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Delegate with Meaning: 4 Steps to Success

Debra Sunohara

There are any number of skills that a manager must master to be successful, but the ability to effectively and appropriately delegate tasks might be the most critical.

Letting go of total control is difficult for many of us - especially when it involves expecting less satisfactory results than you would produce yourself.  If you are like most other managers, you would probably agree that you could and should delegate more, but there are so many variables to cope with: How much authority should you give away? How much (how little) oversight does this person need?  Is this situation different from the last one?

Before you can delegate effectively you need to ask yourself a few questions:

  • Can I let go of control?
  • Have I surrounded myself with people whose work I have confidence in?
  • Do I trust my team?
  • Am I the only one around here who is competent to do things well?

Until you have dealt with these issues effectively, the mechanics of delegating tasks are unimportant.  It’s kind of like worrying about tactics before you have nailed down your strategy.

But, when you are ready to deal with the tactics of delegation, there are some steps that will make the process easier and more likely to result in success.

Step 1 – I should delegate this task if:

  • Someone else can do it better (or at least as well) than me.
  • I don’t have enough time to do it well.
  • It is a better use of resources for someone else to do it "good enough".
  • I have more important things to do.
  • It’s a good learning/development opportunity for one of my team members.
  • It will cost too much for me to do it.
  • I’m spending too much time on operational work rather than on being a good manager.

Step 2 - Review your "lessons learned" and ask yourself:

  • Have I delegated well in the past?
  • What worked? What didn’t?
  • What skill development or knowledge transfer could I create in my team by delegating this task?
  • What are the implications if I delegate this work?
  • What does delegating this task allow me to do?
  • Do you need any permission to delegate this work?
  • Who should I assign this to?
  • How ready is he/she to perform this work?
  • How will I measure success?


Step 3 - Define the boundaries of delegated authority: how much control do I need to maintain?



Step 4 - Delegate with meaning:

1.    You are accountable for choosing the right person - choose someone who you  believe can and will deliver.

2.    Learn about the individual: what is their need for feedback?  what motivates them?

3.    Clearly state what you need help with.

4.    Reinforce why you are asking them.

5.    Ask for specific acceptance of the task.

6.    Make the person you are delegating to clearly responsible and accountable for the work to be done.

7.    Spell out the task/project in detail - know what you want.

8.    Set expectations - clearly describe the needed outcomes and set deadlines!

9.    Outline any applicable rules or regulations.

10.  Set reporting requirements:

a.    Where are you on the project?

b.    Are you running into any obstacles and how are you going to clear them?

c.    Do you need any other help or resources?

11.  Confirm shared understanding of numbers 5 – 10.

12.  Be flexible.

13.  Let go. Step back and let them do it.  But don’t abandon them – be supportive without micro-managing.

14.  Give feedback at regular intervals – daily, weekly, or monthly as required.

15.  Praise and motivate, but don't forget that mistakes are a part of the learning process!!

HUA - Heard, Understood, Acknowledged

Last but not least, do not overlook how important communication is in delegating. A RACI matrix is a good simple and effective tool to use to avoid disappointing results and to ensure that there is a shared understanding of responsibility, accountability, and expected communication requirements. Delegating, after all, involves much more than simply allocating work.

Have you successfully used delegating to develop your staff?


This is an effective summary of the art of delegation.

One of the great aids I have found in delegating is to share the objectives I have in assigning the responsibility and authority involved. I find that articulating my goal and sharing with them with my colleague adds context to my expectations, helps clarify critical collateral issues, builds trust and, not least, ensures that my own thinking stands up to scrutiny.

By Alcide DeGagn on 2011/01/12

Thanks, Alcide. This could easily be added as one more point to the above list; simply delegating responsibility and authority to your colleague does not necessarily communicate to them your objectives in doing so. I agree that explicitly engaging them in the conversation and placing value on their input builds trust and confidence.

By Debra Sunohara on 2011/01/12

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Posted by Debra Sunohara
Posted on January 11, 2011

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Categories: hr & talent management, knowledge transfer, leadership, management, project management