This Is How Great Bosses Know What and When to Delegate

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day and the topic of delegation came up. He never delegates anything, which made him a little horrified to hear that I had just given an important organizational project to one of my staff. His opinion was that the task was “too big” for the person I gave it to—solely judging that on the person’s job title and not actually knowing the person. I politely disagreed, and on reflection, he said, “I know I need to delegate more, but I can get things done more quickly if I just do it myself.”

A few minutes later, he told me that he doesn’t delegate because “nobody on my team has the skills to do certain key tasks.”

When an executive offers the above excuses for not delegating, I know they’re too focused on the here and now and not looking toward the future. I can also guess that the rate of turnover in his or her department is probably higher than average.

Many executives who are extremely intelligent and very achievement-oriented can be relatively short-sighted. They allow the pressure of short-term success to take priority over long-term strategy and growth for their staff and the organization.

The benefits of delegation far outweigh the potential pitfalls

In my position with SkillPath, one of the most common conversations I have with executives and HR people around the country concerns helping people understand the power of delegation and teaching them how to do it effectively.

The benefits of learning how to delegate effectively are numerous because you:

  1. Add value to the organization by successfully leveraging resources
  2. Give others the opportunity to grow
  3. Facilitate organic growth (i.e., develop internal talent)
  4. Enhance your credibility and increase your influence
  5. Increase employee engagement and, therefore, performance and retention

Generally, when a supervisor has difficulty delegating, it’s because he or she is deficient in one or more of the following areas:

  • Trust
  • Skill
  • Organizational commitment
  • Team capability
  • Confidence in self or others

New managers and supervisors often have trouble delegating. For those moving from a “doer” role to a manager role, delegation is one of the single most difficult things to learn to do. It’s always easier and faster to just do it yourself when that’s what you have always done. Learning to delegate is often hard to do as it forces a person to think differently.

But how do you decide when to delegate? If you truly are having difficulty deciding, here’s a more structured approach to help you decide. It eliminates the reactive impulse that often causes misunderstandings and hard feelings with those you delegate to (or never delegate to).

Decide if it’s worth delegating or not  

First decide if delegation is appropriate in the situation. And, if you’re like my friend above, resist the urge to decide that NO situation is a good time to delegate. Be honest with yourself. Never delegating sends a message to your staff that you don’t trust them or that you think they’re incapable. It tells upper management that you’re selfish and don’t particularly care about your team’s development.

Both messages have the same effect. They cause employee engagement and your credibility to plummet.

Here are three key questions to ask yourself when deciding to delegate a project or task:

  1. If I were able to delegate this task, would it be beneficial to either the organization or the person to whom I am delegating?
  2. How urgent is this task? (0 = not urgent; 3 = somewhat urgent; 5 = very urgent)
  3. How important is this task to the organization? (0 = not important; 3 = somewhat important; 5 = important)

If you answer “yes” to the first question and you arrive at a score of 6 or lower when combining the answers to questions 2 and 3, that’s the green light to delegate. Don’t overthink it … just delegate it!

If you answer “yes” to the first question and you arrive at a score above 6 when combining the answers to questions 2 and 3, then you have two options. First, you can delegate the task to someone you trust implicitly and then supervise them. Build in plenty of check-ins between you and your employee, but don’t micromanage. You picked this person because you believe he or she has the skills to complete the job. Don’t be watching over his or her shoulder constantly.

Your second option is don’t delegate it. Let’s face it, there are some things that you SHOULD handle yourself as the boss. There will be times for the purpose of developing others you will need to take the risk, but the safe bet is to do this task yourself.

If you think you have nothing to delegate, think again

If you want to play it safe, the above questions will at least identify opportunities to delegate, while maintaining control of what is too risky at the time. However, don’t just rate everything a 5 and keep it all to yourself.

Hold yourself accountable. For every four tasks, find at least one that you can delegate. If you can do that 25 percent of the time, you’ll soon make it a habit and delegating appropriate tasks becomes automatic.

The result is your staff becomes much more engaged and satisfied in their jobs. You, on the other hand, can concentrate more of your energy on top-tier tasks.

Make delegating about talent development 

Find the juncture between delegation and development. Delegation is a great opportunity to close gaps in your team’s development. It is a win-win-win situation. Your direct reports win because they grow and gain competency. The organization wins because its employees are more engaged and productive. You win because you save time and get credit for building the talent pipeline. You’ll also enhance your credibility, which expands your influence.

With each of your direct reports, create a list of their top development items and key growth interests. For the items that you decide to delegate, be strategic and assign them to people who either need to develop in that area or have a strong interest in the area.

Here’s the bottom line: If you tackle a task on your own, you get it done quickly. If you take the extra time to delegate, you’re likely to get twice as much return on your effort. What do you think?



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