

When delegated work is delivered back to you, set aside enough time to review it thoroughly.

If the delegated task isn’t quality, completed work, coach and develop the employee to produce a satisfactory work product. 

If you accept work you’re not satisfied with, you miss out on an opportunity to teach them how to do the job properly. And you, as the manager, can become overloaded with work. 

When good work is turned in, recognize and reward the effort. This helps build self-confidence and efficiency, both of which will be improved on the next delegated task. 

The takeaway

Delegation improves efficiency when it allows work to be transferred to people whose skills are a strong match for the work.

When you rearrange your workload so that you’re working on higher priority tasks, while other employees complete meaningful and challenging assignments, you have a recipe for success.

Effective delegation can have wide-ranging benefits for the busy manager, the employee and the organization as a whole.

For more information on management issues, download our complimentary magazine: The Insperity guide to leadership and management.

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