Mastering the Art of Delegation

Managers tend to fall into two categories; masterful delegators or squirrels.

Squirrels hoard all the tasks convincing themselves that they don’t have the time to delegate and no one can be trusted to do things as well as they can. The reality is squirrels don’t make it to the top of the tree as they are too busy holding all the nuts.

Every successful director or CEO I’ve come across has mastered the art of delegation and if you want to progress in your role as a leader and feel more fulfilled in the contribution you make you would be nuts not to learn to delegate well.

 To stay in the trap of convincing yourself you don’t have enough time to delegate and that “if you want something done well you need to do it yourself” is self delusion. However by applying a few simple rules you can dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes to delegate certain tasks, leaving you with more time to focus on the value add aspects of your role. These simple rules will ensure that you set your team member up to execute the task, role or activity you want to delegate successfully.  

The first thing to consider is the competence/skill and the motivation of the individual you want to delegate to. The second thing to consider is the risk or the consequences of the task or role you want to delegate. So, for example if you have a low risk task to delegate to a newly recruited team member who is highly motivated but not highly skilled or experienced you will take a different approach than you would with someone who is highly skilled/experienced and motivated in the area in question. It makes sense to delegate a high risk task to a highly motivated and experienced member of the team rather than to an unmotivated or inexperienced member. 

So, once you have decided who you are delegating what to (which should really take you a matter of minutes), the next step is to have the conversation with them.

Have you ever experienced a conversation that goes a little bit like this? 

Manager: We need the marketing report for next Friday. Do you think you could do it for me?

Team member: Oh. Okay.

Manager: Great, give me a shout if you have any questions. 

There are a number of different outcomes to this type of scenario most of which result in the team member being confused and frustrated and the manager being confused, frustrated and disappointed. This approach only serves to reinforce the view that delegation takes far too much  time (usually correcting the mistakes your team member has made) and you are better off doing something yourself if you want it done well (and if you delegate it you still end up doing it yourself anyway).  

Even if you are handing a medium risk task to a highly capable and motivated team member, it is not enough just to hand the task over, you must take a little time to set the person up to succeed and deliver on your expectations. This way you build the confidence and skill of your team member and importantly your confidence in your team member.  

So how do you approach the conversation of delegation? 

Simply put there are six things to cover in your conversation. 1. Be clear on the desired outcomes or results you want. 2. Agree the boundaries – what is and what is not expected from the team member in terms of behaviours, actions and outputs. 3. Identify the available resources. 4. Agree who is responsible for what, outlining specific standards such as quantity, quality, time and cost. 5. Outline the consequences, both positive and negative to help them understand the importance of the task. 6. Follow up.  

You do not have to delegate the task and keep your nose out of things until the job is done, nor do you have to stand over someone every step of the way. How often you follow up with your team member is dependent on your confidence in their capability to do the task and the risk/importance of the task. It is perfectly reasonable and indeed  I strongly recommend that when getting to grips with delegation you as the manager agree how often you need a progress report in order to feel confident that the task is being done to the standard requested. Make sure you don’t require over reporting but sensible reporting will ensure that you are not worried or wondering how things are progressing. 

Overall these simple steps to mastering delegation will take between five and twenty minutes to do. This may seem a massive investment when you are juggling multiple priorities, but trust me, if you invest wisely the dividends will pay off massively, both in terms of the additional time you create for yourself and the capability and confidence you develop in your team.  

The top business leaders are those who have mastered the art of delegation and importantly who have driven that culture of quality delegation down through their organisations. 

Adrienne O’Hare

Managing Director and Executive Coach