In a nutshell
1. What is delegation?
Delegation is trusting subordinates with the authority to act on your behalf – they can make decisions, make changes and take action without referring back to you. To delegate work successfully to someone, you must ensure that:
- They know what you want
- They have the authority to achieve it
- They know how to do it
- They have agreed that they will do it.
2. Why is delegation so important?
In today’s less hierarchical, leaner management structures you need to delegate; if you do not, you will work ever longer hours and face a mounting backlog of problems. Delegation brings enormous rewards:
- Your people will learn how to manage themselves with the minimum of supervision; they will become more self-confident, motivated and satisfied
- Your organisation will benefit because tasks will be done at the least cost by the people best equipped to do them
- Your productivity will increase; you will build a reputation as a highly efficient manager, and you will be training your successors, leaving you free for promotion.
3. How to get started
The key to successful delegating is to start gradually.
- Assess your work – what tasks might you delegate?
- Assess your team – who is capable of what?
- What resources will they need?
- How can you strike a balance between supervision and delegation?
4. Who to delegate to
When choosing the appropriate person to delegate a task to, you need to consider:
- The ability and experience the person has
- Their reliability
- Their attitude
- What motivates and interests them
- What experience would be useful for them.
5. What to delegate
In general you should avoid delegating management functions and people management activities, but delegate or at least consider delegating
- Routine activities which should also be included in job descriptions
- The tasks you did before your promotion
- The tasks you inherited that someone in your team could do
- Any activity that your subordinates can do better than you.
6. How to delegate
Delegation is a process, not a one-off activity, and you need to include all the steps to ensure success.
- Define the task: you must have a clear idea in your own mind about what it is you want done.
- Choose the person, giving them training, if necessary.
- Agree objectives and scope: explain what the job is and why you are delegating it, making sure agreed objectives are SMART.
- Deal with any concerns and objections – stretch the person but do not panic them.
- Let them get on with it.
- Monitor progress: you will have agreed review points when discussing objectives. You need to stick to these.
- Coach them, when appropriate.
- Give feedback: review with the person whether they have achieved their agreed objectives.
7. Levels of delegation
There are various levels of delegation which you may choose according to the individual and the nature of the task.
- Level 1: you give the person responsibility for collecting information, analysing it, if appropriate, and letting you know the results.
- Level 2: as well as gathering information, you might ask them to investigate options for change, based on their findings.
- Level 3: they can then be asked to make recommendations.
- Level 4: trust your team member to make good decisions, based on the quality of their previous recommendations.
- Level 5: you trust them to recognise potential problems, to decide when they need your help and to get you involved before things go wrong.
8. Profile of a good delegator
There is no single ‘right’ profile for a good delegator, but they will:
- Value achievement and results rather than work and enjoy helping others reach their full potential
- Believe that success is achieved through others and that people are capable of remarkable things
- Be good at objective setting, matching the right people to the right tasks and coaching
- Give advice, seek to draw knowledge out of people rather than putting it in, trust people, give them the credit for what they have achieved and behave consistently.
9. Ten secrets of good delegation
- Start gradually.
- Match people to the right tasks.
- Agree what needs to be done.
- Don’t expect people to do just what you would do.
- Trust, encourage and give credit.
- Coach your people.
- Let go – be dispensable.
10. Overcoming your personal barriers
If you still find yourself uncertain or reluctant to implement the changes suggested in this topic, ask yourself why this should be, and then allow yourself time to explore your own personal barriers.
- I don’t have time – then you need to free up time for delegation.
- I need to stay in control – delegate well and your team will exercise control on your behalf.
- I tried it before and it didn’t work – find out why it failed before and make the appropriate changes.
- I can do it better myself – maybe, but that means you will be well equipped to coach your team in this area.
- I need to know how to do the work I’m managing – simply not true…
11. Further barriers to successful delegation
If delegation isn’t working, and the problem does not seem to lie with you, what else could be going wrong and how can the barrier be overcome?
- Everyone is already overloaded – then start by weeding out the unimportant tasks.
- People don’t want extra responsibility – this is a serious problem and one that must be addressed.
- The tasks are boring – mundane tasks should be fairly distributed and accompanied by responsibility.
- You agree to do the next step – don’t take on other people’s monkeys!
- Your boss doesn’t believe in delegation – then he needs persuading.
12. Coaching new managers
Coaching new managers to delegate involves the same skills as coaching them to take on or improve any skill.
- Remember that each individual is different.
- Make sure the person understands the importance of delegation.
- Build delegation into their assessment criteria.
13. How good are you at delegation?
A set of questions to enable you to discover what aspects of your delegation skills could need developing.
- What is the secret of good delegation?
- What are the benefits of delegating?
- How do I start?
- How do I work out what to delegate and what to keep myself?
- What do I do if the current culture is negative?
- How can I delegate and stay in control?
- How do I get my people to take responsibility and not keep coming back to me?
I don’t have to know everything. I don’t have to have all the customer contacts. I don’t have to make all the decisions. In fact, in the new world of business, it can’t be me, it shouldn’t be me, and my job is to prevent it from being me.
1. What is the secret of good delegation?
Delegation will be successful if you ensure that:
- People have the right knowledge and experience for the task in hand
- They are keen to develop and grow
- They are clear what you want and why it is important
- You let them get on with it in their own way
- You trust them
- You give them credit for their success
- You let go…
2. What are the benefits of delegating?
- It reduces the cost of getting things done, by pushing tasks down to the most appropriate level in the organisation.
- It provides opportunities for individuals to develop their careers and enrich their jobs.
- It encourages people to take the initiative and look for solutions, rather than bringing you problems.
- It will enable you to build a reputation as a manager with a highly motivated, high performing team – someone who not only gets things done, but is continually innovating and improving.
- It is the means by which you can achieve all that will be demanded of you as a manager without having to work for 70 hours a week.
- It contributes to the creation of an empowering culture.
3. How do I start?
- Start gradually.
- Assess your work – what do you currently do that one of your team could do?
- Match tasks to individuals – look at attitude, skill and experience.
- Make sure they have everything they need for success.
- Adopt a coaching role.
4. How do I work out what to delegate and what to keep myself?
Delegate the following:
- All tasks that you used to do before you were promoted
- All tasks that someone in your team can do at least as well as you
- All decisions where you can accept whatever conclusion is reached
- As much as possible, to develop your staff.
Do not delegate
- Unless you are not confident the delegatee will succeed
- Anything where you might subsequently reverse a decision
- Any people management tasks (motivation, performance appraisals, personal development plans, team-building and so on).
5. What do I do if the current culture is negative?
Start by finding out why delegation is currently not seen in a positive light. Review the page Further barriers to successful delegation and identify the main causes – is it your boss, your team or the whole organisation? If it is the whole organisation, you may want to review whether its values fit with yours and consider your options. If you want to be able to delegate, you will need to change the culture first.
- Treat this as a personal project. It will need plans, time and resources – probably a lot of yours – and cannot be done in your spare time.
- Base your approach on your findings.
- Enlist the help of as many influential people as you can.
- Involve your boss as much as possible – especially if they are the problem.
- Be clear about what you are trying to achieve and make sure that you can measure success. Changing people’s views is difficult and tends to happen gradually. When will you have succeeded? What evidence will you look for?
- Assess the risks of failure. How will you decide if it is taking too much time or energy? Can you still achieve what you are being paid to deliver?
6. How can I delegate tasks and stay in control?
One of the common objections to delegation is that, by giving others authority, a manager loses control. Typical statements include the following:
- I know how to do the work and I don’t trust anyone in my team to do it as well
- I don’t know how to do the work – I need to learn how to do it before delegating it
- I’ve tried delegating before, staff have made mistakes and I have been blamed
- Give people authority and they get carried away and exceed their responsibility
- I delegate to some people and they don’t let me know when things are going wrong
- My boss asks me about progress and I can’t answer them
These are all indications that delegation is not being carried out effectively. All these objections can be overcome by following the guidelines in this section. Good delegators always stay in control.
7. How do I get my people to take responsibility and not keep coming back to me?
Sometimes you find that, even when you think you have delegated a task, your staff keep coming back to check things or to ask you to make each decision. Ask yourself:
- Have we agreed exactly what their level of delegation is?
- Is this person sufficiently experienced and confident to do this piece of work?
- Am I giving them enough feedback that I trust them to do a good job?
- Am I rescuing them too much – picking up potential issues, solving their problems and so on – rather than encouraging them to take the initiative?
- Do I blame them when things go wrong?
- Am I reversing any of their previous decisions, so they believe they must check everything first?
If the answer to any of these questions is ‘yes’, you need to review how you are delegating and make some changes. The only way you will change their behaviour is by changing yours.