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Delegation is one of the most important skills any leader, from CEO down to shop floor manager, can master. Unfortunately it is one of the more difficult skills to learn. You need to know how to delegate. You need to know when to delegate and you need to know how to make delegation a success. Delegation is a balancing act that challenges managers to determine just how much to hand over to staff members. The craft of delegation involves determining which tasks are appropriate to delegate, and then ensuring that each staff member has the skills and motivation to complete the job successfully.

Previous article, Delegation – How To Stop Doing and Start Leading, deals with the problem of delegation – giving the work away.

There are five components to successful delegation:

  1. Give It to Someone Who Can Get It Done

This doesn’t mean that person has the perfect skill set required for project execution, but they can summarize the need and then find the people and/or resources needed to assist them to accomplish what you have given them to do. In other words, they’re smart enough to get the ball rolling and know when they need to ask for help.

  1. Communicate What Success Looks Like

To make sure that it’s done right, be clear regarding deadlines, outcomes and the budget. Much like playing hockey without nets, it’s almost impossible to have an amazing game if you don’t know what your objective is. That’s why it’s important to set a clear and defined timeline for your project, the deliverables you want to see by the end of the day along with strategic milestones that you will need to focus on throughout your course of action.

  1. Work Out a Plan

Depending on the nature, size or scope of your particular project, you’ll have to take one or several different approaches. If a proper plan or preparation isn’t handled well, it can jeopardize the entire project’s success. Therefore it’s crucial to identify all necessary hurdles early on and determine how to approach them effectively. Even if you’re working on the simplest project, your chances of hitting a roadblock will be higher if you don’t start by making sure that people are properly equipped to complete their parts of the job without interruption.

  1. Set Up a Structure for Accountability

If your project will be developed over a long duration of time, set up intermediate meetings or virtual calls on a weekly basis. This will keep your progress on track and keep both parties accountable for deliverables, documentation, and goals. Some effective ways of defining and implementing what needs to get done in your project are going over your schedules either through e-mail or even phone calls at weekly intervals for example.  One of the best ways for improving productivity in business is developing a habit of regularly scheduling check-ins amongst the people who might benefit from discussing what is going on with one another.

  1. Get Buy In.

Often, external forces affect deadlines at the outset. But you can still help people to understand what’s expected of them by encouraging them to ask questions along the way, and by clarifying your expectations as their manager with concrete examples wherever possible. Instead of saying, “This must be done by next Tuesday,” try asking something like this: “Will you have time to finish this before next week?”   Let people take responsibility for setting their own timelines and creating their own plans.  As a manager yourself, provide guidance and sign off on things that don’t require your intervention but it’s also good practice to encourage your team members to think outside of the box when implementing their own solutions. Planning is important, but letting your team members develop their own plans based off the direction you give them (or options you provide) can be even more effective. As General Patton once said, “Don’t tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”

If you fail to take any of the steps above into account, you reduce the odds that your project will turn out as desired. But if you’re prepared and thorough with each individual involved, much like an experienced carpenter putting together all the pieces for a complex new piece of furniture – then everything will fall into place and be more manageable. Isn’t this more work than doing it myself? No – it isn’t.

When you establish your goals, review your plan, and monitor your progress, it does not take the same amount of time to carry out the actual work. Factor in you are training others to do the work without your direct involvement and that is how you multiply your efforts. This is how you gain leverage. Occasionally it takes longer to communicate something than to do it yourself, but delegate anyway! The next time will be easier.

Up to this point, I’ve referred to the importance of delegation within a project. One important step that contributes to making your business a success is knowing when and how to delegate. Generally there are three types of situations where delegation is necessary: projects, larger tasks and ongoing functions. However regardless of what type of situation you’re dealing with, it’s important that you first take an honest look at whether or not you should do something yourself instead of delegating it out because full end-to-end responsibility can keep others from performing at their best.

If you find yourself reluctant to delegate something, ask yourself “why am I unwilling to delegate this?” Make a list of the reasons why not. Identify the next best person beside you of course who could take this on. Then meet with them and go over the expectations and needs for the project, task or function. Listen to what they have to say.

If you can’t pass off key functions to other people it’s time for some changes. New staff could be an answer for you or you may need some other changes. It might be time to consider what’s restraining your growth as an organization. If you don’t have enough capital for the desired staffing changes because of insufficient funding, this could mean opportunities being lost – so why not review what needs updating or upgrading within your current staff? Who is ready for promotion? Who has untapped potential that you can develop?

Sometimes you might be required to get your hands dirty. Perhaps you need to share some of your technical knowledge with other people in order to bring a project together. You may also be the only one with a long-standing relationship with a vendor , customer or other outside collaborator . It might be worth your time to temporarily dive back into working alone on a particular task, getting it done and then stepping back out of direct involvement and then resume your leadership role.

One Last Thing

Delegation is important, but only if it provides you with the breathing room to focus on what matters most. It may sound unfair, but the greatest leverage you have as a business professional is in leading others. A leader should always spend more time managing and/or crafting new strategies that will help grow your business.

The only point of delegating something is if it frees you up for things that create greater value for your company. For instance, don’t hire an accountant if you are spending your time overseeing sales. This is an important thing to remember to trust your employees to do what you hired them to do by applying their talents and skills, especially when putting them in charge of strategic roles within the company. In order to lead well, make sure you’re keeping yourself centered and free by using your own time wisely without burning out by prioritizing what really matters.

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