As an executive coach, I have seen a number of my clients facing challenges related to the issue of delegation. These leaders often find that they don’t have enough time during the day to get everything done, and they can’t figure out what they might be doing wrong. They are often not doing the work wrong, but rather they are doing all the work. Doing all the work yourself is usually not a good leadership strategy. Some managers keep all the work for themselves because they believe that they can do it better. Other managers don’t trust their staffs to carry out the tasks. Still others are reluctant to yield power or territory, or are averse to risk taking.
Delegation can have many benefits for managers, such as increasing your availability and time to complete strategic tasks, reducing your stress, empowering your employees to achieve more, and developing your employees to build skills and gain valuable experience. Managers who delegate effectively and intelligently are often able to accomplish much.
Let’s explore this issue further. Below are 5 important tips for effective delegation. These tips closely align with the process that you as a manager or team leader should consider for effective delegation.
1) Determine what to delegate and what to keep — One rule of thumb that is often advised when talking about delegation: Keep the strategic; delegate the tactical. Tasks that you probably should not delegate as a manager involve areas such as confidential human resources matters, managing dealings with important customers, and assessing overall results and applications of lessons learned. That leaves an immense portfolio of tasks and projects that you could delegate. Delegating entire tasks or sections of major projects helps give employees a clearly defined area of responsibility and authority. Be on the alert for some tasks that you should eliminate completely rather than keep or delegate. One helpful approach in this regard is to create a matrix that lists your responsibilities and tasks in the form of activities, and then classify these activities as either eliminate, delegate, or keep. You can also use this matrix to identify possible employees or team members to handle the delegated tasks, which brings us to the next tip.
2) Identify the best people to handle the delegated tasks — Delegation should be seen as an opportunity for growth and recognition for members of your team. Talk to your employees and team members to determine their level of interest in acquiring new tasks and desire for personal growth and professional development. Consider each employee’s strengths and developmental needs. Consider the skills and knowledge of employees before assigning them a new task or project. Most employees will prefer to tackle new tasks rather than doing work that they can complete with their eyes closed. You can use the activity matrix to narrow down and select the person who is best suited to handle the task to be delegated.
3) Define clear goals and expectations for the assignment — When you meet with the team member to assign the newly delegated task or project, make sure that you explain why you have selected the individual. Clearly define the successful outcome and describe how progress will be evaluated, and then let individuals use some creative thinking of their own as to how to get to that outcome. You can tell them the what and the when, but you should probably avoid getting into lots of details about the how. Let the person find their best way to completion of the delegated effort. People are often more motivated to accomplish a task when they can determine the how for themselves. Who knows, you might learn something from them.
4) Set up checkpoints to gauge progress — You should also establish specific checkpoints to monitor progress, such as a brief meeting every Friday morning or a report of progress after a specific percentage of the work is completed. It’s important not to micromanage. Trust them and don’t look over their shoulders. Ask for new ideas when the team member reports on progress of the delegated task or project. Also, you should recognize that the employee may need extra time to perform the task well because of a learning curve. Research has shown that stretch assignments are among the most effective developmental approaches. Try to give more time than it would take you to do the work. You perhaps shouldn’t set time limits and deadlines based on your own capabilities and the amount of time it would take you. Work with the person to set a reasonable and realistic time frame within which to complete the work. You might be able to do the task quickly on the basis of your previous experience, but remember how long it took you to complete that task when you first attempted it?
5) Celebrate and reward the finished work — When the delegated task is done, celebrate. Recognize the accomplishment from empowering the employee or team member. Share the successes, and debrief any areas for improvement or lessons learned for next time. Also be sure to consider rewards for employees who take on and complete newly delegated tasks. Successful delegation creates a win-win situation because you are able to get more done as a manager and the team member is able to get satisfaction, professional growth, and rewards and recognition.
Keep in mind that delegation is generally not an excuse to get rid of less desirable work that you don’t want to do. Your employees will probably recognize that strategy and will not graciously view the task as a developmental opportunity for them. Never underestimate a person’s potential to deliver and to grow from the experience. Expect them to succeed, and you will be pleasantly surprised more frequently than not.
So, any other tips for delegation?
Scott Derrick is the Director of Professional Development at the Senior Executives
Association, a nonprofit professional association of career federal executives. Scott is also an executive coach and leadership consultant with the Federal Executive Development Group LLC, a consulting company specializing in leadership development in the federal sector. The views expressed here are his own.