How to delegate efficiently: 14 tips for getting it right

Delegation isn’t the sexiest leadership and management skill, but it’s one of the most important. Here’s how to delegate effectively.

Delegate efficiently
What is delegation?

What is delegation?

Delegation is all about transferring authority and responsibility from one person to another. In business situations, this usually involves a manager or leader passing on a task or responsibility to someone else. This might be a colleague with specific skills, another team member further down the hierarchy or even an outside collaborator.

There can be many reasons for delegating, from freeing up time for higher-level work to motivating other people, to introducing specific skills to projects and future-proofing client relationships.

For delegation to be effective, it needs to be done carefully – it’s not just a way of shifting a heavy workload, or abdicating responsibility. Even if tasks are allocated completely to someone else, overall responsibility still needs to be shared.

Not everyone is a natural delegator. But the bottom line is that no one can do everything by themselves, so managers need to learn the art of delegation and to encourage other people to do it too.

With communication tools, shared workstreaming and project management software, delegation is now much easier. But that doesn’t mean it’s always done when it should be, or done well.

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Why is delegation at work important?

Why is delegation at work important?

Effective delegation can have significant benefits for all employees. These include:

Motivating and empowering people and teams

Allowing people at different levels to get involved in tasks and decision-making builds engagement and employee motivation, making jobs more interesting and challenging. It can also boost learning and training, as employees learn not only how to carry out a specific task, but also how to handle responsibility, structure their time, work autonomously and manage others.

Learning in a safer space

Delegating tasks while sharing overall responsibility and monitoring allows managers to free up time, while employees learn new skills in a relatively controlled and safe way.

Improving productivity

Gallup looked at CEOs on America's annual list of fastest-growing private companies. It found that those with a higher propensity for effective delegation had an average three-year growth rate significantly greater, and generated higher revenue, than those with a low tendency to delegate.

Increasing managers’ earning power

Research by Harvard Business Review found that delegating work to associates in law firms allowed median partners to earn more than 20% more than they would otherwise. Top lawyers earned at least 50% more.

Transferring skills and knowledge

Delegation is an opportunity to introduce new skills and knowledge and develop the skills employees already have. It also broadens the range of approaches to work and prevents processes and customer relationships from getting stale.

Spreading risk

Having a task or client completely dependent on a single employee or a small team is risky. What happens if a key person is absent or if there are personality clashes in the team? Delegating work means that projects can continue even if there are disruptions.

Creating a positive culture

Being given responsibility with the right support helps make people feel trusted and valued and increases their engagement with work. This can help reduce staff turnover and ensure that training and career development is reinvested in the business.

Build a legacy of leadership

Successful leaders and managers know they can’t stand still for long if they’re to grow and develop. Setting up a framework of ongoing leadership ensures continuity, and means that the future of the business isn’t dependent on a single leader or a few senior individuals.

When should you delegate?

When should you delegate?

Not all situations or tasks are right for delegation. Ideal opportunities arise when tasks can be separated clearly, where they’re more closely aligned with someone else’s skills or where you have employees ready to learn and develop new skills.

When delegating to an employee for the first time, it’s advisable to allow extra time for full training and briefing, and even to re-do the work and feedback if necessary. But provided there’s time to get it right, delegation can be a key building block in an effective strategy for growth.

Why is delegating tasks difficult?

Why is delegating tasks difficult?

Failing to delegate, or delegating ineffectively, poses significant risks for businesses. But even if they’re aware of this, many managers and leaders find delegation difficult.

Many managers simply fail to delegate at all. They feel unable to hand over responsibility believing that they won’t be doing their jobs properly if they don’t do everything. This leads to the feeling of ‘having to do it all’, to be at work 24/7, and even that the success of the business depends on them alone.

This can cause stress, burnout, stagnation in terms of entrepreneurship and creativity, and overall loss of productivity. Eventually, lack of delegation leads to an unmanageable workload, much of which could be done by others. Constant firefighting by one manager or leader creates bottlenecks, and leads to a business which is reactive and not proactive.

Another reason why managers fail to delegate effectively is because they feel it will take them longer to explain, monitor or correct work, than it would to do it themselves. They might not believe their staff have sufficient skills to do the work, and don’t invest in training them. They might also fear a loss of control or authority.

Lack of delegation has a corrosive effect on engagement and trust. Employees are likely to see it as a lack of investment in their futures, and may feel they’ll never be allowed to develop and advance in their careers.

Delegation can also fail when managers fail to do it effectively or completely. Giving an employee or a team responsibility for work and then micromanaging leads to confusion over accountability, a further breakdown in trust and potential doubling of efforts to achieve even simple tasks.

Lack of ability to delegate is a common problem. A study on time management found that almost half the companies surveyed were concerned about their employees’ delegation skills.

But only 28% of them offered any training on how to delegate. So how can you get it right? Here are our top tips.

14 tips for effective delegation

14 tips for effective delegation

1. Accept you can’t (and shouldn’t) do it all

As a business grows and develops, tasks and workloads increase. Managers need to leave room for innovation and creativity to future proof the business. Freeing up work that can be done just as well by others is a key first step to creating that space.

2. Integrate delegation from the beginning

Rather than seeing it as a solution to an unmanageable workload or a sudden crisis, integrate delegation into business strategy. Look for ways in which delegation can become the norm, rather than a last resort. Let employees know that they can volunteer or step up if they feel they can take on more responsibility.

3. Prepare thoroughly

Look at tasks and timelines and identify which tasks, projects and responsibilities can be delegated safely and practically.

4. Invest in technology

Online workstreaming platforms, project management, reporting and monitoring software, and collaborative team programs are all available to make delegation easier. Investing in these will show your team that you’re serious about establishing a culture of delegation. These tools will also allow you to make changes, check on performance and monitor achievement, laying the groundwork for delegation in the future.

5. Decide when and where

Prepare for delegation by giving enough time for briefing and checking understanding. Also make chains of responsibility and accountability clear.

6. Play to people’s strengths

Get to know each employee’s strengths and weaknesses, and create a delegation strategy that leaves them free to use their skills and talents to best advantage, but provides support where it’s needed.

7. Define authority

Be clear about where you retain overall responsibility and what you expect of others. Establish a reporting structure which allows people to work freely and on their own initiative, but makes sure any questions or problems are flagged up clearly and in good time.

8. Get buy-in

Make sure everyone is happy with the levels of responsibility, workload, monitoring, reporting and goals of the task.

9. Be clear about expectations

Set organizational objectives and goals, decide the level of reporting and interaction you plan to have, and make sure everybody understands what’s expected. Confirm and agree deadlines and milestones.

10. Provide context

Make clear why you’re delegating a particular task or project, and how much freedom or autonomy you're planning to hand on. Where there are clients or customers involved, make sure they understand who is responsible for what.

11. Provide a comprehensive handover

Give all essential information, as well as any tips or supporting resources available. But resist the temptation to outline every detail of the way the job should be done.

12. Stand back

This is often the hardest part of delegation, but it’s essential if it’s to be effective. While it may be tempting to intervene in a delegated project, try to keep a distance and let the person or team approach you if there’s an issue which needs resolving or if they’re unsure. Stay involved but let others take the lead.

13. Be open to questions

Be ready and available to respond to questions, but try to do it in the context of delegation rather than along the lines of ‘the way you’d do it’.

14. Give feedback

Build trust and confidence by giving feedback. This should be based, not just on the way the task is delivered, but also the way that the team or individual is handling the responsibility. Accept and learn from mistakes and pass on knowledge in a positive way. Try to avoid comparison with the way you would’ve handled things, and instead concentrate on positive reinforcement. That way, your team will have the confidence and skills to take on new tasks in the future.

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