What is it that keeps you from delegating? More often than not I hear, “It is just easier to do it myself versus training someone to do the task right now,” or “There isn’t someone to delegate to who has the skills to complete the tasks as well as I can.”
In today’s workplace, employees want to be challenged, engaged, and provided with increased responsibilities and opportunities. Developing your team through delegation is a great start to keeping them challenged.
Gino Wickman1, author of Traction, states, “Be prepared to delegate and elevate yourself. You have to delegate some of your responsibilities and elevate yourself to operate at your highest and best use.” Learning to delegate effectively is the key to providing yourself with the time to focus on those things you do best, things that very few people can do as well as you to generate the most income for your company.
Delegating improves not only your job performance but that of others, providing a vehicle for mentoring and coaching. Delegating builds camaraderie, allows you and your team to get more work done, relieves job burnout, and alleviates stress. Job burnout is a workplace issue characterized by feelings of exhaustion, increased cynicism, and feeling less capable at work. Part of the responsibility for addressing burnout falls on managers to ensure they have the right people in the right roles, understanding what employees do best, and providing them with responsibilities where they can use their strengths.
When delegating work, skilled managers understand when to manage and when to coach. When you are managing the delegation of tasks, you are typically focused on directing immediate needs and specific outcomes. You take responsibility for the outcome by telling, directing, and making decisions for the employee about how the task is to be completed.
This type of delegation works well in crisis situations when decisions are made swiftly and when employees are new in their positions, have new client and customer relationships, or take on new tasks and responsibilities. You also want to direct employees when they have low-to-moderate competence with skills and lack confidence in their ability to complete the task autonomously. This type of directive delegation will get the job done; however, it will not develop your employees’ skill sets.
Coaching works best when delegating responsibilities. A good example is coaching a sports team. It is very rare that you will see a coach play an athlete who didn’t practice extensively before the game. For athletes to play on game day, they need hours of practice to develop their skills.
In the workplace, you want to delegate and coach your employees when they have some experience in their role, a track record, demonstrated competence with the task, and your confidence in their abilities. Taking time to coach, teach, develop, and guide your employees when they take on new tasks and responsibilities is the key to their ongoing development.
Providing coaching and guidance when delegating tasks to employees often results in outcomes that exceed your expectations. When delegating to an employee who has high competence and high commitment to the task, define excellence and get out of the way. One of the most difficult transitions for leaders to make is to shift from doing to leading.
One of the strategies that Jack Canfield2 speaks about often in his Success Principles is called complete delegation. It simply means that you delegate a task once and completely rather than delegating it each time the task needs to be done. There is an exercise you can find online at www.thesuccessprinciples.com that will assist you with better understanding what activities you should focus on and what activities you should delegate.
Career and business strategist Jenny Blake3 recommends conducting an audit of your tasks using the rules below to find out which tasks you should delegate. Think about tasks you want to delegate and categorize each type of task using the following list:
- Tiny: Tasks that are so small they seem inconsequential to tackle but add up. These tasks are never important or urgent, and, although they only take a few minutes, they end up taking you out of the flow of more strategic work (e.g., registering for conferences and booking hotels and flights).
- Tedious: Tasks that are relatively simple are not the best use of your time. Very straightforward tasks can (and should) be handled by anyone but you (e.g., manually inputting data into a spreadsheet or updating KPIs in reports or in your presentation deck).
- Time Consuming: Tasks that are time consuming do not require you to do the initial research. Others can take it on. This allows you to easily step in when the task is 80 percent complete to provide input, guidance, or direction on next steps.
- Teachable: Tasks that can be translated into a system or process can be passed along with you still providing quality checks and final approval (e.g., teaching others how to hold, lead, and facilitate meetings in your place).
- Terrible At: Tasks that are not your strength or an area where you feel unequipped. Think about the tasks that take you far too long to complete, which may produce a less-than-desired result than what a skilled person in that area could produce. A good example is creating PowerPoint presentations. If you are not a PowerPoint guru, delegate this task to someone who is more capable.
- Time Sensitive: Tasks that are time sensitive but compete with other priorities. When there isn’t enough time to do them all at once, delegate tasks that can be done parallel with your other time-sensitive tasks (e.g., calling an airline to change seat assignments for the following day while you are in meetings).
Once you’ve classified your tasks, you’re ready to hand them off. Think about how important the handoff is in a relay race at a track-and-field meet. If the passing runner messes up the handoff or has poor technique, the next runner could stumble, lose their position in the race, or, even worse, drop the baton. These steps provide a clear pathway to delegation and assist you to define your technique.
Six Steps for Effective Delegation
- Prepare beforehand (see above).
- Clearly define the task to be completed. Be specific. Ask the person to whom you are delegating the task to repeat the information back to you to ensure he or she fully understands.
- Outline the timeframe. Be specific about the timeframe in which the delegated task must be completed.
Delegate authority. Defining the level of authority an individual has is key, yet it is often overlooked. The following levels of authority and delegation grid provide examples of when it might be important to give someone the authority to recommend versus the authority to act or inform and initiate based on the importance of the task and the employee’s knowledge and expertise.
LEVEL 1: The authority to RECOMMEND
LEVEL 2: The authority to INFORM and INITIATE
LEVEL 3: The authority to ACT
Identify checkpoints. Plan time to meet with the individual to review his or her progress and offer guidance. Schedule these meetings frequently at first, and then taper off as you see the task being mastered.
Hold a debriefing session. Don’t forget to take time to debrief. Ask process questions such as:
What went well?
What could have been improved?
What has been learned?
Effective delegation requires effective communication. Research tells us that what you hear (tone of voice) is 38 percent of the message you communicate. What you see (body language) is 55 percent of the message. The actual words (what is said) are only 7 percent of the message received. When delegating, it is important to think about how you communicate the message. Delegation via email is the least effective way to communicate. Try to delegate with face-to-face communication or by video so that messages can be easily interpreted.
Over the course of the next few weeks, identify and categorize your tasks that fall under the six types of tasks defined on page 43, and make a plan to delegate the low-hanging fruit. Practice is required to become a skillful and effective delegator. Stop doing it yourself. Start directing, delegating, and developing. Keep communicating effectively.
Go forth and delegate!
1Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business, Gino Wickman, 2011