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How to Delegate Effectively

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Unless you’re a department of 1, doing everything yourself is not possible or recommended.

When you’re not effectively delegating, you feel overwhelmed, undervalued and stuck. You can only work so many hours in a day. You can only complete so many things within those hours. If you do not delegate work when possible, you increase the likelihood of delays and errors.

Delegating isn’t easy. When you’re the one accountable for timely, accurate completion of a task, it is hard to trust someone else to handle it. However, chances are that you have much more than just one task to complete. You probably have many tasks and some of them have to be complete at the same time. If that is the case, at some point, you’re going to have to share the responsibility with someone else.

This is especially true when you’re in management. It is painful to watch managers who don’t trust their subordinates as they try to strap all the tasks, duties and deadlines on their back. And it is worse to watch the managers take on lower level items because they are unwilling to share knowledge or credit with others for anything … While “muscle managing” can work for awhile, eventually it will backfire. Because when you’re good at something, you will be asked to do more and to do it better and to do it faster and to do it cheaper. Eventually, you either burn out or breakdown from the weight of the pressure you brought on yourself by refusing to delegate.

When done with the right intentions and for the right reasons, delegating is good. What are the right intentions and reasons? Well, I’m glad you asked:

  • To create learning opportunity. If we’re handing off work to another person, they should learn something new or sharpen an existing skill from the experience.
  • To create recognition opportunity. If we’re handing off work to another person, they should have a chance to let their strengths shine through from the experience.
  • To create boundaries. If we’re handing off work to another person, it should be because that is the person, department or function best suited to complete the task.
  • To create balance. If we’re handing off work to another person, it should be because you or someone else has too much to do while the other has too little so that delegating ensures everyone has enough.
     

If you’re delegating for one or more of these reasons, you can rest assured you’re delegating effectively.

The other critical piece of effective delegating is the understanding of the other person. Since you are ultimately accountable for successful completion of the task, you must be sure the other person has a clear understanding of what needs to be done. What ensures clear understanding? Once again, I’m glad you asked:

  • State the objective, the desired outcome and all deadlines. Be specific about what and when the end results should be.
  • Define the boundaries. Make clear where autonomy is expected and where approval is required.
  • Suggest avenues of support. Ensure all access and resources are available. Also ensure you are available to answer questions when needed.
     

However, don’t give so many instructions the person has no space for creativity or original thought. If you leave the person nothing to do but follow your instructions, you’ve missed the point and you might as well have done it yourself. And if you work with people who require or request this level of instruction in order to do work, you need to work on their understanding of accountability — or make some staffing changes.

To delegate effectively, you have to  do it for the right reasons and in the right way. When you arrange the work so that you are working on the tasks that have highest priority for you, and the people around you have their own challenging and rewarding work to focus on, you have set everyone on a path to performance success.

Now get to it!

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