“If you want something done right, do it yourself.”
We have all said those words, and at the time, we probably thought we meant them. It can be frustrating trying to train somebody to do a job that you know you can do quickly yourself or to correct a mistake after the fact. However, if you want to do your job well and efficiently, you must know when to delegate work to somebody else, and you must know which work to delegate. Mistakes in delegation can cost you if you’re not careful, but if you do it properly then delegating can make your job easy.
When to Delegate
The first thing to consider is when it is appropriate to delegate work. Many of us operate on the principle that delegation is only to be used as a last resort, when we are unable to handle the work we have alone. However, that may not always be the best choice.
There are three ways you can evaluate tasks to determine if they should be delegated to a subordinate. Let’s look at them.
- Can the task be done 70 percent as well as you do it by somebody else? 70 percent might seem low, but you have to accept that not everybody is going to be able to do it as well as you can—especially not at first. However, 70 percent efficiency is not a bad starting point, and it means you will have to spend minimal time revisiting the task once it is done. If you feel confident that you have a subordinate who can accomplish a task at 70 percent, you can consider delegating it.
- Do you have too much on your plate, including multiple things that need to be done immediately? You have to acknowledge your own limitations. You can only be in one place at a time, and multitasking is—for the most part—a myth. When you try to do two things at once, both things suffer. If that’s the case, pick the task that will be the least problematic to delegate, and delegate it.
- Do you want to free up time to focus on something important like a reorganization or new product launch? You may need to reassign tasks temporarily to give yourself the time and freedom to focus on a big project.
When you are determining whether a subordinate can complete a task, you need to look at the task from multiple angles. Some of the things to consider are:
- The task’s urgency—is it something that must be completed now, or can it wait?
- The task’s complexity—does the subordinate have the ability and knowledge to complete the task to a reasonable degree of accuracy, or not?
- The task’s sensitivity—is the task something that requires discretion or must be kept private, or is it something that can be handled by anybody?
If you feel that the task cannot wait and that you have a subordinate who has the ability and the discretion to handle it, then delegation is probably the best option.
How to Delegate
After you have decided which tasks to delegate and which to keep for yourself, you must talk to the subordinates to whom you are delegating tasks and follow up appropriately. Here are some tips to help you delegate effectively.
- Take the time to match up the task you are delegating with the person whose skills and abilities most closely align with the job’s requirements. This is a vital first step; your success hinges on what happens from here.
- Provide complete instructions for completing the task and focus on the necessary skills. If you do need to provide training, consider walking the employee through the task verbally, or alternatively, writing detailed, step-by-step instructions.
- Set a clear deadline and make sure that the employee understands what you expect to be done and when you expect it to be done. At the same time, you should also make sure that the person who is completing the task knows they can come to you with questions or concerns. It’s not fair to delegate a task and then expect the person to follow through without having to ask questions, so be sure to make yourself available.
- Let go of the need for perfection. Remember, your goal is to get the task done, not to get it done perfectly. The 70 percent rule outlined above is a good way to evaluate employees and delegate tasks. Keep in mind that the person who does the task may not do it in exactly the same way you would. Let go of the need to dictate how it gets done. As long as the end result is what you need it to be, the process of getting there isn’t very important. Your employee may even come up with a better or more efficient way of doing it, so stay open to that possibility.
- Follow up regularly to check on your employee’s progress. Delegation is not something that you can forget about once a task is assigned. As a leader, your job is to follow up with your employee and make sure they have what they need to complete the task you have assigned to them. It’s a good idea to follow up about midway through the time frame you have set for the task to make sure everything is on track and proceeding smoothly.
- Be patient with mistakes. When an employee is learning something new, mistakes and missteps are to be expected. It’s not fair to expect otherwise. Go into the experience with the mindset that this is a learning process for everybody, and you’ll be able to keep your cool and focus on the work that you need to do.
In the end, successful delegation is as much about adjusting your own attitude toward your work as it is about training and evaluating employees. If you take the time to match your employees with the tasks they are best able to do and to provide the training and follow-up needed, you can delegate tasks as needed and turn your attention to the things that you need to do yourself.