Improve your delegation skills in 6 steps

Last updated on 
March 5, 2019

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Delegation can be a tricky business. On paper it seems easy enough: if you’re too busy, you simply hand out tasks to colleagues – but handing over responsibility isn’t always easy. Delegation is something many managers struggle with, but it’s also a key leadership skill and important for your own self-preservation. If delegation has been an issue for you in the past, here are six ways to make it that bit easier.

1. Understand why delegation is hard

Before you can get better at delegating, you need to understand why you find it difficult. Relinquishing control of your own work isn’t easy, and there are usually several reasons for this: maybe it’s because you’re especially dedicated to the job in hand; maybe it’s because you think there isn’t anyone who can do the job as well as you; maybe you are anxious about how it might be interpreted. Whatever the reason, effective delegation means learning to step back.

To get a better sense of what’s holding you back, take baby steps. Don’t begin by handing out big, complex projects with crucial outcomes; instead, ease your way into it. Once you’ve identified what makes delegation so difficult, you can effectively tackle them – whether that means getting to know your teammates’ strengths, improving communication and building trust, or learning to feel comfortable when you’re not in control.

2. Know when to delegate

“Feeling busy” alone shouldn’t decide delegation: many other factors come into play. If there’s no one suitable to take over from you, for example, you’re probably best off ploughing ahead with the task yourself – even if it means working intensely for a while. Sometimes delegating work is appropriate, but other times it will cost you more energy.

To know when to use it, ask yourself the following:

  • Is it vital that you do a given task, or is there someone else with the experience or know-how to do it?
  • Is there an employee who would like to take on the task? (Delegation can be a major positive if it helps people acquire new skills).
  • Do you have time to give detailed instructions?
  • Will you be available to monitor progress, answer questions and check the work should any issues arise?

If you answered “yes” to most of these, delegating may well be your best bet.

3. Delegate to the right person

Before delegating, consider who the best candidate is. It isn’t about convenience or which team member has the most capacity: it’s about who’ll do the best job. If someone is really interested in the task, they’ll probably be more invested in it; likewise, giving them a chance to get stuck in will improve their aptitude for that type of work in the future.

Think about your employees’ strengths and weaknesses, as well as their potential. Who has relevant experience, skills or values? You’ll know you chose the right person if you can pretty much let them get on with it. Spending tons of time micromanaging your employees renders the whole exercise pointless.

4. Make sure responsibilities are understood

To successfully delegate, you must ensure whomever you’re delegating to completely understands the task. It sounds obvious, but so many problems stem from a failure to communicate clearly from the very start. Ensure the person you’re delegating to understands the importance of the task, any context around it, what their role entails, and what the impact of the task will be.

A good way to confirm understanding is to have your employee describe to you what they believe their duties involve. It shouldn’t come across as patronizing if you explain that successful delegation depends on you both being on the same page. Alternatively, approach it as you would asynchronous remote collaboration: over-communicate.

5. Give clear instructions

Even once you’ve confirmed understanding, be sure to supply straightforward instructions. Try to avoid any mix-ups by including plenty of detail, and don’t forget to include deadlines and other important dates in the brief. Bear in mind that while you definitely don’t want to micromanage, you also shouldn’t remove yourself entirely from the task. Ultimately, its success or failure will be your responsibility.

Make sure your employee knows how to contact you with any queries or problems. Check in regularly to ensure they aren’t veering off course. it’s always better to correct problems proactively than ignore them and hope for the best.

6. Give and receive feedback

Feedback is another essential part of delegating work. Don’t be afraid to critique, constructively: that’s the only way your employee will know how and where to improve. But of course, be generous with praise too and reward hard work with sincere thanks and public acknowledgment.

Feedback works both ways, so ask your employee how you can improve. Maybe next time you need to give more detailed instructions, or perhaps they think someone else could have done the job better. You can both learn from your experiences – but you need to speak openly to do that.

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