Are you feeling overwhelmed with all the tasks you have on your To-Do list? Do you wish you had more time to focus on the important stuff? Are you frustrated by having to deal with all the day-to-day detail? . . . . It’s time you committed to delegating tasks to others.

Many people say, “I haven’t got the time to teach someone to do this, it’s quicker to do it myself!”

This indicates that they haven’t understood the difference between delegation and allocation:

DELEGATION:                   “Here are some resources, responsibility and authority. I want you to achieve these results (specified)”

ALLOCATION:                    “Here are some resources. I want you to carry out these activities (specified)”

When you delegate, you go through the process of training someone up to take over the responsibility for specific results – this is usually a recurring task. In this case, taking the time to teach them now, will involve an investment of your time and effort and it will result in freeing up your time long term. Not only do you benefit, but also the person who takes on the task benefits through development in their role. Done well, delegation is a win/win activity.

Allocation is when you hand out specific tasks for completion inside a specific time. These may be sub-tasks of a larger piece of work or could be simple stand-alone tasks. Usually the person you allocate the tasks to can already do this kind of work or the instructions are easy to follow. You retain responsibility and accountability for the piece of work.

What makes for effective delegation?

Have you ever been given a task to do and been left alone to get on with it? No support or guidance and when you took all your hard work to your boss, you were told you’d got it wrong? This is not delegation, it is abdication!

Have you been given responsibility for a task and when your manager asked for your progress, he didn’t like the way you were doing things and quickly got involved, telling you exactly what to do? Or even took the task back to do himself? Frustration!

These are some typical sins of poor delegation. Delegation is not a one-off meeting, it is a process and it takes time until you have fully delegated responsibility for the results.

You can develop your team members or colleagues and free up your time to focus on the tasks that add value in your role by following these steps:

5 Steps for effective delegation

1.      Identify suitable objectives/tasks to delegate.

Do you worry about delegating a task that you find irksome? Just because you don’t like it, doesn’t mean the person you give this work to will. You simply need to select someone who enjoys this kind of task. If they enjoy it, they are likely to do a better job than you did too.

Maybe you don’t want to give up a task you really like? Assess whether the task is one that only belongs to your role and authority – if it is, you should keep doing it. If not, then you do need to train someone else up to do it, as this is holding you back from the contribution you are expected to make.

Analyse your activities and list the result areas that you could delegate.

2.      Identify who you could delegate to.

Do you have people reporting to you? You are responsible for developing them and for ensuring that your team can cover all the key result areas, even when you’re short-staffed. So this is an ideal opportunity to review the team capabilities and plan to develop individuals.

Do you only have informal influence over colleagues? Your approach will need to seek co-operation. When you share an objective with others, you can discuss with them how the objective is achieved and look for someone who may be interested in taking on more responsibility. It may be in their interests as it helps them achieve their part of the objective, or they may be looking for development.

Do you work alone? Identify people or companies you could outsource work to. Maybe a virtual assistant could take on your administration? Or a book-keeper could handle your finances? Or could you set up more systems to automate what you’re doing?

Make a list of people you could delegate to.

3.      Match up tasks with people and plan the delegation process

Here are some criteria you can use in identifying possible recipients of delegated tasks:

  • Could the task fit neatly with existing activities?
  • Who has interests and/or abilities for further delegation?
  • (Consider especially individuals with high performance and those undergoing major planned development)
  • Who will find the work challenging?
  • Who has been overlooked when you have delegated in the past?
  • Who has the time?
  • Who is being prepared for a new assignment or promotion?

(Source: Maddux 1990)

Once you have decided who to approach, you need to consider what training and support the person needs. Use the ‘able/ willing’ criteria to determine what is needed: If they can’t do the task, they need training, if they currently lack willingness to take on the responsibility, they need to be convinced that this is a good move and supported as they take over.

Plan the training and handover with the person to ensure a smooth transition. Be aware of two pitfalls:

  1. Dumping the responsibility on the person without adequate support
  2. Hanging on to the responsibility or letting the person keep coming to you to make decisions, when they should be doing it

These are opposing tensions and need monitoring to get the balance right.

Include in the plan how you will communicate the change of responsibility and authority to all affected to ensure that the task is fully delegated. You may need to change the person’s job description or annual objectives too.

4.      Briefing the subordinate

Details will vary from case to case but these general guidelines should help.

  • Explain in general terms the task/objective to be delegated and get agreement that the responsibility will be accepted. Describe the task’s contribution – why it is important.
  • Agree the results to be achieved. Defined in specific terms (quality, quantity, target dates, etc.) so that success can be recognised by both of you.
  • Agree the resources needed to do the job (time, money, information, assistance. etc.)
  • Agree the level of authority to use resources and to make decisions about activities.
  • Agree what progress reports are wanted, when, and how often.
  • Agree what guidance, training and information is needed.
  • Discuss who else needs to know that the responsibility has been delegated, and who will tell them.
  • Discuss how the person’s other workload will be affected and whether any arrangements are needed to cope with it.

5.      Monitoring Progress

Avoid being a constant ‘checker-upper’. Remember how it feels to have someone always at your elbow watching you. Leave the person to get on with the job as agreed.

Having agreed the responsibility in terms of results rather than activities, your agreed reporting and control procedure will also be focusing on results. Trying to monitor activities becomes irrelevant.

If the person comes back to you with a problem, encourage thinking it through rather than giving an immediate solution.   Ask what the options are, what the likely outcome of each course of action would be, coach them to a solution and support it as needed.

Support is also needed if a mistake occurs. Encourage learning from what has happened, using the experience as a basis for coaching to do better next time.

Finally, don’t forget to acknowledge successes!

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