This article is a deep dive into how to delegate (and how to delegate well).
In it, we cover why you need to delegate, why you don’t delegate, what and when to delegate, and how to do it right.
Table of Contents
Why do you need to delegate
It’s about the results
You were hired for one reason – to produce results. You were hired to accomplish certain outcomes.
Your employer doesn’t care about your activities, the things you do, as much as the results they get from your activities.
When you don’t delegate, you end up producing less, for a few reasons:
- First, when you try to do it all yourself, you do the important tasks as well as the unimportant tasks. You produce less because you do unimportant (to you) tasks as well.
- Second, you are likely to not do things well. If you are overloaded because you are doing everything, tasks will be rushed, and what you do finish may not be the highest quality it could be.
- Third, it creates bottlenecks. When you do it all yourself, people must wait for you to finish your part so they can do their part.
Both as an individual and a team, if you always try to do everything yourself, you end up producing less individually and cause the team to produce less as well.
(Note: when I said they don’t care about your activities, I don’t mean being unethical or treating people poorly. I mean they don’t care how “busy” you are as much as the results you produce from the work you do.)
It helps you focus on your most important tasks
You have certain tasks that are most important. Brian Tracy calls them your Key Result Areas (KRAs).
These are the tasks, the results, you were hired to do and accomplish.
The problem is, when we try to do everything, we focus less and less on the tasks that are most important (and therefore, produce less).
You likely have heard of the 80/20 rule, Pareto’s Principle, which says that 80% of our results come from 20% of our activity, and the rest of our 80% produces 20%.
When you don’t delegate, you waste a lot of time in that 80% that produces only 20%.
Delegation helps you focus on the most important tasks that produce the most results.
It reduces stress and overwhelms
When you try to do it all, take on others’ problems, and never say no, you get overwhelmed. And when you get overwhelmed, you get stressed.
When that happens, it’s easy to get caught in a negative loop of producing less because of the stress, which brings more overwhelm, which leads to working later hours, more stress, and so on.
When you delegate effectively, you pass on less-important tasks (to you) to others and reduce stress and overwhelm, because you aren’t trying to do it all.
It reduces bottlenecks
As mentioned earlier, when you try to do everything, people must rely on and wait on you to get your part done before they can get to theirs.
That slows them down, which means fewer results for you, them, your team, and your company.
It shows trust in others
When you delegate, it shows trust in others.
If you always try to do everything, you are saying you don’t trust others to do it. You are saying you don’t find them capable to do it or learn to do it.
That can hurt morale, and it keeps everything dependent on you, slowing everything down.
It develops others
People, and employees, are the greatest asset a company has.
Delegation is a tool you can use to help develop those under your charge. It allows you to teach them and grow them as individuals and employees.
When you try to do everything yourself, you don’t do that.
It lets your company or department run well without you
One reason some managers have a hard time taking a vacation or time off is that everything depends on them for things to function.
When you delegate, it grows individuals to be capable to do different tasks. That then allows the company or department to function well without you when you aren’t there.
Less stress on you, more results, and you can leave knowing things are in good hands.
It leads to greater promotions and raises for you (and your employees)
When you delegate well, you and your department are producing more and more outcomes and greater results.
This looks good on you. When you can manage well and produce more as a manager, it leads you to move up faster, have more job satisfaction, and increase your income.
It also leads your employees to do the same. As they develop and learn more skills, they become more valuable and can move up as well.
Why we don’t delegate
As both of us can see, delegation is important; however, many of us have a hard time doing it. Why?
See if any of these seem familiar to you:
You don’t know how
One big reason you may not delegate is that you just plain don’t know how. You know it’s important, but you aren’t sure about the best way to do it.
The rest of this guide will help you do that.
You don’t trust others
You may not delegate because you don’t trust others to get it done and done right. You don’t feel they have the skill, ability, dedication, or whatever it may be to do it “right”, so you do it.
You feel like no one can do it as good as you
You may feel like no one can do it as good as you. It may be a control or perfectionist issue (it has to be done a certain way, exactly), it may be that you love the task and don’t want to let go, or it may be that you don’t trust the skills of your employees.
“If you want it done right, do it yourself”
You may say this phrase as an excuse to maintain control. It could be because you feel like the outcome has to match exactly like you want (as said above), that you don’t trust others to do it well, or that you are unable to teach people to do it right.
“It will take too long to teach someone, so I’ll do it myself”
That’s another common excuse people give for not delegating. And true, it may be quicker this time to do it yourself, but over time, you will save yourself a lot of time by teaching others how to do those tasks.
It takes too much upfront effort (it’s easier, quicker if I do it)
True, it does take more time upfront, but long term, you will produce more than ever before.
You are dedicated to, good at, or love the task, and you don’t want to give it up
Sometimes there are tasks we love or are good at, so we want to keep doing them. They may be tasks you feel comfortable doing.
However, they may not be the MOST important tasks for you anymore. If they aren’t part of your KRAs, your most important tasks, then it’s probably time to pass those along so you can focus on the more important ones.
You feel guilty passing the task on to someone else (especially if they are already busy)
You may feel guilty passing tasks on. You may feel it’s wrong to ask someone to do something that you can do.
While that feeling is understandable and others sometimes have it, it’s misguided.
As we discussed earlier, when you delegate tasks, you give your employees an opportunity to grow and advance themselves. It also makes you and your team more productive.
When you don’t pass tasks on, you hurt everyone.
Change your mindset about passing on tasks. Instead of feeling guilty when you do pass tasks on, feel guilty when you don’t.
You’re nervous about letting go
You may be nervous about passing on the tasks. You know you can do it well, but you fear how someone else will do it. You fear it not turning out the way you hope.
But remember, it’s worth it. You may have to teach. They may mess it up some as they learn.
Over time, though, the rewards are worth it.
You fear people will think you are not on top of it (or lazy) if you pass on tasks
You may fear people will look down on you if you pass on tasks. You fear they will think you are not a hard worker or that you are incapable because you pass it on.
What matters is results.
When you delegate effectively, that’s being a good manager, and that in itself looks good on you.
When you and your team start producing more and more results, that’s what makes you look good, not trying to do it all yourself. That just makes you look ineffective and unproductive.
What & when you should delegate:
Now, just because you should delegate doesn’t mean every task needs to be delegated. Here are some guidelines to follow in deciding what tasks to delegate or not.
Know what your most important tasks are
First, you need to know what your most important tasks are.
What were you hired to do? What were you hired to accomplish?
What is your 20% of tasks that produce 80% of your results? What are the 80% of tasks that produce only 20% of results?
Tasks that aren’t in your 20%, that aren’t your most important tasks, are tasks that you need to look at delegating.
(Remember that just because it’s not your role to do a task – or it’s not important to you in your role – it doesn’t mean it’s not to someone else in their role. Don’t feel guilty for passing those on.)
What can only you do?
What tasks are tasks that you, and only you, can get done?
What are the tasks that are required by your boss or system that you must get done, and that if you don’t, no one else will?
Know what those tasks are. Those are tasks that you don’t delegate. The other tasks are ones that you can look at delegating.
Know your strengths and weaknesses (and likes and dislikes)
Some tasks you are good at and some you are not. Some tasks you enjoy doing; other tasks you despise.
If, for example, you are not good at event planning, but someone else is, it may be a good idea to pass that task on to that person.
If you don’t like a task, but someone else does, even if they aren’t that great at it (yet), you might start passing it on to them, training them how to do it.
However, just because you like a task a lot doesn’t mean you should keep doing it – pay attention to what your most important tasks, your key result areas, are. If they don’t fit into those, you may need to pass it on, even though you like it.
Know what your employees’ most important tasks are
If you know what your employees’ most important tasks are, and what they were hired to do, then you can make sure that the tasks you have that are related to those areas can go to them.
You can also avoid giving tasks to them that don’t relate to their job.
Know what your employees are skilled at and enjoy doing
In the same line as earlier, know what your employees are skilled at and enjoy doing.
If they are good at doing a certain kind of task, you may want to pass tasks that relate to that to them.
If they enjoy or want to learn in certain areas, you may want to start helping them learn how to do those tasks and develop them in those areas.
If they are weak in areas, it may mean you want to develop them in those areas, or it may be that you want to pass tasks in those areas to someone else. It would depend on the person and their role and areas of responsibility.
What areas do your employees need to develop in?
If you know your employees need to develop in certain areas, beginning to delegate and train them in tasks related to those areas can help them begin to learn, grow, and then take ownership of those tasks.
Are there tasks that you love to do but are no longer part of your job?
You may need to look at passing those on.
Are the tasks tedious and time-consuming?
If you have some tasks that are tedious and time-consuming that drain you or keep you from more important tasks, you may want to see about delegating those.
Consider following the 70% rule
Brian Tracy in his book Delegation & Supervision suggests that if someone can do a task 70% as well as you, you should delegate it to them.
They can then learn and grow in that area, and you can focus on more important tasks and develop in other areas.
Is there someone who can handle parts of a project or task?
You may not have to delegate everything, but only part of it. Are there certain parts someone else could do? Could they, for example, write out the report and you edit it and finish it up?
Ask, “Who else can do this task?”
When you start looking at the tasks to do, ask yourself, “Is there someone else who could do this task?”
If so, you may want to pass it on.
Ask, “Will this task help develop one of my employees?”
If so, you may consider delegating it.
Is it a one-time task or a recurring task?
If it’s a recurring task, you probably want to delegate it so you don’t always have to do it.
If it’s a one-time task, and you would have to do a lot of training and teaching, you may just want to do it yourself.
Can someone do the task better than you?
Unless it’s one of the critical tasks that you need to do yourself or grow in, pass it on.
What’s the time limit and how critical is the job?
Do you have time to teach someone the task before it’s due?
How critical is the job? If it’s extremely critical, you may not want to pass it on to someone who is new to and learning those tasks.
How to delegate effectively (the right way)
Now that you know why you need to delegate, why you don’t, and when and what to delegate, let’s look at how to delegate well.
Delegation is not abdication
First, it’s important to point out that delegation is not abdication. You are not giving up a task and removing yourself completely from it and the responsibility for it.
Ultimately, the outcome of the task is still your responsibility. You still need to be involved to make sure it’s done well (we’ll cover how a little bit further down).
First, be clear about what needs to be done
One reason delegation fails is that the person delegating doesn’t take the time to plan out what needs to be done and what the expected outcomes are.
They say, “Hey, you, do this”, then wonder why the task didn’t get done the right way. Or they get upset at the person for not doing it “right” and start doing it all themselves when really the fault lies with them.
Take time to think and map out what exactly needs to be done with the task. Not the activity the person has to do necessarily, but the result that you are looking for.
What are the outcomes, the results, that you need from this task or project? Make sure you are completely clear bout what that is.
Second, find the right person for the job
Ideally, you know what your employees’ strengths and weaknesses are. If nothing else, you should know what they were hired to accomplish, and their areas of responsibility.
You likely want to give the task to someone who can do the task well, in whose area of responsibility it is, and who is skilled in that type of task.
However, depending on the task and person, you may want to give it to someone to learn and train in. They may not be good at it yet, but you believe it’s something they can be good at and want to help them develop that skill.
What you choose will depend on the task, the people you have, how critical the task is, and the amount of time you have for that task to be completed.
You may also look at the person’s current workload and see if they have room to do that project or if you may have to move tasks around to allow them to do that project.
Note: In some cases, with some tasks, it may be more appropriate, cheaper, and more effective to outsource to another company that specializes in those tasks. That’s okay as well. We’ll discuss this a little more later.
Third, meet with the person and discuss the task
When you meet with the person, you want to make sure you are clear about what task you want to be accomplished.
Don’t focus on how to do it, the activity, but focus on the results. You want to be clear about what your expectations are for the results and outcome of the task.
Make sure to explain the why of the task, why this task is important, what it means in the big picture, and why you are asking them to do it.
Brian Tracy says you should make sure to be clear about what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and what level of quality you expect.
Discuss with the person the task, expected outcomes, the why, timelines, budget, how often you will meet about the project, and so on.
Make sure to let the other person talk and give input where appropriate. The more the other person feels involved, the more committed they will be to the task.
Encourage questions and feedback.
Make sure they clearly understand what they are expected to do. Ask them to repeat back and make sure you both are on the same page.
Fourth, delegate the responsibility and authority to do the task
Don’t just tell them that they have to do the task and to make it work, give them the authority to do it as well.
If the person will need help and assistance from others, make sure the others know that the person has the authority to get that help.
If decisions will need to be made, give them the authority to make them, at least to a certain degree. There may be some major decisions that need to come through you, but if they have to always come to you or someone else for approval, you are bottlenecking them.
There are few things worse than getting responsibility for a task than having to fight through bureaucracy to try to get the task done.
Fifth, provide the needed resources and open doors as needed
If the person needs certain resources to accomplish the task, make sure they have it available or can get it without issue.
If you need to open some doors by talking to other management or whoever, make sure to do so. Make it easy for the person to work on the task and not have to deal with silos or bureaucracy, as much as possible.
This is not to say you need to do things for them that they can do themselves. Sometimes there are things that they can’t do in their position, but you can. Those are the things you do.
Sixth, provide feedback as needed
Depending on the task and the level of competence of the person, the level of involvement you have will vary.
If the person is new to the task and they are learning, you may want to meet with them more frequently to go over what’s been going on and what lessons can be learned, or what doors need to be opened.
If someone is highly competent in the area, you may be mostly hands-off. In those cases, you may want to manage by exception.
That means that, unless the person is behind schedule or an issue has arisen, there is no need for them to meet with you regularly. They will just email you updates regularly, to whatever degree you set.
This saves you a lot of time and shows trust in them.
Those in the middle you may want to meet occasionally – it just depends on the task and the person. You could start off meeting regularly, then do it less and less as the person shows more and more competence in the project or task.
Seventh, leave the person to do the task
While you do want to be available to help, teach, and provide feedback, you also need to let the person do the task without you being all over them.
You set the task out, you told them your expectations and were clear about milestones, expected outcomes, etc., so now get out of the way and let the person do it!
They don’t need you to micromanage or always be stopping by asking how it’s going, checking in.
Eighth, debrief with the person (and give credit and recognition where due)
Once the task or project is over, go over it with them.
What went well? What went wrong? What can be learned from it? How can they (or you) do better next time?
Give credit where credit is due. Publicly and privately praise and recognize them for their effort and achievement. And tell them “thank you”.
Other thoughts and tips to help you delegate well
Focus on results, not methods
We talked about it before, but it’s important to bring it up again.
Don’t micromanage. What is important is the result, the outcome, not how they do it.
They may not do it how you would do it. They may not do it to the same level. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
If they are learning how to do it, you may be more involved, but it doesn’t mean they have to do it your way.
What matters is that they meet the expected outcome.
Resist the temptation to take back control
When the task isn’t done as well as it should, use it as a teaching opportunity, not as an opportunity to grab back control.
Sometimes our instinct would be “I knew this delegation wouldn’t work, I’ll do it myself.”
But you’re hurting yourself doing that.
Yes, it may not have succeeded as you wanted, but look at why. Why was it not to the level needed?
Was it something on your part? Did you not teach well or were you unclear about expectations?
Does the person need some more training in a certain area?
What is the cause?
Go over the project, find the cause, and use it as a teaching moment for you, them, or both of you.
A failure on their part may be a failure on your part
Just because they failed doesn’t mean it’s a failure on them or the concept of delegation.
The failure could be yours. If you weren’t clear enough, if you didn’t let them do it without you micromanaging, if you didn’t provide them the authority and resources they needed to do the project, or if you didn’t train or teach them well, the fault is yours, not there’s.
If you find that the fault is yours, learn from it, and do better next time.
It’s okay to start small
If you have a hard time delegating, start small. Start will some small tasks and build up.
If someone is new or uncertain about themselves, you can start small with them as well. Give them some small tasks that are their responsibility.
Let them get some wins and build from there.
Remember that people often take longer to do something the first time
Usually, when we start something new to us, we are slower the first time we do it. Then, over time, we get faster and faster.
It’s the same with your employees. The first time you delegate a task to them, they may be slower than you want. Bu,t over time, as they learn and pick it up, they should go faster and faster.
Don’t allow reverse delegation (don’t take people’s monkeys)
The monkey is the next step in a task. All too often, we take monkeys from those under us. We take the next step.
An employee asks you to do something for them, and you agree, so now you have their monkey. They don’t have responsibility for the task now, you do.
An employee has a problem, and you take the problem on yourself to solve – now you have the monkey.
If an employee asks for information they can’t find, and you agree to do it for them, you take the monkey.
They may have an issue with someone, and you take it upon yourself to solve the issue – now you have the monkey.
Each time you agree to do something for someone, you are taking that task back.
It’s not that there aren’t times when you need to do something, that it’s something only you can do, but most of the time, it’s not needed.
We allow ourselves to become subordinates to our employees, them waiting for us to solve or do something, instead of the other way around.
Instead, whenever they come to you for help, make sure they leave with the monkey.
If they need information, point them in the right direction, but make sure it’s their job to find and get it.
If they have a problem or can’t make a decision, make them go through the problem and come up with possible solutions. You then may go over it with them, but make sure when they leave, the next step, the monkey, is with them.
If an employee asks you to do something for them, but it’s something they can do, show them the resources or direction of how if needed, but let them leave with the monkey.
If they have a problem with someone, make it their responsibility to take the next step to try to solve it with them, not you do it (it’s not that you should never mediate if needed, but we can too easily get involved when it’s their responsibility to resolve the issue with the other person).
Don’t take the monkey. Don’t allow reverse delegation.
Be willing to teach and train
A big part of delegation is that you help develop those under you.
Be willing to teach and train. Don’t assume that people know how to do it. Ask and find out. Give them the resources and training to learn.
It takes more time upfront, but in the long run, it will benefit them, you, your team, and your company.
Some tasks you may outsource to another company
While this article focused primarily on delegating to those under your charge, you may also consider delegating tasks to other companies via outsourcing.
With some tasks, it just makes sense to outsource to another company that specializes in that area. It may be cheaper and more cost-effective to do so.
It might be that no one has that responsibility or skill in that area, and the need for it is rare (for example, maybe you need some graphic design work done).
It doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of money training someone or you spending hours fiddling with Photoshop trying to make a half-decent graphic when you could just hire someone who can do a much more excellent job in a lot less time.
In this article, we discussed why you need to delegate (the many benefits of it and why it hurts you not to), why we often don’t, when and what to delegate, and, finally, how to do it.
I hope that after reading this article you understand that one of the great benefits of delegating is that you not only become more productive yourself, but you develop and grow those who are under your charge as well.
Before you go, please let me know in the comments below: What has kept you from delegating in the past and what do you plan to do about it now? Also, if you feel like I left anything out, please let me know!