How to Know When It’s Time to Delegate

by Michelle Salater on December 2, 2011


When you get to the point in your life where you’re waking at 3:00 in the morning (whether to get started on the day’s insurmountable tasks or because of your work-related anxiety), you’re never quite able to finish anything, and you’re working consecutive 80-hour weeks, it’s time to think about delegating.

Delegation, though, is an art. It doesn’t involve assigning tasks at random just to get them off your desk. Done well, delegating can make you more efficient, save you time, and build morale and competence among your employees. Here are a few tips to get you started.

How to Delegate

  • Start during the hiring process. If you hire the right people, it’s hard to go wrong with delegating. Whenever you’re hiring, look for someone who takes initiative, thinks creatively, communicates well, accepts responsibility, and understands how to solve problems. When you give work to this type of person, you can expect consistently strong results.
  • Delegate fairly. Don’t just hand out the tasks you’d rather not do yourself—your employees will resent the treatment. Instead, delegate tasks that you honestly don’t have time for, and that your employees are qualified to carry out.
  • Communicate clearly. If you aren’t crystal clear about what you want from an assignment, you aren’t likely to get stellar results. Take time to make sure you and your employee are on the same page at the beginning of an assignment, and you’ll likely save yourself a lot of time fixing things down the road.
  • Give sufficient authority. While it’s tempting to maintain creative control over everything, failing to give your employees a chance to make decisions and be creative will likely drain their will to work. True delegation demands that you let go and let someone else make important decisions—but remember, if you hired the right person, you don’t have to worry about his or her judgment.
  • Check on progress. Without hovering, check in from time to time to make sure the project is on schedule and to see whether your employee has any questions. This can head off unpleasant surprises on (and just before) due dates.
  • Share the glory. When things go well, give credit where it’s due—otherwise, your employees aren’t likely to give their all on future assignments.

What to Delegate

So what kinds of assignments is it kosher to delegate? As a general rule of thumb, delegate until you have enough time to breathe normally, focusing on…

  • Tasks that don’t require your personal touch.
  • Assignments that help employees learn a specific skill and prepare them to take over more such work in the future.
  • Projects that play to your employees’ strengths. Let them know why you picked them.
  • Work of lower priority. That might mean you handle your three biggest clients while your employees collaborate on the rest.

Remember: delegation is NOT abdication. Done effectively, delegation gives you more time and helps you build an engaged, productive, highly motivated team!

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