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Delegate with Meaning: 4 Steps to Success (updated)

Debra Sunohara

In several of our recent blog posts we have been highlighting that the single greatest driver of employee engagement is the employee’s personal relationship with their immediate supervisor.

The question then becomes, what steps can managers take to support the development of these crucial interactions? The answer is relatively simple: care about their personal lives, show interest in them as people, care about how they feel, and, support their health and wellbeing. But to do that, leaders and managers need to develop a continuous communication plan – including authentic, face-to-face contact.  

To good leaders this is not news – it is something that has been intuitive to them for some time. However, knowing and doing are two very different things. And making time in your already overcharged daily schedule to talk with and listen to employees can seem an insurmountable challenge.

That is where delegating comes in.

As an effective manager, you must be able to confidently delegate work. This will allow you to spend more time building relationships and engaging with your staff rather than running the daily treadmill of checking tasks off of your to-do list.

Do you successfully use delegating to engage, challenge, empower, and develop your people? The following was originally posted January 12, 2011, and will provide a good introduction to delegation.

Delegate with Meaning: 4 Steps to Success

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
    • Where are you on the project?
    • Are you running into any obstacles and how are you going to clear them
    • Do you need any other help or resources?
  11. Confirm shared understanding of numbers 5 – 1.
  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 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?

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