The ability to delegate is one of the hallmarks of a successful leader. Delegation is one of the best management tools for increasing employee morale, job satisfaction, trust between team members and manager, and the company’s bottom line. It also helps with time management.
At the end of the day, you are just one person, and you have a limited amount of time. So, you have to do things that are meaningful to you. While an overall goal may be meaningful, not all of the milestones needed to get there may be meaningful. Because we all have our strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, not every task will be enjoyable or all fun and games. Some simply require pure willpower and discipline to grind through. And that is where delegation comes in.
While effective delegation techniques are rarely taught, the good news is that delegation is a skill like any other that can be acquired.
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What is Delegation?
Delegation can be defined as “the act of empowering to act for another.” With this bestowed power, a person, usually a subordinate, is able to carry out specific activities (normally given by a manager or supervisor). Delegation is a management tool designed to increase the efficiency of an organization. It allows for the goals of the organization to be broken down into tasks and assigned to the team member best suited for the duty.
You may hear this term a lot in the business or corporate world; it’s an effective way for managers to distribute (or sometimes avoid!) work. But, that’s not what I’m referring to. Instead, delegation means leveraging time from an outside source to give you opportunities to increase your quality time. By outside source, we simply mean that it’s not your own time that you’re spending.
Why Are Managers Hesitant to Delegate?
Most entrepreneurs and managers are notoriously bad at delegating, why?
As stated earlier, most organizations don’t teach their managers how to delegate. However, there are a number of other reasons why managers are hesitant to delegate, including:
They Believe No One Can Do the Job as Well as They Can
Managers need to delegate because their responsibility is to oversee employees. They can’t and shouldn’t do all the work themselves. A leader’s job is to guide, motivate, and oversee their team members in order to reach a goal.
They Think It Takes Too Much Time to Train Someone
Part of guiding and motivating team members includes training. Yes, it will take extra time to train an employee on a new task, but you need to think of it as an investment. Imagine it takes an extra hour a day to train someone to do a task, and that training lasts a week. That’s five extra hours spent doing the task. However, after the first five days of the employee doing the task, you will have freed up five hours per week to devote to other issues.
There Is a Lack of Trust in Employees’ Motivation
Another part of a manager’s job is to develop their employees’ abilities in order to identify future leaders, as well as discover their strengths and weaknesses. Without delegation, you’ll never know the level of motivation your employees have.
They Want to Make Themselves Indispensable
If you’re worried about making yourself indispensable, you shouldn’t be. You are indispensable. Good managers and leaders are notoriously difficult to come by, and so are naturally indispensable to organizations. If you’re in a leadership position and worried about your job, learn how to be a better leader.
They Enjoy Doing the Work Themselves
While a lot of people do enjoy doing the work themselves, they like the creative process or just the idea that they can control the outcome and take credit for it. That’s not a manager’s job.
You need to be willing to give up control, accept that other people have different (and sometimes better) ways of doing things, and accept your role as facilitator or overseer.
They Feel Bad About Giving More Work to an Overloaded Staff
Feeling that your staff is overloaded or overworked is pretty common for a manager. So, giving team members more to do can feel like you’re just dumping more work on them. However, when done right (more on that later), delegation can increase their motivation and job satisfaction.
Now that we’ve answered the question of what is delegation, let’s move on to the second part of the question:
How Does Delegation Enhance Team Management?
Effective delegation is one of the most important managerial skills you can have. The benefits of proper delegation go deeper than the increased productivity. This effects can be seen in:
Greater Trust Between Manager and Employee
When you give an employee the authority and autonomy to do a task, it is implied that you are trusting them to get it done. It also says that you think that they are competent enough to handle the task. This show of trust and confidence builds a bond between supervisor and subordinate.
Increase in Job Satisfaction
Delegating tasks or assignments to your team members allows them to take ownership and pride in their work. No one wants to be thought of as a cog in the machine, doing a job that anyone could do. Giving them the responsibility and authority to get the job done will go a long way towards helping them take pride in their work.
By delegating tasks to the appropriate employees, they get to take ownership of the result. This is their chance to shine. Everyone wants praise from the boss, and knowing that the result they come up with will be evaluated as a reflection of themselves is great motivation.
More Time for Other Important Activities
Just like a ship captain, leaders assess the conditions, plot the course, and steer the vessel. They may jump in when there’s a man down, but their main job is to worry about the big picture. Let your crew worry about paddling, and you just make sure they are going in the right direction.
In this way, you can free up time to participate in more important activities.
Developing New Skills in Your Team Members
Part of any manager’s job is to help your employees learn and grow. As employees perfect and add to their skill sets, they become more valuable to the company and the industry as a whole. This is part of their career development. It also makes your team much more flexible.
Great Evaluation Tool
As a manager, part of your job is to identify top performers and those worthy of promotion. You should also be thinking about who should replace you when you get promoted. By delegating responsibilities to your employees, you are in a great position to see who takes the bull by the horns and who only does the bare minimum.
Taken together, the positive effects of delegation can have a synergistic effect on the efficiency, productivity and profitability of an organization.
What Should You Delegate?
To delegate effectively, it has to be done with deliberate intention. So the aim of delegation is to create more quality time for yourself. There are 3 types of tasks that you should generally delegate:
- Tasks you don’t enjoy doing. These are things that you know how to do, but don’t enjoy.
- Tasks you shouldn’t do. These are things you know how to do and may even enjoy, but may not be the best use of your time.
- Tasks you can’t do. These are things that need doing, but you don’t have the skills or expertise to follow through with them at this moment.
Using these requirements, you can decide which tasks are worth delegating. In theory, it might look easy to sort actions at first glance; but often, it’s actually harder than you think!
One such example, is diverting time on tasks you shouldn’t do. Let’s go back to the washing machine example. Your husband decides to fix it on his own instead of simply getting an expert to fix it. Why? Because it’s probably a challenge he enjoys, and it’s an accomplishment that would bring him satisfaction. However, if the value of the task is too low, you really ought to delegate it to others.
Sometimes, when you have a larger goal in mind, you might have to sacrifice some actions in return for making progress. Always think about the bigger picture! One thing that can help you avoid this pitfall is to keep your deadlines in mind whenever you set milestones for a project or task.
Deadlines are a commitment to yourself, and every bit of time is precious. So if an activity you’re focusing on is taking time away from progress towards your goal, it may be time to let go of it for now. You can always decide to pick it up again later.
Then there’s the other extreme of delegation. And that’s when you start delegating everything you dislike doing to external sources.Sometimes it’s tempting to abuse delegation and get carried away outsourcing everything on your “don’t like doing” list.
Some people are too picky on what they’re going to do. But sometimes, if you don’t like doing so but you’re the only one who can do it, you still need to finish the job. At the end of the day, it does take your own hard work and effort to achieve the success you want.
So if you find that you’re constantly running into this problem of over delegating, then it may be time to re-evaluate your motivation, or reason for doing whatever it is that you’re doing.
Ask yourself, “Is this task contributing towards a meaningful objective that I want to achieve?” and “what kind of progress do I make each time I carry out the task myself?” If the task is both meaningful and creates progress, then the next step is to ask yourself questions that can help you create actions.
What obstacles are causing you to avoid this task? Is it because of low confidence in your ability? Do you think someone else can do a better job? Is it your level of focus? Or is there an alternative action you can take that can produce the same results?
What Should Be Delegated
Conduct an audit using the six T’s to determine what tasks make the most sense to offload. 
These are tasks that are so small that they seem inconsequential to tackle, but they add up. They are never important or urgent, and even if they only take a few minutes, they end up taking you out of the flow of more strategic work. For example, registering for a conference or event, adding it to your calendar, and booking the hotel and flight — on their own each of these things may not take much time, but taken together, they all add up.
Tasks that are relatively simple probably are not the best use of your time. Very straightforward tasks can (and should) be handled by anyone but you.
For example, manually inputting a 100-item list into a spreadsheet and color-coding it or updating the KPIs in your presentation deck are all simple tasks that can be handed off.
These are tasks that, although they may be important and even somewhat complex, are time-consuming and do not require you to do the initial 80% of research. You can easily step in when the task is 80% complete and give approval, oversight, and/or direction on the next steps.
These tasks, although appearing complicated at first, can be translated into a system and passed along, with you still providing quality checks and final approval.
For example, teaching one of your direct reports how to draft the presentation deck for the monthly all-hands meeting, and even how to be the one to deliver those updates to the team, can be a good way to free up time for yourself.
5. Terrible At
Tasks that fall into an area where you feel unequipped should generally be passed on to someone with strengths in that area. For example, if you aren’t sure how to organize the visual design of those PowerPoint slides for the team meeting, someone on your team will likely be able to step in.
These are tasks that are time-sensitive but compete with other priorities. There isn’t enough time to do them all at once, so you delegate an important and time-sensitive task that can be done in parallel to your other project-based deadlines.
For example, leaving your iPad on the plane after a flight and working to recover it before it goes completely missing into the airport lost and found abyss by calling customer service daily can take a lot of time and can be delegated to a subordinate.
What Shouldn’t Be Delegated
In contrast to the above, there are some tasks that should never be delegated and should always remain as the manager’s responsibility. Some of these include:
Company Vision and Mission Statements
These play an important role in the reputation of the company and should be taken as seriously as possible. Therefore, the responsibility for creating these should always lie with a manager or other company leader.
Too many managers rely on outside agencies for their hiring decisions. While skill sets are important, evaluating how an employee will fit into the corporate culture is equally important, and this is best done face-to-face.
It’s important for managers to take an active role in making new employees feel welcome. They should always be available and accessible to new employees.
Passing off disciplinary duties to an administrative assistant or HR is often a sign of poor managerial skills. Managers can generally gain more respect from employees by handling this themselves.
Having employees do their own reviews and just signing off on them is a disservice to everyone involved. Managers should be personally involved in this process in order to get the most out of it.
How to Delegate Properly
We’ve talked about what delegation is and its benefits, but how can you be an effective delegator and reap the benefits we discussed? Here are some effective delegation techniques to help you get started.
1. Start From the Result and Move Backwards
When delegating a new responsibility to an employee, start by explaining what the outcome should look like. For example: “I’m going to put you in charge of X, and the purpose of X is to have ABC converted to DEF within two weeks and for under $100.” This is a way to set the goal without telling them how they must achieve it.
2. Give Your Employees Autonomy
This can be hard for managers, but you should try to step back and recognize that there are many different ways to solve a problem. By letting them figure out their own way of doing it, they will learn, and there will often be a better outcome.
3. Give Them the Authority to Do What You Ask
This is very important! Delegating responsibility for a task without giving them the authority needed to complete it is really just dumping more work on an employee. Instead of increasing motivation and job satisfaction, you’ll be creating resentment and anger.
4. Match Their Personality and Skill Set
Don’t give an introvert the task of running a meeting. Likewise, don’t put the extrovert in charge of accounting. You should have a good idea of who your employees are and what skills they possess. Delegate the right task to the right person.
5. Make Sure They Have the Right Resources
Make sure that the people you delegate to have enough time, money, training, supplies, work space and help from others to get the job done. If they don’t, then failure is not on them, it’s on you.
6. Supervise, Don’t Micromanage
The best way to do this is to establish a timeline with regular check-ins. This allows the employee autonomy while still being held accountable for the project moving forward. It also allows the employee to ask questions and receive input at regularly scheduled intervals.
7. Create a Motivating Environment
The most successful delegators are the ones that know when to be a cheerleader or coach and when to step in or step back. They are also there to celebrate the successes.
8. Be Tolerant of Mistakes
You’ll never have innovation without risk-taking, and you can’t have risk-taking without mistakes. Be tolerant and use mistakes as a learning tool, not as something to be afraid of.
So far, we’ve dealt with the what, why and how of delegation, but how do we decide what tasks should be delegated?
At first glance, delegation can seem like more trouble than it’s worth. However, when done properly, the scope, breadth, and quality of work produced more than make up for any inconvenience.
You’ll be amazed at what happens when you arrange the workload so that you can focus only on the tasks with the highest priorities while others are working on meaningful and challenging assignments.
By implementing the practices we’ve talked about here, you’ll be able to delegate the right projects to the right people in the right way, and that is a recipe for success.
Featured photo credit: CoWomen via unsplash.com
|||^||Merriam-Webster Dictionary: Delegation|
|||^||Harvard Business Review: When Empowering Employees Works , and When It Doesn’t|
|||^||Harvard Business Review: How to Decide Which Tasks to Delegate|