Use our 5 simple steps to help you delegate with confidence.
“If you want to do a few small things right, do them yourself. If you want to do GREAT things and make a BIG impact, learn to delegate.” John Maxwell
Are you a do-it-all-yourself manager?
As a new supervisor, you may feel like you’re too busy to delegate, or that it’s unfair to give “your” work to members of your team. You put in longer and longer hours, and you try to do everything yourself, trying to prove you can still do it all AND run a crew.
But instead of impressing senior management, your long hours may demonstrate a classic failure to delegate. In reality, many bosses say they want their supervisors and managers to delegate more often and more effectively.
What is delegation?
Delegating effectively saves time, helps you grow as a leader, helps your team develop as professionals, prepares you to manage larger teams, and inspires employees and team members to perform better.
Put simply, the process of delegating entrusts a task or responsibility to another person. It means demonstrating that you trust your employee to take on the work. Good leaders make sure their team members have the necessary tools and skills for success. Delegating without that process, as I can tell you from my own experiences early in my career, creates an atmosphere of distrust, and a frustrated team. But how can you give up control of those tasks that feel comfortable or even critical to the success of your team?
What are the benefits of delegation?
It may help to realize that delegation, rather than being seen as unfair by employees, can foster enthusiasm, loyalty, and greater success. Think of it this way: we all want to feel good about our contributions to the greater goal. We all want to use our skills, enthusiasm, and passion to make a difference. Giving team members assignments that are important to the success of the team tells each one that their work matters. Delegation, used in an open and supportive manner, demonstrates that you recognize the skills of your team members, and that you acknowledge their contributions. It also serves as a roadmap for team members who want to safely step up and take on greater responsibility.
Moving from “me” to “we.”
As a supervisor, delegating gives you time to think about bigger picture issues. By stepping out of day-to-day repetitive tasks that others on your team can do, you can free up your time and energy to be more strategic. What would happen if you were able to cut a minute from a repetitive task performed by your team 20 times per day? Over the course of a year, it would amount to 86 hours (over two full work-weeks) of additional productivity for your team. Is there an inefficient operation process in place that everyone has just learned to live with? Would your team function more effectively if you had time to evaluate and enhance their teambuilding process? What if you had time to evaluate your office and found ways to enhance efficiency and collaboration? You may never see these patterns that could improve your team’s performance without stepping out of the middle of the workflow.
Delegating can give you time to think of ways your team can show up as a brighter star on the management’s radar. When you seriously understand how delegation impacts your success, you can begin to make the shift from measuring your performance by “What can I accomplish?” (ME) to looking at “What can the team accomplish?” (WE).
These five simple steps will help you delegate like a pro.
An effective leader knows that delegating is more than offloading work, and that it is not a one-stop shop. The key to effective delegation, like the key to most leadership skills, is preparation and follow through. True success requires that you create an environment where your team members will trust you with their questions, failures, and growth.
- Get to know your team. Delegation is not a one-size-fits-all task. You need a good sense of the individuals on your team. What are members’ strengths, weaknesses, goals, and barriers? How much risk can people tolerate? Will they care more about their peers than their performance? Think deliberately about whether the assignment you’re considering will help someone build upon an existing strength or overcome a weakness. Both goals can be addressed with new assignments, but your approach should be very different for those circumstances.
- Identify tasks and responsibilities that would free up your time or help team members grow. Think deliberately about ways delegating work or responsibilities will make your team stronger. Assign strategically rather than for convenience.
- Match the task or responsibility to the right person on your team. When you entrust someone by delegating an assignment, you let them own that responsibility. Review the information you considered in steps 1 and 2. Make sure your designee benefits from the assignment and that the assignment can improve your team’s morale, cohesion, or productivity. When you make the assignment, convey the ways your team member’s success will benefit both the individual and the team.
- Provide the right level of supervision. A good leader doesn’t create a sink-or-swim atmosphere, and knows delegation is not a one-and-done process. Your role, no matter their maturity level, is to equip your employees with the tools and knowledge they need, at the right points in their workflow to make sure they can achieve success. I prefer using the situational leadership approach first described by my friend and mentor, Kenneth Blanchard. For someone new to a role or assignment, you may have to direct performance, giving detailed instructions, observation, and correction. For a team member with a bit more experience and skill, you may be able to coach performance, suggesting ways to successfully complete the assignment, having them insert their own ideas with you then providing tips and guidance if they hit roadblocks. Finally, for those fully ready to take on new roles, you can offer support, and encourage your designee to describe their own approach first, rather than offering your own ideas or experience to shape their approach. And once you are confident they are prepared to succeed with a given task, you move to delegation. And in this stage, you are always available for support, trusting their efforts and as needed, verifying the results.
- Move your team members through the continuum. As you and your team become more experienced with delegation, you will move people through the direct, coach, and support cycle, generally working towards greater autonomy until you again make an assignment outside of someone’s comfort zone and restart the cycle.
Celebrate the outcomes. In the same way that being open about delegation strengthens the team, recognition for a job well done will cement its benefits. Acknowledge both individual and team successes to reinforce your team’s passion and enthusiasm. Document new skills and achievements with evaluations and promotions. Encourage team members to request assignments that help them grow. When things don’t go well, supportively acknowledge lessons learned to further strengthen trust in your leadership.
Delegation, which requires giving up your need to do it all, will help both you and your team improve performance by encouraging each team member to grow into owning a piece of the greater goal.