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Leadership

The Art of Delegation

Matthew Channell - Last Update: 22 Jan 2021

Contents

What is delegation?

Who can delegate work?

Why is delegation important?

Who should you delegate work to?

Why won’t people delegate?

6 benefits of delegation

When should activities be delegated?

A five-step delegation process

How to improve your delegation skills

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Matthew Channell.jpg
Matthew Channell

 

Director at TSW Training and Non-Executive Director helping businesses to grow through their people.

 

It’s difficult to delegate your workload, but you’ll get more done and get impressive results by trusting your workload to skilled colleagues. 

Key points:

  • Delegating work to others who can do the job well frees up your time to focus and apply your expertise to critical tasks
  • It’s difficult to delegate. It’s a muscle you’ve got to flex, that will strengthen over the years. You’ll learn who to trust and how to brief in the work with practice.
  • Effective delegation allows you to work at an efficient pace, get more done and present impressive results. But delegation can go wrong if you don’t hand over the work clearly.

What is delegation?

Delegation means dividing up your workload and responsibilities. 

On the one hand, are tasks you must keep because you’re the only person with the experience to complete the task. 

On the other are tasks that don’t demand your expertise, that you can trust your team and colleagues to help with.

Who can delegate work?

When you think about the meaning of delegation, it sounds like a manager’s job. But being able to control your workload, in any role, so you can work efficiently is reason enough to delegate. 

It’s acceptable to pass the baton to your colleagues if you fear holding up progress for yourself, the department, or even the wider business. 

You can delegate in every direction - your subordinates, equals, and even managers will want to help you get more done for the good of the team.

But how much you can delegate depends on the skill and aptitude of your team. 

Why is delegation important?

You’ll achieve more if you ask for help. It’s not a weakness to seek support.

Chicago Bulls’ team captain, Michael Jordan, said: “There’s no ‘i’ in team, but there’s an ‘i’ in win”. He chose to delegate because Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippin would help him achieve more for the Chicago Bulls if he passed the ball.

But we’re not all immersed in a superior team like the Chicago Bulls.

Who should you delegate to?

There’s no better time to practice building new supporting partnerships than when you’re overloaded. Your ability to delegate will improve with experience. You won’t always pick the right person to help you.

Just like when you’re recruiting, you have to weigh up whether a delegate’s skills match the job. On paper they’re perfect, but you can only guess whether their abilities in practice are as successful. There’s more to it than matching skills. You need to get a picture of their enthusiasm, job satisfaction, and distractions to assess whether their best efforts are what you need.

A bit of canvassing will help you to identify a choice delegate. A string of fact-finding meetings is the last thing you want to be doing, especially when emails are piling up in your inbox. But think of it as a little extra work now to help you in the future.

Speak to managers, HR, and the people you trust to narrow down the search. You could even email around selling the benefits of the task - who wants to pitch in?

We’ve prepared a fail-safe five-step delegation plan to protect the work you hand over. But, no one’s perfect. A brief can go awry just based on miscommunication.

To set your expectations, you must be prepared to leap into action and get things back on track, particularly if you haven’t delegated work in the past.

If you have to redo the work, don’t give yourself a hard time or resign never to share work again. Delegation takes practice and next time will be better.

To find the people to support you, you must give them opportunities to prove their abilities. 

Why won’t people delegate?

 If your employees or team won’t delegate, it could be a signal there’s a wider issue:

  • There’s a lack of trust between peers
  • It’s a competitive environment, like a sales team or a cohort of people competing for a promotion or greater authority
  • There’s no trust between employees and managers - what would happen if they admitted to being overworked?
  • Apathy is trumping initiative - ‘this task is always owned by x role, so I shouldn’t change the process’
  • They don’t have time to brief in the work

If you recognise these warning signs, you can help your team to see the benefits of delegation by pointing out the drawbacks of their current behaviour and the benefits of changing it.

For instance, a confident delegate is a strategist. They lead the way. If your employee is capable of leading, why are they wasting time micromanaging the actual work? Just hand it over and see what more you can achieve.

6 benefits of delegation

#1 It frees up your time

By handing over your work, simultaneously it does two things:

  • Your to-list is suddenly short and achievable 
  • You gain collective results and your list of achievements grows

Suddenly you have the power of 10 people (if you delegate 10 tasks) all because you asked for help.

#2 The delegate feels motivated

You’re creating opportunities for people to prove themselves. If they can see the rewards, they will rise to the occasion. Pay rises, kudos, and recognition are all to play for.

#3 The delegate has the chance to develop

Trusting work to an inexperienced colleague is tainted with jeopardy, but if you treat it as a training exercise, you’re futureproofing both your careers.

Invest in them and you’ll develop their skills and raise their confidence. Watch them flourish.

#4 You’ll feel happier at work

Be selfish. If you share the work around, you’ll reduce your stress levels. You’ll feel in control and the chance of burnout becomes slimmer.

You won’t be the cause of bottlenecks or fall victim to blame culture for missing deadlines. You can focus and have the time to deliver intelligent, thought-through insights about your work. 

If you retain responsibility, your chance of career progression increases too.

Delegation gives way for hope and possibilities that will bring you happiness. If you’re bogged down in endless trivial work, you won’t feel satisfied or happy.

#5 You’ll find new ways of working

Let your colleagues figure out the way between A and Z. They’ll innovate and develop new ideas, born in your old methods. 

#6 Build morale

Because you’ve shared the workload, you’ll be able to share the recognition for success. Job satisfaction is infectious and it creates a positive, enthusiastic and knowledgeable workplace. 

By trusting people around you, it builds relationships. People remember you for trusting them and recognising their expertise. They’ll give you opportunities in the future

When should activities be delegated?

 If you’re feeling snowed under, or like you need a bit of support, ask yourself three questions about whether the work can, or should, be delegated:

What tasks am I doing that need not be done at all?

Cross them out or delegate them. 

They could make excellent training exercises for new or junior members of the team. Weigh up how much time it would take to clue them in to gauge whether they’re worthwhile or not.

What tasks am I doing that could be done by someone else?

Absolutely, these tasks can be delegated but only to the right skilled people. 

For example, you could delegate a market insights report to an executive. If you need to deliver the findings to a board of directors, you need to have confidence in the data. In this situation, you could retain the data mining and delegate the design of the presentation to the exec.

The task you delegate should be appropriate to the level of responsibility of your helper. If it needs greater authority or has significant consequences if it fails, you need to think about whether delegating it is a fair decision. 

What tasks am I doing that can only be done by me?

These tasks should be the entirety of your to-do list, in an ideal world.

But there are caveats. For example, you shouldn’t delegate tasks when they’re confidential however entry-level, or relevant to another role they could be.

Top tip: Scan your to-do lists for repeated work. Semi-automated reports which you frequently interpret are a prime example. By passing the task on, you’re upskilling a team member to use tech or an application, plus giving them insights about the purpose and performance of the work you do.

A five-step delegation process

  1. Return to the project SMART goals. What should the quality of work be like? Are the results clear? What are the consequences of failing to meet the goals?
  2. Relay them to your delegate, plus any critical need-to-knows like timelines and deadlines. Set their expectations.
  3. A discussion is two way, listen and let them weigh in; their motivation will likely increase in proportion to their input. It’s a chance to identify a skills gap, a time pressure, or a conflict of interest. You can plan to overcome their limits together.
  4. Plan regular meetings to talk about progress and troubleshooting issues, not process. The degree of support you give will depend upon the development of the person, and your relationship with them. 
  5. Review their performance but stick to reviewing the goals and objectives you set from the outset. If they did well, tell them and create a plan for how to improve for next time. Don’t forget to reflect on your performance in delegation! How did you do?

Use active listening to quietly observe the project. The delegate could be cautious of being candid about failings, or a de-railed schedule, but if you’re respectful and approachable they’ll trust you with difficult news.

If you stick to these five steps, you have the opportunity to get the project back on track if they aren’t suited for the job after all. 

How to improve delegation skills

There are two situations where you might find it challenging to delegate work:

1) If you're prone to micromanagement

2) You're in a negative, passive state of mind

Micromanagement and delegation

Micromanagers will find it very difficult to let the work go. 

If you've been promoted into a management role, that might be one reason why. You're adjusting to being a spearhead, and while you figure it out, it feels safe to return to the process and details you excelled in during your last role.

In the extreme, micromanagers:

  • Are prone to interfering. They schedule superfluous meetings, spot check, and re-do tasks that have deviated from the process. Progress is slow, morale is low.
  • Hand over the task but not the authority. Delegates can only partially do the job and they’re frustrated and resentful.
  • Play gatekeeper to essential resources and information. By restricting the authority of the delegate to do the job, it prevents them from doing it well. 
  • Delegate mundane or disliked tasks. Delegates are bored and can’t develop or elevate their skills. 

Passive delegators:

If you're feeling stressed, overwrought, overworked, and undervalued, you might feel very passive about helping the company to thrive. 

You might feel under the microscope when the person you delegate to asks questions or wants to check-in.

It’s an uncomfortable situation. What you need to keep in mind is that failing to delegate well can impact standards and have serious consequences for everyone involved.

In the extremity, passive delegation is:

  • Careless. Work over to anyone and everyone. The quality of work suffers through a lack of experience and expertise.
  • Fast. There’s no time for context, like time, resources, and skills. The delegates are placed under pressure and feel stressed.
  • Directionless. Expectations are not set and there’s no framework for success. Projects and tasks fall short of targets because they aren’t communicated. Work is repeated and duplicated.

Both of these approaches to delegation have their disadvantages. If you recognise them but persist, they’ll ultimately prevent you from progressing or making your working life any more manageable. 

If you delegate because you want to, not because you have to, you have the right mindset to avoid both pitfalls.