What is delegation (and what isn’t)?
If you’ve never delegated, you need to learn how to do that. For many business owners, this practice can be incredibly challenging to implement simply because of their habit of doing everything themselves. But if you ever want to create a business that can thrive without you there, you need to learn what work is not yours to do and how to entrust that work to the most appropriate members of your team.
But delegation doesn’t just mean passing something to an employee and walking away. That’s called abdication—and it’s risky. To successfully delegate, you have to stay accountable for making sure the employee or team who performs the task has what they need to achieve the right results—and ultimately follows through.
Here are the basic steps for delegating:
1. Identify the tasks or projects you want to delegate
As the owner of your business, your main role is to perform the strategic work of building that business. That presents a good barometer for what work to keep and what to delegate: Does this task or function contribute to the strategic development of my business? If the answer is no, that’s work you want to hand off to someone else. Keep in mind that you should never delegate the overall result of your position or results that you’ve agreed to do yourself.
2. Determine which member(s) of your team should do the work
A more accurate way to say this is: Determine which position should do the work. Because when you’re considering a task or desired result, you should think in terms of which role—not which individual—should own it. That way, you’ll avoid the tendency to delegate to the same capable person or group of people repeatedly. Doing this not only overloads those trusted employees, but also sends a message to other employees that you don’t trust them to take on anything else.
Every member of your team should have a Position Agreement that makes the roles and responsibilities of their work crystal clear, and should make your process of delegating easier.
3. Put the arrangement in writing and set a due date
Write down the delegated task with as much detail and specificity as possible. Be sure to include the non-negotiable details in the delegation:
- Your desired result
- Standards that must be met
- Specific due date and time
Putting these details in writing automatically ensures that the plan will work within the terms you’ve set out. By communicating your expectations (as opposed to simply handing off a task and telling someone to get it done), you remove confusion and the risk of having your expectations misinterpreted. It also allows your people to function more independently, with the clarity of knowing what’s expected of them.
4. Meet with your delegatee to discuss the work and expected results
Part of skillfully delegating is communicating in person. It helps build the foundation for accountability and trust between you and your employees that’s critical to making this work.
When you meet:
- Discuss the objective of the assignment, and how it relates to your company or departmental goals.
- Cover the due date and standards.
- Explain why you delegated this particular task to this employee and how it relates to their other work accountabilities.
- Discuss what might be difficult or challenging for the employee and provide a dedicated space for them to ask questions.
- Decide how you want to mutually handle check-ins.
5. Work with your employee to create an agreement
A critical part of the delegation process is to get the employee’s agreement to be accountable for the result. You can’t count on—nor manage—anything your people don’t agree to do. With no agreement, there’s no commitment, and no commitment will mostly likely yield the wrong result—if it yields a result at all.
Go into the conversation with a clear idea of reasons why your employee might decline—or want to decline—the delegation. Maybe they feel too stretched with their other accountabilities; maybe they don’t feel they have the training or ability to do the work. The agreement you reach together gives your people the chance to express their concerns, and gives you the chance to adjust the agreement and your expectations.
6. Check in regularly and communicate
Remember, you’re not simply getting rid of tactical work, never to hear about it again. By delegating, you’re still accountable for the success of the task or business result. So honor the check-in agreement you made in your meeting. If you mutually agreed upon a deadline of noon on Friday to complete the task, don’t wait until noon on Friday to find out whether it’s complete. Schedule a check-in time, such as the end of the day on Wednesday, and put it on your calendar. This is called Management by Regulation, and it can make all the difference in ensuring that delegated tasks achieve successful results.
Establish how work will be delegated moving forward
If you’ve been working alongside your team and owning much of the tactical work, moving toward delegation can be challenging for both you and your employees. You’ll need to exercise a lot of willpower to say no to things you’ve always said yes to, even if it would be easier to just do the thing yourself. You’ll need to build more trust in your team and be willing to let go of things you used to closely manage. And your team will need to get used to your new strategic role in the business. They may resist it at first: They’ll ask questions and may even joke about how strange it’ll be for you to depart from what you’ve always been doing.
So, give your people a vision for how business operations will look going forward. Hold a company-wide meeting or meet one on one to communicate the change: Cover how you plan to delegate and, afterward, how you plan to manage tasks that you’ve passed off.
Most importantly, let them know that this is a new standard that you’re setting, one that’s going to help everyone contribute to growing the business in the most effective way possible.
No matter the type of work you do or the industry you’re in, delegation can be a difficult skill to learn; but as a leader, it’s essential to take on that role. By delegating, you’re giving your team the chance to succeed and take ownership in the results, all while granting yourself the time you need to do the entrepreneurial work that your business demands.
If you struggle to delegate and aren’t quite sure where to start, we’re here to help.