Winning at Delegation

Prepare Staff for the Tasks at Hand

Apr 27, 2018 | ARTICLE

By Jeff Davidson

So, you have too much to do. Why then, even if you have staff members to whom you can delegate assignments, do you hang on to so many tasks yourself?

Some managers feel they have to take care of everything themselves and to this day, they haven't been able to break the habit of "doing it all." If someone like this is in your seat right now, recognize once and for all that as a category of one, you can only get so much done.

Many managers and supervisors fail to delegate effectively because either they don't fully trust the people with whom they're working, or they've always been get-it-all-done-by-myself types. Perhaps you find delegating more burdensome than being overwhelmed.

Working with staff members would be a piece of cake if the only tasks you ever requested of them were simple to tackle, easy to complete, and well within their capabilities. In today's workplace, this is a fairy tale.

Increasingly, you might find yourself having to make what seems to be an unreasonable request. The individual(s) assigned to such a task might at first squawk. Anticipating such resistance will serve you well.

Provide Guidance

Assuming you have others to whom you can delegate, your role is to offer staff guidance on how to get started, generate momentum, avoid pitfalls, and proceed to completion. The more challenging the task, the more often you likely need to stay in touch.

In the early stages of a project, you might be putting in 10 "units" of energy for every one "unit" of output you receive. That's okay. You and the staff members are in a concentration mode.

Later, as the project gets rolling, you could be putting in 10 units and receiving a commensurate return. Ideally, when the project is humming along, one unit of energy then offers 10 units of output.

Now you've achieved momentum. When the people you supervise experience the exquisite experience of momentum, your odds of succeeding on the next challenging project increase significantly.

The first or second time you personally tackle a particular task yields valuable information. You learn more about the nature of the task, perhaps how long it takes, whether you enjoy doing it or not, and so on.

By the third time, a task of the same type as those you've handled before often becomes best handled by someone who reports to you. Such tasks could involve updating a database, completing an interim report, or assembling meeting notes.

In the course of your workday, there might be only a handful of things that you and you alone need to do because of your experience, insight, or specialized knowledge. Everything else that can be delegated should be delegated.

Your quest is to identify all those tasks that you can possibly delegate to staff members and then prepare them so that they have a high probability of succeeding.

Preparation Is Key

Prior to delegating anything to anyone, take the time to prepare staff members for delegation. This would involve assessing employees' skills, interests, and needs. You could even ask people what new tasks and responsibilities they would like to assume.

You might be surprised at the wide variety of responses you receive. There could be people on your staff right now who can help you with tasks you would like to hand off but didn't see how or when you could do this.

While you want to delegate to staff who show enthusiasm, initiative, and interest or have otherwise previously demonstrated the ability to handle and balance several tasks at once, sometimes you need to delegate to someone who has not exhibited any of the above.

In that case, delegate on a piecemeal basis. Ensure that the staff person is able to effectively handle the small task or tasks he or she has been assigned and does not feel swamped or overloaded. When the staff person demonstrates competence, you can increase the complexity of assignments and even the frequency with which you delegate.

Test Drive It

The first time you delegate anything to anyone, painstakingly walk them through exactly what you want them to achieve. Paint a vivid portrait of what things will look like once the task or project is completed. You might have some instructions to provide or training to offer, but otherwise don't necessarily be concerned with how the staff person will proceed.

The individual might have an idea or two completely out of your realm that prove to be suitable and even appropriate for the task. Be available as much as practical, although be careful not to encourage an environment of constant interruptions in which you cannot get anything done.

Jeff Davidson, MBA, CMC, is principal, Breathing Space® Institute, Raleigh, North Carolina ( or An author and presenter on work-life balance, he holds the world's only registered trademark from the United States Patent and Trademark Office as "The Work-Life Balance Expert."®



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