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How to Delegate with Confidence

December 21, 2008
by Tracy Morgan

How many of the following statements are true for you?

  1. Your inbox is always full.
  2. You work overtime on tasks that “only you can do.”
  3. People aren’t taking responsibility for the tasks you delegate.
  4. You personally rework assignments given to your staff.
  5. Delegated assignments are often incomplete and/or deadlines are missed.

These statements are possible warning signs that there’s room for improvement on delegation skills. Whether you’re an experienced manager or new manager, there’s always room to tune up skills or get a refresher on basic principles.

Managers are rarely directly taught the specific skill set of delegation.
It’s common for managers to pick up delegation skills by observation, exposure and experience with previous or current managers.

But perhaps some delegation experiences were negative by making people feel incompetent or demotivated.

Often, a newly promoted manager will vow never to repeat the negative delegation mistakes that have impacted them. But how do managers learn to make delegation a positive experience for them and their employees? Sure, they may refer to previous experiences and exposure–but what if previous examples weren’t the best? Managers are often left to fill in the gaps by trial and error

Before reading the five steps below, keep in mind the following:

  • According to Wikipedia, “Delegation is the assignment of authority and responsibility to another person to carry out specific activities. It is one of the core concepts of management and leadership. However the person who delegated the work remains accountable for the outcome of the delegated work.”

This means that the manager is ultimately responsible for the outcome of the delegated task. So if a manager doesn’t maintain proper authority and control on delegated tasks, delegation becomes abandonment. As a manager, it’s a challenge to ensure that employees don’t fail on delegated tasks. Preventing employees from failing on tasks require five steps that, if implemented, can help improve delegation experiences and success with employees.

1. Clarity of Assignment: Ask for clarity on which tasks needs to be delegated. If the manager doesn’t understand the task or project, the likelihood that an employee will understand the expectation of an assignment is slim. Don’t set employees up to fail — instead, take time to understand the project, deliverables and expectations prior to delegating.

2. Task planning: What skills are necessary to complete this task? What resources need to be available to the employee?

  • Example of Possible Skills – Problem solving, logical thinking, decision making, etc.
  • Example of Possible Resources – training, money, travel, people, etc.

3. Identify the right person: The old saying, “If you want something done, give it to the busiest person you know” instantly comes to mind. But thinking long-term for retention, this is a one-way path to burning out a few select individuals. The busiest people can become disgruntled if not compensated properly, given proper acknowledgment or begin to feel like they’re being taken for granted.

Identifying the right person to take on tasks requires considering several factors: how much assistance will be needed, how long they have been at the company, whether they have available time, how many tasks have already been delegated to an employee and which staff members have expressed interest in further development. Make sure to divide work as evenly as possible. But beware: picking only one employee every time for a project could look like favoritism.

4. Delegate: This is the most important step. It’s ideal to delegate tasks in person, which allows communication to be clear and open. Managers need to describe the tasks clearly, explain the task’s purpose and how it fits into the big picture. Take this time to identify the employee’s responsibilities and deadlines. Defining metrics for time, costs, and quality are necessary for employees to be able to reach all task expectations. If the employee needs resources or training to support the task, identify what will be provided. Before the meeting concludes, ask for employee feedback and questions. Lastly, agree to a date or dates to meet to review progress.

5. Monitor and give feedback: Maintain an appropriate level of control by providing target deadlines and regularly monitoring progress. During check-in sessions, look out for warning signs that the employee is struggling. Intervene only when necessary by giving feedback that will support the employee without being intrusive. This isn’t the time to take over the employee’s delegated task. Give them appropriate support to get the momentum going again. After completion of the task, have a feedback session. This can be an interactive conversation on what went well and what didn’t. The employee and the manager can both benefit on reviewing work together. This will help increase skills for the employee and also help the manager improve on delegation techniques.

Effective delegation can allow managers to make a department or business more efficient; it can also give employees the opportunity to develop new skills and refine current skills. Instead of making the same common delegation mistakes, take the time to make delegation an essential job responsibility.


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