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Delegation: The Art of Letting Go. Successful delegation for better business practices.

Updated: Jul 27, 2023

Enter button on keyboard, coloured yellow, labelled "Save Your Time"
If only it was that easy!

I believed, for a long time, that asking someone to share the burden of my workload was a sign that I was incapable. Not doing my own work was a weakness. That I was dumping my work onto others.

Of course, I know different now.

I believe that many of us have this ingrained adversity towards delegation. We struggle to let go of things, hoarding our tasks, and clasping them close to our chest for fear of being seen as incapable, unable to manage our workload or not performing as well as expected or as well as others.

Our inability or refusal to delegate can often be our downfall. It happens all the time; the better you perform, the more work you will be given to get those great results you so consistently produce. The problem is, you are just one person, with a finite capacity and, therefore, have a limit as to how much you can do before standards start to slip. And that is to be expected. When you spread yourself thin, you can't give as much per task.

This can lead to stress, feelings of inadequacy, and ultimately burnout.

Delegation is a core concept of management leadership. It is the foundation of a strong, efficient and healthy team structure.

Although often unfamiliar to us, delegation is a skill that can be learned. When done well, it can strengthen teams, enable smart working, reduce stress, and increase efficiency. It will solidify the service you deliver, it will smooth internal processes and create a harmonious working culture that promotes learning, trust and respect within the team.

What is delegation?

Delegation is entrusting (a task or responsibility) to another person, typically one who is less senior.

Successful delegation is identifying which tasks and/or responsibilities to keep, which should be entrusted to another to complete, and being able to pass them on, without guilt, for the better of you, them and the business.

Why is delegation so important?

Well, delegation will ensure that the right person is doing the right job. It makes sense financially, time management wise, and staff and skill developmentally. when done successfully, at least.

Lets say, you are the Director of a successful business (of course!), and your to-do list looks a little like this:

* Arrange 1-2-1 with staff member

* Write a product brief for marketing - new product

* Meeting with Director of potential business lead

* Book flight for upcoming conference

* Submit monthly expenses

As Director of the business, you need to assess and understand where your time is best spent. So, out of the 5 list items, I would delegate 4 of them to ensure my time, and business time, is best spent. It doesn't make sense, financially, nor from a perspective of job fulfilment, that you spend your time looking for flights - that task can very easily be delegated to someone less senior, someone who's hourly rate is lower, so your time can be spent where it will be most beneficial.

Likewise with booking meetings. Not the best use of your time, but absolutely a task that can be delegated down. Same goes for submitting expenses. Any admin based job should be delegated to those whose focus is more administrative.

I would also delegate the product brief. Remember, delegating a task doesn't mean that you no longer hold responsibility for the task. This is a good example. I would pass this task to another - one who knows the product, but who would gain experience, confidence, and the chance to use and develop their copy-writing skills to write the brief.

Here's where we become successful delegators.... I would then review the written brief, give feedback and re-adopt the task to ensure it is completed to the best of abilities.

The only task I deem appropriate for a Director to own, on that list, is the potential lead meeting - finding and securing new business. The rest are better placed by those in the business that are admin focused, who cost the business less per hour, who have more capacity for office based tasks, and who would benefit from the experience, the development and the confidence boost that comes from completing tasks such as these.

Delegating successfully isn't dumping your task and running! It's identifying who is the best person for the job, based on skill-set, capacity, role, and hourly rate, giving them the job with all information and details you have, and supporting throughout, whilst maintaining responsibility to completion.

So why are we so afraid to do it?

Delegation barriers are real. There are many reasons why we look upon delegation with trepidation. It can be a powerful tool when used correctly, but many managers are fearful of delegating.

A humorous cartoon image of a king and queen. The king is painting the road with a dotted yellow line, whilst the queen comments "you have to delegate some authority"
Delegation is a skill - to be learned and to be taught!

It is not dumping your workload onto others!

Delegating our work can, at times, feel like we are offloading our work. However, in practice, it is the smart way to work. Done correctly, delegation is simply redistributing tasks, and/or authority to oversee tasks, to those who are better skilled, or have more availability, to do them. By giving a task to someone more suited, not only will the tasks be done well, but it enables you to spend your time on tasks more appropriate.

Some tasks it matters not who does them, just that they get done!

Once you have determined which task you will delegate, and to whom, communication is king. I know, I say it all the time - but that's because it is true. You need to communicate effectively the details of the task; what's expected, what are the time frames in place, deadlines to work to, outputs expected, resources available. Put yourself in the shoes of the delegee (is that even a word?) - What details would YOU need to know to be able to do the task justice.

For those who are self-employed, delegation is even more crucial. We need to evaluate our workload and determine which tasks we are not the most qualified for, which tasks are sucking our time unnecessarily, and where outsourcing would be financially more efficient You wouldn't expect a Director to spend time franking the mail - you pay someone to do that who receives less per hour for doing a job with less responsibility. Its working smarter. '

You are not giving away your job!

Handing certain tasks to others does not put your job at risk. You are redistributing tasks, not your entire workload! Chances are, you will increase efficiency, more work will be completed because it has been shared, and the work done will be of a higher standard because more people are able to give it more attention, and the task will be with someone with the skillset suited to doing it. You will look better in the long run!

Delegating is distributing work, so the task sits with the most appropriate person to enable it to be completed efficiently. Its smart working, using the resources available to the best of your ability. it's fitting the task with the best person qualified to complete it. it makes sense financially.

You will still be in control!

Delegating work doesn't get rid of it. You can still be involved, and should be (speaking to the managers and team leaders here).

I'm going to call you out also - the belief that no-one else can do it as well as you, that's your ego talking. If that is really the case, then you are delegating the wrong task. If it's a task that anyone is capable of, it may still be true, but it always will be as long as you keep refusing to relinquish responsibility and allow others to learn how to do it as well as you.

You can still offer support and guidance, and even review once done, and you should, but let others have a chance to develop their skills too.

It also highlights a lack of trust if you feel your team aren't able to fulfil a task well, or as well as you.Time to look at training your team a little more, as you've just identified a gap in knowledge! This will be reflected in the team culture - a team that feels valued, that has time invested into their growth, that feels trusted will, in return, work hard, be loyal and return that investment.

If you spend your days firefighting, barely making a dent in your to-do list, which keeps growing no matter how hard you work, you aren't delegating. You aren't using your team in the best way you can, you aren't working efficiently, and you are working reactively rather than proactively.

Identifying opportunities to Delegate

Identifying opportunities to delegate will get easier over time.

There are 5 simple questions you can ask yourself when you start on your journey to learning how to effectively delegate:

  1. Is there someone else who has (or can be given) the necessary information or expertise to complete the task? Is this a task that someone else can do, or is it critical that you do it yourself?

  2. Does the task provide an opportunity to grow and develop another person's skills?

  3. Is this a task that will re-occur, in a similar form, in the future?

  4. Do you have enough time to delegate the job effectively? Time must be available for adequate training, for questions and answers, for opportunities to check progress, and for rework if necessary.

  5. Is this a task that I should delegate? Does this task require a level of authority and responsibility?

These questions should help you identify opportunities to effectively delegate tasks within your team.

A circular flow map illustrating the delegation process, with each key step labelled and leading to the next.
The Circle of Delegation

How do I delegate?

Delegation is a process. A step by step flow you can follow, which can be repeated until it becomes a habit.

The key to successful delegation is to match the task with the best person for the job. It's not about which task you do or do not want to do, it's about who is most capable, most qualified and has most capacity to complete the task in hand.

Once you have determined which task you will delegate, and to whom, communication is king. I know, I say it all the time - but that's because it is true. You need to communicate effectively the details of the task; what's expected, what are the timeframes in place, deadlines to work to, outputs expected, resources available. Put yourself in the shoes of the delegee (is that even a word?) - What details would YOU need to know to be able to do the task justice.

Your job doesn't end there. Once the task has been passed, make sure you check in from time to time, to avoid a situation where the deadline is looming, and the work isn't done, or isn't done to the right remit - misunderstandings can happen (were only human!), so make sure you monitor the work. It is still your responsibility! If it isn't done right, or to the standards required - it falls on your head! Although, that's not an excuse to micromanage. Of course, when the task has been completed, it is your job to review the work, suggest any edits required and, most importantly, thank the delegee (again, is that a word?!) for doing a job well done!

The Benefit of Delegation

There are many benefits to delegating.

The most obvious being that it allows more to get done in the time you are given....that old adage, two heads (or pairs of hands in this case) are better than one!

By delegating, you free yourself up to focus on more important projects or tasks, whilst helping to nurture and develop your team. Win-win!

You are creating a culture of trust at your workplace. By delegating, you are saying that you trust others to do the job well. You are placing your faith in your staff, and this will be noticed, and rewarded, with loyalty.

An increase in productivity will also decrease a stressful environment, making the workplace a happier, thriving place to be. Happy workers are productive workers! Your staff will be motivated by the trust and the workplace culture you are encouraging.

By delegating, you are also including more people, inspiring collaboration, which allows for more ideas to be brought to the table. Your team will feel included in the tasks, and bring suggestions and ideas forward that you might otherwise have not heard.

It also means that, should you need time off, there will be someone who knows the score knows what's going on and can pick up the work in your absence.

Delegation doesn't come easy to some of us, but it is a skill worth learning that pays off ten-fold. It is crucial for efficient working, productivity and task management.

If you need support in changing your team culture to a more positive, productive environment, help with task management, or guidance to learn the art of delegation, give me a shout. I'm always happy to help encourage good working practices where everyone benefits.


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