How To Delegate Efficiently

Claude Warner, Executive Coach

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How to delegate efficiently? Have you ever worked for a manager who wouldn’t trust you with basic tasks? It can be frustrating! Relying on others in the workplace is part of building a motivational and trusting culture. If you don’t learn how to delegate tasks efficiently, your to-do lists might get crammed full while others are barren. This leads to less than optimal working conditions for everyone involved, and unnecessary risk of burnout. Finding the right level of delegation, where you delegate enough that someone feels ownership over the task, and not so much that they feel overwhelmed can be difficult. It can lead to mistrust and inefficiencies in completing tasks.

But who’s fault is it when managers don’t know how to delegate efficiently?

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) suggests that one of the top reasons managers don’t know how to delegate efficiently is because the organisation itself doesn’t assure that managers have the skill in the first place.

However, the managers themselves still have to take some of the responsibility. Either way, the result is that tasks are delegated without the authority needed to resolve them efficiently, or even worse, that tasks aren’t delegated but dumped on other employees.

To make sure you never lack in your own delegation abilities, you have to take the matter into your own hands! Since we’re always looking for ways to upgrade skills here at Upskill Coach, we want to share this how-to guide for how to delegate efficiently.

Who can delegate?

Delegation is all about sharing the workload. It helps to get tasks done efficiently because it better utilises different skillsets and seniority levels around an organisation.

Just because you’re not a Director or Manager at your company, don’t turn your back on delegation techniques. Whether you’re an analyst, junior accountant of an organisation, delegation is still an important skill to identify and learn for yourself.

Most of all, managers and senior leaders need to know how to delegate efficiently. Both to improve their work-life balance, but also to improve work satisfaction for themselves and their employees. Delegation of tasks will become especially for companies when remote work becomes the new normal. It’s at this level of seniority that delegation most often occurs (and most often misses the mark, too).

How do you determine if a task is delegation-worthy?

First things first. Is your task or a project worthy of being delegated?
A task can be anything – from drafting an internal email, contacting a vendor, writing a letter to an investor or even dealing with a demanding customer.

But not all tasks are created equal. You need to do a quick mental check about the assignment you want to delegate.
Here’s our cheat sheet of essential questions to ask yourself while preparing to delegate something down the chain of command:

Ask yourself: “is this task a good use of my time?”
If the answer is no – then try to think of someone else who you think is qualified and authorised to complete the job.

Ask yourself: “does this task take up a lot of time but is easy to do?”
If the answer is yes, then that’s a sure-fire sign that the task might be better to delegate.

Next, ask yourself: “will this task make sense to someone if I delegate it?”
Don’t delegate if the person will have to come back to you with questions every step of the way or if they need your approval for every major decision. If it’s too complicated, you have two options: 1. If it’s a one-off task, it might be better to add it to your own to-do list. 2. If it’s a repetitive task or one that has learning value, it might be worth giving someone the training, information and authority required to take ownership of the task on an ongoing basis.

Similarly, ask yourself: “what skills, insights or contexts are required to complete this task?”
If the task is quite complicated or technical, make sure you consider that when delegating it. You need to find a willing and available employee who has the technical know-how to complete the job.

Also, ask yourself: “what’s the lowest possible level that I can delegate this to?”
As a general rule, always try to delegate a task to the lowest possible organisational level. For instance, if the task involves a complicated engineering drawing for product design, don’t simply hand it over to the Managing Director in that department. Instead, help them understand the right requirement of skills and knowledge. Then, you’ll be able to find the right candidate for the job. Suppose you dump the task on a Director’s desk and run. The cycle of inefficiency continues – the Director will have to do their own research and assessment of the task, which causes duplication and inefficiencies.

Ask yourself: “does this task need to be done a single time, or is it a regular task?”
If it’s a one-off assignment, it might be easier to get it done yourself than to spend the time explaining the context and requirements to someone else. Example: creating a privacy agreement with a consultant. However, if it’s a regular task that’s fairly routine, there’s a good chance that delegation can free up your time and energy. Example: verifying monthly office expenditures.

How to delegate efficiently

So far, we covered the “what” of delegation.

But now we need to go over how to delegate efficiently.

Suppose your mental picture of delegation is a snooty executive in a smoky cigar room declaring “get our best man (or lady) on the job for this one!”. In that case, it might be time to reevaluate your definition of the term delegation.

Delegation in the modern era is much more refined and hands-on. LinkedIn’s list of the most in-demand skills of 2020 made one dramatic change compared to the previous year. The new list replaced time management skills with emotional intelligence as a highly desirable skill in the workplace.

If delegation is the science of time management, then emotional intelligence is the art.

To properly communicate with staff about delegation, you have to be able to make sense of their emotions, motivations, schedules, abilities and even your own sentiments. Emotional intelligence is an essential part of how colleagues interact with one another, and delegation is no different.

Here are some tricks to keep in mind while you delegate, many of them stemming from simple communication techniques:

  • Be clear. Offer as much clarity as necessary so that the project parameters are understood. Your instructions are sometimes the most that your colleague will have to work with, so make sure the task makes sense to them.

  • Define the “why”. If your colleague believes (whether true or not) that you delegated a task just because you’d prefer not to do it, then you haven’t delegated properly. Instead, describe the value that the task can bring to the organization.

  • Describe outcomes. One of the top reasons that delegation fails is because expectations aren’t understood. Avoid making the same mistake by defining the expected outcome in as much detail as possible.

  • Know your audience. If the task is delegated internally, does your colleague have the expertise and authority to accomplish the task? If delegated to a vendor outside your company, does the consultant understand your business well enough to do the job?

  • Timelines and updates. When delegating, essential parameters are often overlooked, such as timelines or how often progress updates are required. Instead, make sure that your colleague has a way to update you on progress at a preferred interval. It’s an excellent way to keep a project on track in terms of timing and scope so that you avoid disappointment once it’s complete.

  • Train, when necessary. Sometimes, you have to do some training to bring colleagues up to speed on a specific task. That involves holding their hand about how a process is complete. Giving them guidance upfront will only save you time and trouble down the road.

  • Don’t hover. Remember that old manager who wouldn’t trust you with a simple task? Don’t become them. An essential part of delegating is to delegate ownership of the job as well. If you’re delegating, you need to find the right time to remove yourself from the activity and avoid micromanaging the process. The whole goal of delegation is to free up your time and provide experience for others – so trust your delegation abilities and the competencies of those around you!

Last but not least, don’t forget to acknowledge a job well done if someone succeeds at a task that you delegated to them. Similarly, if the person fails in completing the task, it’s an excellent learning opportunity, try to avoid taking the task back, and empower the employee to complete it correctly instead.

After all, not only were you able to take it off your to-do list, but the valuable experience was shared, and productivity was maximized. That’s a win-win situation!

If you learn how to delegate efficiently and follow our cheat sheet above correctly, delegation is a win-win that you can rely on.

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Claude Warner Executive Coach

Claude Warner, Executive Coach

I am a professionally qualified executive and leadership coach with 15 years of experience working with Senior Managers and Executives in the private sector (manufacturing and IT) as well as public se...

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