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Master the Art of Delegation

People who rely on delegation know how well it works.  If you give assignments to your trusted co-workers, you’ll find that you have more time for things that only you can complete. The warning signs that you don’t delegate enough could be one of the following reasons: You think “If I want this done right, I’ll have to do it myself.” Some staffers are busier than others. Talented employees seem bored. You often take work home.  View a Delegation Matrix.

How Good Are You at Delegating? Quiz

Take a short quiz to determine how well you are delegating to your team members

Six steps to mastering the art of delegation:

(If you want to post these steps in your office, please print)

  • Pick the right tasks to delegate. Fact-finding, report drafts and data collection are all good candidates for delegation. Never delegate performance appraisals or discipline.
  • Know our team members’ strengths. As much as possible, delegate according to interests as well as capabilities. Don’t delegate a number-crunching assignment to a person who is more of a people-person who would rather be on the phone with clients.
  • Establish performance standards and deadlines. Set specific goals that both you and the team member agree on. How often will he report back to you? How will she know when it’s time to ask for help? Be specific about these steps.
  • Determine skills and training needs. Don’t set yourself—or your team members—up for failure by delegating tasks that go beyond their skills and training.
  • Stay involved. Check in often, both casually—“How are you doing with that data?”—and formally—“When will you have the final report on my desk?”
  • Offer support. Whenever someone makes a mistake, be tactful. Emphasize correcting the error and regaining lost ground, not assigning blame. Suggest ways to correct the mistake, but let the other person handle the problem

Fourteen Steps on How to Delegate

The ability to delegate responsibilities is a critical skill for making the most of your personal effectiveness. Delegating, however, can be somewhat tricky. You have to be firm, yet trusting with the person you’re delegating your responsibilities to. These steps should help you get over any anxieties you might have about delegating as they walk you through the actual process of delegating work tactfully and respectfully. You need to know when to delegate and when not to delegate.

Part 1: Getting in the Right Mindset

  1. Set your ego aside. A big mental road block to delegation is that “If you want something done right, then do it yourself.” You’re not the only person in the world who can do it right. You may be the only person who can do it right at this very moment, but if you take the time to train someone, they’ll probably be able to do it right, too. Who knows – they might even do it faster or better than you and this is something you need to not only accept, but invite.
    Think logically and realistically – can you do this work by yourself? Will you have to work yourself to death to balance this work and your normal responsibilities? If so, you should probably be prepared to delegate some of your work. Don’t feel ashamed or incompetent because you need help with something – you’re actually being a more effective worker by getting help when you need it.
  2. Stop waiting for people to volunteer. If you’re reluctant to delegate work, you may have a minor case of martyr syndrome – you’re probably overwhelmed, and you often wonder why people don’t ever offer to help. Be honest with yourself – when they do, do you turn them down, just to be polite? Do you quietly wonder why they didn’t insist? Do you feel that, if your positions were reversed, you’d probably help them in a heartbeat? If you answered “yes,” you need to work on taking control of your situation. Get the help you need – don’t wait for it to come to you, because it might not.
    Many people are quite oblivious to what others are going through, and there’s not much you can do to change them. Let go of any frustration you might have over people not offering a helping hand; remember that it’s ultimately your job to communicate your needs.
  3. Don’t view requests for help negatively. Lots of folks are uncomfortable with asking for help. You may feel guilty, like you’re burdening others, or shameful, because you think (for some reason) that you’re supposed be able to handle everything on your own.
  4. Learn to trust others. If you’re afraid of delegating because you don’t think anyone can do as good of job as you can, remember two things: First, that almost anyone can get good at something with enough practice, and second, that you’re probably not as universally talented as you think you are. When you delegate work, you’re not just freeing time up for yourself – you’re also giving your helper a chance to practice a new skill or tackle a new kind of assignment. Be patient – with enough time, your helper will probably be able to do the delegated work about as well as you could have. Unless the work you plan to delegate is very important, it’s probably alright for your helper to learn how to do well over time. If the work is very important, think twice before delegating it!
    Even if you are the best at doing the work you plan to delegate, realize that delegating work allows you to do other things with your time. If you’re the best person in the office at the relatively monotonous task of assembling hard drives, but you’ve got an important presentation you need to prepare for, it’s O.K. to give the task to an intern. It’s much better for you to give difficult, complex tasks priority – don’t feel bad about delegating simple, repetitive tasks when you have more important things to do.

Part 2: Delegating Effectively

  1. Get the ball rolling. The first step is the hardest, but it’s the most crucial. You’ve got to take the plunge and ask someone to help you (or, if you’re the boss, tell someone to help you.) Don’t feel bad about this – as long as you’re polite, kind, and gracious, you’re not being rude simply for asking (or telling) someone to help. Try to be gracious and considerate while simultaneously maintaining the seriousness of your request.
    • If you’re unsure of how, specifically, you should ask someone to do some work for you, try keeping things short and sweet. Say something like, “Hey, can I talk to you for a minute? I was wondering if you could help me assemble the big stack of hard drives we just got. I can’t do it because I’m out of the office today. Can you help me out?” Don’t pressure your helper, but be sure that s/he knows his or her help is needed.
    • Ask and you shall (probably) receive. Don’t be afraid to delegate because you may be seen as rude or imposing. Look at it this way – how do you feel when people ask you to do something? Are you hurt and offended? Or are you (usually) perfectly willing to help? Probably the latter!
  2. Don’t take refusals personally. Sometimes, people aren’t going to be able to help you – it’s sad, but true. This can be for a variety of reasons – the most common is that the person you ask is already very busy with his or her own work. Don’t take this too personally – just because someone can’t (or won’t) do something for you at the moment doesn’t mean s/he hates you. It usually just means that s/he is either busy or lazy – nothing more.If you’re refused, consider your options – usually, you can politely but firmly insist that you really need this person to help (which will work especially well if you’re a boss or someone else with authority), you can try asking someone else, or you can do the work yourself. If you really need help, don’t be afraid to try options one and/or two!
  3. Delegate the objective, not the procedure.
    • This is the key to not becoming a nightmare of a micro-manager. Set clear standards for what kind of results you’re looking for, and show the person how you do it, but tell them that they can do it any way they want, as long as it’s done well and it’s completed on time.
    • This is also smart because it spares your time and your nerves. You want to be using the time that you’ve freed up to do something more important, not constantly worrying about how your helper is progressing
  4. Be prepared to train your helper. You should almost always set aside a little time to teach your helper how to do the task you’ve delegated to him or her, even if it’s a fairly simple one. Remember that processes that seem straightforward and simple to you might not be so simple to someone who’s never dealt with them before. Be ready not only to walk your helper through the work you’ve delegated to him or her, but also to patiently field the questions that s/he will probably have.Consider the time you spend training a helper to be a wise long-term investment. By spending a little time teaching your helper to do a task correctly, you save time in the future that might have otherwise been spent correcting his or her mistakes.
  5. Allocate the resources necessary to complete the task. You may have resources available that are necessary to complete the task but the person given the task may not be able to access them. Things like password protected data, specialized equipment, and certain tools can be vital to the completion of this task, so make sure your helper has whatever s/he needs to succeed.
  6. Understand that your helper can only do one thing at once. When your helper is helping you, s/he isn’t doing his or her normal responsibilities. Don’t forget that, like you, your helper likely has a tight schedule. Ask yourself – what work will they set aside or delegate in order to complete your task? Be sure you know the answer to this question when you delegate a task to someone.
  7. Be patient. The person to whom you delegate will make mistakes while s/he is learning how to do a new task. It’s part of the learning process. Plan for it. Don’t delegate a task assuming the person will execute it perfectly until they have a proven track record. If a project doesn’t turn out the way you wanted it to because your partner wasn’t able to do a completely new task you delegated to him or her perfectly, it’s your fault, not his or hers. Be a resource for your helper and delegated work can be a learning experience for him or her, rather than something to dread.When you train someone to do something, you’re making an investment. At first, it’ll slow you down, but in the long run, it’ll increase productivity by leaps and bound, for you’ve approached the whole thing with a positive and realistic attitude.
  8. Be prepared for likely difficulties. Implement backup plans and stand ready to jump in if things go wrong. Know what will happen if a benchmark or deadline is missed. Obstacles and unexpected challenges pop up all the time, whether you’re at work or at home – even technology fails sometimes. Let your delegate trust in the fact that, if something comes up, you will understand and help him or her to meet that deadline – don’t just throw them under the bus at the first whiff of trouble.Doing this is also smart in a selfish sense – If your delegate fears that s/he will be blamed, far more time will be spent in covering his or her own rear than in actually completing the task.
  9. Recognize your helper when it counts. Delegating tasks to someone else is necessary if you are to take on more and more responsibility. However, it’s counterproductive when you delegate a task, let your helper work hard on it, and then take all the credit for yourself. Recognize and praise the efforts of others on your behalf.Make sure that whenever you’re complimented for a job you received help on, you mention your helper by name.
  10. Say “Thank You.” When someone does something for you, it is important to thank him or her, acknowledge the importance of his or her help, and let the helper know s/he is appreciated. Otherwise, you’ll appear ungrateful, even if you’re not. Remember that people can’t read your mind. People are more likely to offer to help again if they feel appreciated.Be gracious. A simple heartfelt acknowledgement like, “I couldn’t have done it without you!” can go a long way. If the work that this person did for you was substantial, you may even want to buy him or her a meal, a drink, a thank you card, or a small present.

Go to Time Management Step Five: Use Technology to Your Advantage to learn how to use technology to save time.