Effective Delegation

A very common dilemma facing business owners and managers is the decision of delegation- both when to start delegating and how to implement it. This article and accompanying exercise are resources to help guide you if you are feeling reluctant to delegate.

In order to free up time to focus on big-picture business decisions, business owners and managers must develop delegation skills. If they fall into the trap of thinking “If you want a job done right, do it yourself”, it can lead to burnout of the owner and resentment from the staff. The first step in developing these skills is to understand what delegation is, and how to use it.

Step 1: Are You Ready to Delegate?

For a business to operate efficiently, owners and managers must assign certain tasks and activities to subordinates. While in the early stages of a business, the owner may do all the tasks and activities himself, but as the business grows and other staff members are hired, tasks must be delegated out. This assigning of tasks to subordinates, who are capable and trained to perform these tasks, is delegation. However, it is important to understand that owners and managers don’t delegate responsibility, only tasks and activities. Ultimate responsibility to deliver the desired results to stakeholders must lie with the owner or manager.

Many owners and managers are unwilling to delegate the work they once did themselves. The reasoning for this is varied, however, it generally stems from FEAR (false expectations appearing real). Some common excuses made by leaders to avoid delegation include:

  • “It’s easier to do it myself.” Although it may feel easier to do everything yourself, in the long run delegation will save the owner or manager time and frustration.
  • “I have to do it myself.” When a leader believes only he can accomplish certain things effectively, the root cause is FEAR (false expectations appearing real). Start small by assigning little tasks to others and coaching them along the way to ensure that they are doing these tasks well. As your confidence in your team grows, so will your ability to delegate.
  • “It needs to be done perfectly.” This is the most common argument that keeps leaders from becoming effective at delegation. Most (if not all) tasks in an organization need to be done well, but not necessarily perfectly. Perfectionism can ultimately cause stagnation and failure. Realizing that good work is okay, and that perfection is often impossible, is the first step in becoming an effective delegator.

Refer to the checklist below to evaluate your present delegation skills and determine if there is room for improvement. There is also a worksheet at the end to help you determine how to implement delegation by determining which tasks and activities should be delegated out. Remember, if you are a business owner or manager, delegation is the first step in getting back your time, life, and in moving your business to new levels of success.

Answer yes or no for each question below. “No” answers indicate an opportunity for improvement or learning of new skills. “Yes” answers indicate an already effective delegation skill.

Once you understand what delegation is and the current status of your delegation skills, the next step is to determine which tasks should be delegated. The table below is a tool intended for you to identify which tasks you are doing but could be delegated. Be honest with yourself as you fill this out and keep in mind the common excuses to avoid delegation discussed early in this article. As you work through this exercise, ask yourself “Am I using any of the excuses to keep from delegating tasks that should be completed by others?”.

A good general rule of thumb is that if you can document the process required to accomplish the work, then you can delegate it. If you can document it, teach it, and the outcome will be acceptable, then you should delegate it.

Step 2: Develop Task and Work Delegation Matrix.

Skill level definitions:

  1. Anyone can do this task.
  2. Task requires some specific knowledge, but it can be taught to most people.
  3. Task requires deep knowledge of the industry, but can be done well by or taught to someone else in my company.
  4. Task requires proprietary knowledge that only the business owner possesses, or has significant impact on the strategic growth or survival of the company.

Ask yourself if the entire process can be documented. If yes, carry the skill level score to the right and record under delegation score. If no, multiply the skill level score by 2 then carry to the right under delegation score. When complete, see below to determine whether a task should be delegated.

Any task with a delegation score of 1-3 can and should be delegated to someone else. Any task with a delegation score of 4 may be delegable, but requires more consideration and may not be delegable as of today but could become delegable in the future. Any task with a score of 5 or higher should not be delegated.

I hope that you found the above exercise helpful. Remember that failure to delegate is causes more harm than it avoids. Rely on your staff- that’s why you hired them. 

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