Delegation goes beyond just handing off the job. It includes setting performance expectations, following-up, and providing feedback. Below you’ll find tips to help you learn to successfully delegate. But first, let’s look at why it’s important to delegate
Why is Delegation Necessary?
There are several reasons to delegate:
- Delegation allows you to devote energy to more important tasks. Managers often spend too much time on the action-oriented activities, such as dealing with sudden problems or issues, and not enough time working more strategically on process improvements and future planning.
- Delegation gives employees necessary opportunities to grow in skill and experience. This is important for the company’s long-term success. Someone seeking to move into a managerial role may be eager to learn about the critical elements of budgeting or other departmental administrative duties.
- The ability to delegate is important for your own advancement. As you move up in the organization, the managers above you watch to see not only whether you get the job done, but also how you get it done. They want to see your management skills, especially your ability to act strategically, with a focus on future planning and innovation.
- Some employees may be better at some jobs than you are! It’s no reflection on you: Different people simply possess different skills. And when you find the right employees for the work in question, everybody wins.
- You are overworked, stressed out, or getting behind. Employees may depend on you for getting certain tasks done, and if you miss deadlines, so will they.
How to Delegate
Let’s take a closer look at how to delegate. Here are the ten key aspects of delegation:
10 Key Steps to Delegation
1. Give a clear description of the task. This includes:
- What you want done (requirements)
- When you want it done (deadline)
- Assignment parameters (scope of authority)
- Why you want it done (purpose and how it fits into overall goals or objectives)
- Available tools and resources
- Possible challenges or obstacles to consider
For example, you may ask an employee to look into possible suppliers for something you’ve never had to buy before, and report to you in two weeks with information and a recommendation. To set the parameters, you might say, “Talk to enough people to get a good feel for the subject, but no more than eight.” Explaining the purpose helps the employee determine how to go about the task. Seeking a supplier for an immediate need and looking into suppliers for a possible future need might be carried out differently.
2. Specify what you expect the employee to learn.
You might say, “I’m turning this over to you so that you can learn more about plant management. I want you to pay attention to how the policies we set are actually playing out in the plant and what obstacles they run up against.”
3. Ask your employee for his ideas on how to proceed.
This would include the timeline and the resources needed. Say, for example, “Tell me what you see as the right next steps, or action plan.”
4. Provide the appropriate resources.
Delegation without proper tools, resources, information, or authority to act will almost certainly fail. If available, provide a sample of what the completed project should look like.
5. Make clear what level of authority you are giving your employee.
Does he have to check with you before spending money, before talking to people outside the department, before contacting customers? Do you want to be informed of planned actions before they’re implemented, or is it sufficient for the employee to simply keep you updated? Can he handle everything, reporting on results achieved? Or, will you want weekly progress reports?
6. Delegate the whole task to one person.
This gives employees the chance to come up with creative solutions from start to finish and feel a sense of ownership and pride about their work.
7. Remember that you are delegating responsibilities, not methods.
While it’s fine to talk about techniques you have found helpful, keep in mind that not every person will do the same job the same way. Your employee may even find a way to do the job that you have overlooked. When you require employees to work exactly the way you do, you lose the opportunity to leverage their individual strengths.
8. Be clear about performance expectations and behaviors.
Coaching is helpful, especially if the employee is taking on new tasks or a new role. For example, you might say, “When you meet with the client, you can’t be as informal as we are around the office. Be sure to address the president as ‘Mr. Robinson,’ not ‘Bill.’”
9. Agree together on a plan, with steps, milestones, and points of supervision and approval along the way.
Be sure to agree on how often you’ll meet for updates, and what level of assistance you’ll be giving and how often. When problems arise, encourage your employee and help her to problem solve, instead of taking the project back and completing it yourself.
10. Express confidence in your employee’s abilities.
Research shows that people live up to or down to our expectations. It’s important to realize how much your support and confidence can help an employee succeed as well as how much your hesitation or lack of confidence, even if never stated verbally, can undermine a positive outcome.
Important: Give Employees a Chance to Learn from Their Mistakes
Sometimes it’s helpful to let an employee make a mistake. Mistakes are important learning experiences. It’s important for employees to know that you will tolerate human imperfection. Encourage employees to be open when a mistake has been made.
Use factual feedback when pointing out areas for improvement. Focus your feedback on actions, not personality. This will reduce defensiveness and ensure that employees really hear your input. Be objective, matter of fact, and specific when describing any performance gaps.
Ask the employee to reflect on “lessons learned.” Regardless of whether a mistake occurs, encourage the employee to digest his or her experience. Some questions you might ask are:
- “What would you do differently?”
- “What did you see as critical factors for the success of the project?”
- “What are the two most important insights you’ve gained from this experience?”
“Learning” questions like these will help the person apply her experiences to other situations. However, questions such as “Why didn’t you use these data?” are often perceived as accusatory and raise defensiveness while blocking learning.
The Final Key to Successful Delegation: Always Follow Up
To delegate is to trade one kind of work for another. You still have to manage, coach, and appraise. Once you’ve handed off the job with appropriate clarity, resources, and authority, these tasks remain:
- Meet regularly, as arranged. Answer questions, give feedback, continue to coach your employee so she keeps learning and ask for a report on progress and a candid evaluation of how the project is going.
- If your employee is working with other managers at your level or above, check with them to see how he is doing. However, be careful not to undermine whatever authority you have given your employee to act on his own.
- Seek feedback from your employee. As part of reviewing a completed assignment, ask your employee for feedback on anything that would improve the delegating process.
- Write up notes on your employee’s performance to use as input for their next performance review.
A healthy amount of delegation helps you build your group into a strong team, with a shared sense of mission and responsibility. Individuals see that you are investing your time and effort in their growth and their future in the company.
Have you worked with a colleague or leader who has a hard time delegating? How did it effect the organization? Share your perspective in the comment section below, send me an email,, or find me on Twitter.