How to Delegate
Don't Just Dump Your Work, Delegate
For anyone new to a management position, it can be important to learn how to delegate assignments effectively. Delegation allows you to develop employees, to accomplish more, and to make the things you put in place more effective.
In the early stages of the process, delegating to a subordinate may be time-consuming as you guide and monitor them, but in the end, you will save time and frustration as you gain increasingly competent and invested employees who can relieve you of duties that don't require your expertise.
Properly delegated tasks can also motivate employees, thwart boredom, and energize employees who are underperforming. Certainly, employees who take responsibility for an assignment or project are more invested in its outcome and likely to be motivated by the responsibility.
Effective delegation, however, requires much more than dumping work on others. It's a process that requires you to:
- carefully identify what types of tasks should be delegated
- determine who should take on the assignment
- follow up in a consistent and supportive manner to assure their success
What Kinds of Things Should Be Delegated?
In learning how to delegate work, the first step is to understand what types of things to refer to others.
There are a variety of tasks and assignments that may be appropriately delegated.
- Certainly, tasks that don't require a manager's level of skill or those that require an expertise that the manager doesn't possess are among those that can be considered for reassignment.
- In an ideal situation, the things that a manager delegates to employees should motivate or teach them. Simply giving an employee additional work to do, which doesn't give them an opportunity to grow or learn, isn't motivating. For some employees, this means that they need responsibility for an entire task, while for others operating at a different level, getting responsibility for a single aspect of a project is enough.
- Delegating tasks that merely stimulate an employee can also be good, as boredom can be a destructive force at work.
- Providing assignments that cross-train are good for similar reasons and it can help to assure a workplace that runs smoothly.
Any task or assignment that is delegated to someone else should be specific in its scope and something that the two of you can measure so that you know when it is completed, and how successfully it was done. Ideally, the employee assuming the assignment will be in agreement with taking it on as a responsibility.
Note: No task should be delegated which requires handling confidential information or decisions that are the responsibility of management; such as things related to strategic planning, budget oversight, staffing, and evaluation.
To Whom Should the Task or Assignment Be Delegated?
The next step in learning how to delegate is to understand which individuals should receive the work being assigned.
- For the assignment or task to be successful, the person taking it on must have the time available to do it. Crushing an employee with an unreasonable expectation will assure the failure of the project and probably destroy the employee's morale.
- Of course, identifying an employee with the right skills and qualifications for the job are equally important. For example, asking an employee with poor communication to lead a group project is probably a poor choice.
- While choosing someone with skills that matchup is important, having a task that challenges an employee to achieve a bit more is good as well.
- In general, an employee will readily take on a delegated duty if they feel they stand to gain from it career-wise by giving them a chance to showcase their talents, take a step up, or develop a sought-after skill. This should be considered when making your selection as well.
Once you've decided what task or assignment you wish to delegate and which employee is the most likely candidate, then it's time to have a talk to set clear goals and set up a plan.
Clearly, the supervisor must discuss:
- exactly what they are asking the employee to take on,
- what the scope of the assignment is,
- why the task is critical
- what the employee will gain by taking on this work; will it be to develop new skills, more pay, or just to satisfy their interest in a given area?
To assure the successful completion of the project which meets your satisfaction, it's important to:
- define exactly what is to be achieved
- what will constitute success
- the general timeline for completion.If the employee is then willing to take on the assignment, planning will be the next phase in the process.
Effective delegation from this point forward will pivot on this next planning stage. A good, well thought out plan will assure that the employee knows:
- their expectations
- time constraints
- scope of their responsibility
- your role in the task
The two of you should put together a plan that defines:
- any necessary resources (people, equipment, materials, and so forth) needed for the assignment
- specific deadlines for completion of various phases of the project
- how progress will be monitored by you, the supervisor.
Defining how progress will be monitored is critical at this point to assure that your role is unobtrusive and expected. It may consist of:
- a regular schedule of written reports
- brief meetings with verbal updates
- or some combination of each
It's also important to be sure that the employee taking responsibility for the work has an active voice in planning. They may not do things the way you would do them, but they need to have some control over how things are done as they will be the person at least partially accountable for the outcome. Again, they aren't just accepting additional work, they are accepting responsibility.
Another important part of taking responsibility is being granted the authority needed. For instance, if an employee takes on responsibility for leading a group on an assignment, the group and any other related staff should be made aware of the new leadership role. Any other involved managers should be asked to support them and recognize their authority in related matters.
Likewise, the employee needs to understand the limits of their authority on the project up front, during the planning stage. For instance, if materials need to be purchased, they need to know if all requests must to go through the manager or if their judgment will be the final word.
A manager who really knows how to delegate understands that once the plan is in place, their duty is far from done. It is a serious error to turn the employee loose, fail to monitor regularly, or provide guidance as needed. Ultimately, success is still the responsibility of the supervising manager although the day to day work lies with the assigned employee.
With the plan in place, reports and updates should occur routinely and without any disruption. The manager can audit through the planned interactions.
Depending on the assignment and the employee, the manager can provide:
- general guidance
- assistance in problem-solving as needed
However, the assigned employee should be guided toward thinking through issues and solutions rather than having this passed back to the manager. The manager should intervene only when their role is needed to gain cooperation, to work out issues of a broader nature, and so forth. In general, the manager is to act as a coach and mentor.
At the conclusion of the assignment, it's important to recognize the event. If a project is unsuccessful, the manager will have to take responsibility. If the assignment was successful, which it usually is, then there should be public recognition for the work completed.
Areas for development may be identified regardless of the overall outcome. These can guide future assignments.
As stated before, delegation can help get more work done but ultimately it should also help develop and motivate employees. It's up to the manager to:
- make appropriate assignments
- plan carefully
- monitor regularly
- assure the success of the assignment for a positive experience
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2009 Christine Mulberry