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How To Delegate Effectively
By Gregory P. Smith

Effective delegation is an important tool that some managers hesitate to use. This may result from inexperience with delegation particularly for a novice manager, a reluctance to release work one personally enjoys doing, or even an adherence to the old adage, "If you want something done right, do it yourself." Here are eight basic guidelines to help you delegate more effectively:

1. Determine what you will delegate. You decide which task(s) you want to delegate. Keep in mind that delegating is different from simply assigning someone a task that is already a part of the normal job requirements. When you delegate, you give someone else one of your job tasks; but you maintain control and responsibility.

2. Clarify the results you want. Determine the results you consider necessary for successful completion of the task. In general, the employee to whom you delegate uses his or her own methods to accomplish the task. If you expect use of a specific method to accomplish results, relate that to the employee at the beginning.

3. Clearly define the employee's responsibility. You, not the employee, determine the level of responsibility. Be sure the employee understands that level. After you have given the employee the information about the delegated task, ask him to tell you his understanding of both the task and goals. If the employee's answers do not match your expectations, review the matter in detail again.

4. Communicate the employee's authority over the delegated task. Define the scope and degree of authority given to the employee for the delegated task. Explain which decisions he or she may make independently and which require your approval. Be specific. If you tell the employee, "Do whatever it takes," you may end up with an unpleasant surprise if the employee violates company standards. However, a too-limited authority may stop the employee from accomplishing the task. Give the employee the authority necessary to accomplish the task but not so much authority that he or she can create a major disaster before anyone discovers the problem. Also, make clear the budget available and budgetary limitations.

5. Be sure the employee understands his or her authority. Again, have the employee repeat back to you his or her understanding of authority regarding the task. Resolve any misunderstandings at the beginning.

6. Establish a time limit. Time means different thing to different people. If you want the delegated work completed within a certain period, make that clear to the employee. (If you say, "When you get time, work on this," the project may remain untouched for weeks.) Also, if you want portions of the work completed by certain dates, make that clear.

7. Establish a follow-up schedule. Use a series of follow-up meetings to 1) monitor progress and 2) determine need for assistance. Monitoring the progress avoids a discovery two days before the due date that the task is not on schedule. It also can serve as an indication of whether the employee needs assistance. Some employees hesitate to ask questions. They fear the manager will interpret this as a sign of weakness or inadequacy for the job. Follow-up meetings give them the opportunity to ask questions within the context of a meeting designed for that purpose. The frequency of follow-up meetings will vary from project to project and employee to employee. You may schedule more frequent meetings when delegating to a new employee than when delegating to an experienced and proven employee.

8. Stick to the delegation program; avoid "reverse" delegation. An employee may try to "dump" the delegated task back on the manager. A manager may feel tempted to "take it back" if the employee seems to be struggling with the task. In extreme circumstances, a manager may have no alternative other than to take the task back in order to avoid permanent damage to his or her own performance record. However, this should be only in extreme cases. When you take back a delegated task, the employee loses the opportunity to learn and grow. This can also discourage the employee who desired to do well, but needed more assistance at that point in time. Occasionally an employee may decide to perform poorly in order to avoid additional work; do not encourage this attitude. Stick to your decision and work with employees to see the task to completion.

Summary: Managers delegate work not to just relieve their workload, but to allow the employees they supervise to grow professionally. Effective delegation is a two-way discussion and understanding. Be clear about the delegated task, give employee(s) an opportunity to ask questions, monitor progress and offer assistance as needed. Use effective delegation to benefit both yourself and the person to whom you delegate.


Gregory P. Smith shows businesses how to build productive and profitable work environments that attract, keep and motivate their workforce. He speaks at conferences, conducts management training and is the President of a management consulting firm called Chart Your Course International located in Conyers, Georgia. Phone him at (770)860-9464 or send an email at greg@chartcourse.com. More information and articles are available at www.ChartCourse.com.

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