How to … delegate

by 14 Nov 2006

Why is it important?

Delegation can be one of the riskiest things we do at work as it means relinquishing control and placing your trust in another individual to carry out one of your job tasks. Their performance is then seen as a reflection of your own. Even though it might not be your fault if they fail, as a manager you must take responsibility for the outcome. It’s little wonder that many of us shy away from it.

But risky as it is, delegation is vital to succeeding as a manager. Unless you learn to delegate effectively, you will never achieve a good work-life balance, and will soon demotivate and even alienate your team members, who will feel you have no confidence in them. More damaging still, it will inhibit their professional development.

Delegation is not a shirker’s charter; it is a vital business skill which gives rise to the central HR tenet of empowerment. Your rise up the corporate ladder is also likely to hinge on you being able to free up time to concentrate on high priority issues.

Where do I start?

The more prepared you can be when it comes to delegation, the better for both parties. Delegating tasks when under pressure – to extricate you from a hole, for instance – will almost certainly fail. Fix on the task you intend to delegate and define it clearly. Don’t have a predetermined view as to how the individual should carry out the task – they must be able to use their initiative and apply their own methods. “The project might not get done exactly as you would have done it but as long as the result is the same, it’s okay. It’s important to challenge your team and make them feel valued,” says Neela Bettridge, director of business responsibility consultancy Article 13.

Next, identify who will complete the job – a favourable outcome will depend on how well you know your team and their strengths and weaknesses. Ensure the delegate is at the right level for the task and has the necessary competencies. Refrain from using the same person for every task, as this will do nothing for the confidence of the rest of the team.

Consult with the employee

Ask the potential delegate if they are happy to take on the task, and then work through it with them. Provide a brief with clearly defined, planned out and prioritised objectives. Make sure they have all the resources and tools to complete the job and set a timeframe. Check they know what is expected of them, as well as their level of authority and responsibility. It is a good idea to have them run through what they will be doing and what they hope to achieve to confirm they have interpreted the brief properly.

Monitor progress

Schedule a follow-up meeting at an appropriate interval for an update. Give the individual space to tell you how things are going, rather than bombard them with questions. If you are concerned that the project is falling behind schedule or not going to plan, find out why and act accordingly. If the delegate is struggling, you may have to consider taking the task back from them (called reverse delegation). But this should only be considered in extreme circumstances as it will seriously dent the worker’s self-esteem, and deprive them of an opportunity to grow professionally.

Feedback and review

It is crucial to follow up adequately once the task has been completed. Tell the delegate how they did and what, if anything, could be improved. Give full credit for their accomplishments, and be aware of your own behaviour too, and whether you could do anything differently to be more effective the next time you delegate.

For more information


Real Delegation: How to Get People to Do Things For You and Do Them Well, by J K Smart. Prentice Hall, ISBN 0273663224

Empowerment Takes More Than a Minute by Ken Blanchard, John P Carlos, Alan Randolph. Berrett-Koehler, ISBN 1576751538

By Scott Beagrie.

Second opinion on how to delegate effectively

Simon Broomer, career development and job search counsellor, Career Balance

What are the benefits of delegation?

There are three reasons why every manager should delegate. First, you do the work you're really there to do, rather than spending all your time doing non-productive tasks. Second, it makes the best of your own and the organisation's resources. Why type letters when your real strength is selling or deciding business strategy? Third, it's a good way of developing others by building their skills and experience.

How will I know what to delegate?

Ask yourself: why am I employed? Which parts of my job am I here to do and which are other people's work? Perform a job analysis of where your time goes and keep a log of what you do everyday. I found I was spending two hours a day replying to emails, rather than seeing clients and marketing the business.

How do you determine that you are not just dumping work on an individual when delegating?

Rather than just offloading stuff on to other people, use delegation to develop their skills and knowledge. If someone's skills are appropriate and they can do the job while you keep an eye on them, think about how you can incentivise them to do the job. Sell the task, and give the person a sense of how this contributes to what you want to achieve. Give them a sense of importance, that they're making a difference and adding to their personal development.

Are there any other ways to delegate, other than to junior staff members?

Certainly. You can delegate sideways and upwards. So if one of your peers at work is able to take on part of your project, it's possible to pass something on to them. You can also delegate upwards to people who have the right level of authority or expertise.

How does delegation impact on work-life balance?

Think about what would happen if you could leave your workplace an hour earlier because you were no longer doing tasks that weren't part of your job. Plan ahead. If you pass something to an assistant at 5.30pm when it's due the next day, they're likely to rush it and you'll only end up more stressed. Good delegation sets your mind at rest and gives others the opportunity to do the job well.

Courtesy of Personnel Today magazine.


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