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What’s Does Effective Delegation Look Like?

Posted by Douglas A Wick on Mon, Dec 16, 2013

To achieve results as a leader and manager you must effectively get results through others.  The finest managers and leaders not only get results through others they inspire and often times get better results from others than their peers.  Effective use of delegating is the hallmark of effective leaders, managers and a business that is growing and succeeding.King Delegate resized 600

Managers need to delegate effectively as your business expands.  There are several types of delegation, delegation of a task or project and then delegation of authority.  In building your organizational strategy and then developing position contracts you should have already effectively delegated authority and specific tasks to your staff.  If not refer to Topgrading’s Job Summary Scorecard for help.

Delegation can be a challenging process for both the sender and receiver.  If not effectively delegated to, the receiver can feel embarrassed and incompetent when they fail to provide the results their supervisor asked for.  For the manager not being able to depend upon staff to complete tasks that have been delegated means a loss of performance, and an inability to expand their capacity as a leader. 

You need to be prepared to expect a learning curve for both yourself as a manager and for the employees who you delegate to. Effective delegation offers the employee an opportunity to prove their worth and increase their confidence.  It means the manager is able to achieve far greater results than they could have on their own.  In the greater percentage of cases poorly delegated tasks are the result of a manager who is not fully aware of the proper methods for delegating effectively.  Delegation can fail for a variety of reason: poorly defined results, time frames, lack of authority, failure to check in as the process flows to completion, and more often than not poor preparation and documentation by the person who delegated the task. 

If you’re an owner or manager you need to delegate effectively to expand the ability of your department or business to perform productively.  No one can do it all themselves.  Effective delegation is often the first place where systems begin to appear to provide relief for an owner and manager.  Employees instructed to follow detailed guidelines, to make decisions, and get results feel empowered.  These small successes transform the business into a highly confident and competent staff that generates momentum that propels a business forward.

Donna Genett in her book “If You Want It Done Right, You Don’t Have To Do It Yourself” describes six steps to effective delegation.  We agree with these steps and have only slightly modified her directions.

  1. Prepare Beforehand: Nothing will determine the successful outcome of a task to be delegated more than taking the necessary time to prepare what you want to achieve before delegating a task to someone.  If you’re not clear what you expect how can you possibly ask someone to achieve a result?   

2.  Clearly define the task to be completed: Genett recommends you ask the person to whom you delegate to repeat the information back to ensure that he or she fully understands.  We recommend never delegating anything unless you do it in writing.  We recommend following the effective delegation form to ensure that there is never any miscommunication regarding the assignment you’ve delegated.  Still asking them to repeat these instructions is a good idea which we would highly recommend even with the instructions clearly written down.  If you’ve ever received an email from someone and not been sure what the tone of the instructions was you know how important this step can be.  Emotions provided can be more important than the letter of the information.  So be sure to ask the person you are delegating to repeat the tasks.

Here are some guidelines to consider for when to delegate in writing:

  • Assigned task is large and will have a significant number of benchmarks to produce the desired outcome.
  • Person you are delegating to have no previous experience with this type or task/project, or they are new to the company. 
  • The impact of the delegated task would be harmful to the company, yourself or the participant if it were not achieved.  This may not mean physical harm, but embarrassment and loss of self-esteem personally or professionally. 
  • The assignment is unclear or confusing, even though simple and could be easily misunderstood.

**We recommend you create your own list for your company by having a manager and employee meeting to discuss delegation and the new rules for delegating.  Often times the uniqueness of the business offers some nuances where either delegating in writing is critical or verbal delegation is most expedient.  Make sure your company has rules to govern delegated tasks that make it clear what’s expected and when.    A worksheet for creating rules can be requested by clicking here.

3.  Clearly outline the time frame within which the delegated task must be completed:  Clear instructions on the time line that you have for completing the task create a sense of urgency and leave no room for lack of accountability.  Get agreement from the person who is assigned the task this is sufficient time to complete the task to the specifications. 

4.  Define the level of authority he or she is to use with this task:

  • Level One: Authority to RECOMMEND
  • Level Two:  Authority to INFORM And INITIATE
  • Level Three: Authority to ACT

Depending upon the experience of the person who you are delegating, the impact of the assignment, and the consequences that could result you will want to temper how far along the completion of a delegated task you want to go.  These three levels should allow you the opportunity to take over the task when it becomes more difficult, instruct the person on corrections or be aware of the progress and give them the go ahead to proceed further. Again we recommend the degree of authority be in writing and clearly communicated with the checkpoints [see worksheets for preparation.] determined during the initiation of the delegation process.  As Donna Genett points out in the book ‘sometimes it’s better to start small and experience a few successes before moving on to something bigger.  Human Nature 101: We tend to be open to new and more difficult things if we’ve succeeded at some smaller, simpler things first.’   This is true for both the person delegating and to whom you are delegating too. 

5.  Identify checkpoints with delegatee to review progress and offer guidance if needed.  Regardless of the level of authority you should set up checkpoints ahead of time to check in and make sure you take advantage of the opportunity to coach and teach.  If for no other reason it also gives you the opportunity to complement and reinforce the work they are doing. 

6.  Hold a debriefing session.  Discover what went well, what could be improved, what has been learned.  There’s a lot to be gained in a follow up meeting with the person you delegated to.  Focus on what went well first, then what could be improved and finally what was learned. 

Include yourself in this debriefing, but of course when meeting with the delegatee place all the success on them. 

It’s a good idea to hold your own debriefing prior to meeting with them to help them to see what went right. 

If the delegation process failed it will be important for you to sort out where you were guilty of not providing the right information and help to make it a success.  Don’t be afraid to admit your mistakes.  Staff that sees a manager who is willing to step up and accept the fall when their subordinates fail will gain your respect, and will be much more willing to accept responsibility for their failure.  You’ll probably find them more willing to go the extra effort when working with you in the future. 

If the delegated task was difficult this process can provide a lot of helpful insight in improving delegated tasks in the future. If it’s likely there will be a similar project in the future much can be gained to save you, your staff and the company valuable time, energy and embarrassment by a good review. 

Is this helpful?  Send me an email: or put a comment on this blog if it was.

Annual Planning for your business should be in full swing or close to completion.  A recent survey revealed that 92% of CEO’s feel their leadership team can communicate their strategy!  That same survey revealed that only 2% of their leadership team could!  We’ll explore why this is and what do about it next blog.  

Topics: Business Growth, leadership, manager, Leadership Team, effective delegation

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Doug Wick, President

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The Strategic Discipline Blog focuses on midsize business owners with a ravenous appetite to improve his or her leadership skills and business results.

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