How to Delegate Work Effectively: Eight Questions You MUST Answer

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It’s no secret that few managers know how to delegate well. And it’s understandable given how busy managers are these days and how quickly decisions need to be made. Typically, you will see just one extreme or another.   Frustrated employees may say something like: “My boss, John, just delegates everything. He pushes down his actions before they are even fully identified. What is he doing?” Then there is the other extreme: “Mary is too nice. She never asks for help, and ends up working 80 hours a week. She doesn’t want to bother us, but we could certainly take on more if we knew what would help.”


Effective delegation must strike a balance between time and productivity. Many managers struggle to find this balance, either because they cannot let go of things or want them done specific way, or conversely, are unwilling to roll up the sleeves when they need to chip in. As a manager, you are the decider of what is needed now, what is important, and what can wait. And although managers of people are in a natural position of power, just because you can delegate doesn’t always mean you should. So when should you delegate? Answering these 8 question will help.


Is this something I should do?


Sometimes, it’s just a matter of figuring out a way to find more time to do what you need to do. This is obviously easier said than done. But even though you’re busy, some assignments – like writing employee evaluations, or interviewing a prospective job candidate – are tasks that you should do, both professionally and ethically, as the manager. Passing down management level responsibilities to your employees is generally not a good idea.  There are certainly some exceptions, such as having an employee run a department meeting that has a standing agenda, or calling back a customer to answer a quick questions. But in situations where sensitive personnel information is involved or when critical decisions are expected to be made, it’s important that you make the time.


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Is this a priority?


Amazingly, this is the question where most managers make mistakes because they fail to evaluate the important of activities before assigning them, or otherwise committing to do them. For example, if your team is working around the clock to handle a crisis situation, is asking an employee to update your team’s weekly project status sheet really important? Or can it wait another week? In most cases, when you delegate a task to an employee, it is taking time away from something else. So when it comes to asking someone to help you out, be sure the work passes the sniff test of what’s really important. Sometimes, it takes a little bit of managerial grit on your part to push back and say “Sorry, this will have to wait” in order to allow your team focus on something of higher priority.


Who has the outright skillset to do this?


Often times, delegation only works when the person being asked to help is capable and skilled enough to help you. For example, if you need to provide an estimate for labor hours in support of a new business opportunity, don’t go ask the newly hired intern to assist in completing the task. Rather, ask a senior employee who has the right experience to go evaluate the risks and challenges, and return with a well-designed plan. Before asking someone to get involved, be sure to take a moment to consider if their skillset is appropriate for the task.

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Is this something an employee can pick up in order to get done on time?


When you do have a little time to complete a task, it helps open up your pool of candidates who can assist. Provided the task is not extremely complex, or specialized in terms of the necessary skill and knowledge set, delegating work that allows an employee time to get involved and do a good job is important. When some extra time is available and a little bit of a learning curve can be sustained, delegation can help save you time.


Is this an opportunity for someone to learn?


When circumstances allow, delegation of smaller, short term (less than a week or two) tasks is a great way to help your employees learn. Perhaps you can ask an employee to review a customer request and to put a basic proposal together. Maybe you ask the employee to sit in for you on a meeting about the budget plans coming up for next year. In short, delegating specific assignments that both free up your time and help employees learn is a smart move. I generally look at these opportunities as “Hey, take some time to work through it, and see where you get. I’ll get with you in a couple days to check on progress and answer any questions you have.” Such activities give the employees a good look at the bigger picture, and can help them do their jobs better in the future.


How long will it take me to get someone involved?


Look at delegation like it’s an investment. How long will it take you to get someone added to the mix? An hour, a day, a week? What will your return on investment be? If a task that will take you half a day to complete requires 3 days of your time to get an employee up to speed on the details, getting someone else involved is probably not a good investment of your time. By contrast, if it takes you 3 days, but the employees involvement will save you 3 weeks of time, that would be an example of a high ROI.


What will be impacted?


If delegating a task means an employee will miss a key customer milestone, it’s probably not a good idea . In contrast, if an employee is doing mostly administrative work, or is able to minimally impact customers and deliverables, delegating an action is likely a good decision. The point is, before you delegate something, be sure to consider the impact on other prior commitments.


Who else can help?


Let’s face it. We, as managers, all have our ‘go-to’ players. These are the employees we trust most. They are our first line of defense, and are the individuals we go to routinely for help. There are certainly a number of reasons why we go to these people, but sometimes it takes discipline on the part of the manager to pull back and find another individual to help. While we have those key go-to people, they, too have jobs and need to get things done. Unless you need their highly dependable support, share the love. This decision does take some conscious effort on your part, as the manager.


In short, sometimes delegation is a bad idea; other times, it is essential to doing your job as a manager. Always be sure to ask yourself if the task is important enough to disrupt other activities, and make sure you identify the right person to take up the work. When done right, effective delegation will help you manage your time, helps others learn, and ultimately will keep your team performing well.


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