The Art of Delegation: 3 Tips for Business Leaders

On our third instalment of learning and leadership training series, let’s focus on an essential skill every leader should practice in your daily routine. You may recall that on our last  leadership training blog, we mentioned that it is no longer only about you completing your work, it is about achieving results through others. This is where the art of delegation comes into play.

Why is delegation so important?

It’s called an art because it may not come naturally and requires a lot of effort up-front. There are several reasons why you may shy away from delegating work. Let’s try a quick exercise. Do the following sentences sound familiar to you?

  • “It is quicker if I just do it.”
  • “No-one apart from me can do this key task.”
  • “The client is familiar with me so let’s leave it that way.”
  • “I don’t know if I can trust this person to transfer the project to.”
  • “I’m the only one who can do the job right.”

However true these commonly believed statements may be, your refusal to delegate can have negative outcomes. Efficiency is compromised as you are still spending time doing things that should no longer be your responsibility. When you free up your time, you get to focus on the bigger picture and all those relevant tasks in your role that are higher value, such as growing your business.

Moreover, not delegating prevents your employees from learning and developing. Their lack of engagement can be frustrating to them, and the absence of autonomy create bottlenecks. Delegation should be viewed as a daily occurrence in your workday.

It’s a continuous cycle that involves three steps. These steps cover all the right focus areas for a leader – people and relationship, process and tasks, and skill development.

1. What tasks to delegate

Majority of the time, your team will have a regular standard set of tasks to complete. In other situations, you may need to delegate specific tasks. Always aim to allocate the tasks fairly across the team.

It is critical that your employee understands the task well. Encourage them to ask questions and make sure that they have the resources to start the task with.

Do take the time to explain the following:

  • Give necessary instructions including logical sequence

You should have a good understanding of the skills, experience, and capabilities of your employees. You know the best method of explaining the task involved. But don’t assume your employees know how to, just because you can do it easily. For those less experienced, you may need to spend time providing clear direction. Whilst it may be time consuming, your effort will pay dividends down the track.

You may also need to demonstrate (showing what to do) as opposed to providing instructions (explaining what to do). There is a big difference, and it all depends upon the task and the employee’s skill set.

  • Define the anticipated outcome

Be clear with expected results or outcomes. Where some elements of the tasks may not be defined at the time, ensure a check-in process occurs during relevant stages. This will avoid unnecessary work performed and disappointment.

  • Time to complete the task

Timeframes are critical. Everything can’t be a priority! If you can’t identify the most important tasks when delegating, then fix the urgent over the important. Finally, be realistic in giving the time to complete.

2. Monitoring Tasks and Outcomes

There is nothing more demotivating than an employee being told that their hard work and effort has been changed in the last week, but you didn’t get a chance to tell them! This can be avoided by regular monitoring and check-ins, including communicating external and unpredictable factors.

Monitoring can occur in a few ways – it all depends on the size and complexity of the task and the employee performing the task. For example, if one of your employees is experienced and you know they work consistently and produce good results, you may not need to monitor them as often as another who’s less experienced.

During this step, your aim is to ensure:

  • The work is on track to achieve the expected outcomes and/or adhering to procedures or client requirements.
  • You answer employee’s questions. Repeat or demonstrate instructions as required.
  • The employee continues to understand the task required and have the tools and resources they need.
  • You provide further clarification around outcomes that weren’t defined at the beginning or make necessary adjustments.
  • You revisit timeframes and adjust as required, in particular for large-scale projects where tasks are broken down into “bite size chunks”.

You can also monitor in real time by observing at intervals whilst work is being done. Or off-line by reviewing results, customer feedback and reports.

Important: Whatever check-in method, process and or frequency is agreed, stick to it! You don’t want a situation where an employee can’t progress because they haven’t had time with their leader to monitor their work to date and ask questions.

3. Provide Feedback

As a leader, you should not underestimate the importance of this step.

Feedback should be specific and provided as soon as possible, so changes can be made. Don’t delay and hinder the success of a task.

Whilst at times you may get frustrated, don’t make it personal. Focus on the task and how to correct the situation and/or behaviour. Consider posing a question instead of making a statement, it tends to encourage a discussion.

Feedback should also involve encouragement and motivation for your employee. Give credit where it’s due and celebrate the successes, no matter how small. Particularly with large-scale projects, when the end feels so far away – you don’t want to wait too long before acknowledging that work has been well done. We will show you more tips on feedback in the next leadership blog ‘Managing Performance’.

When you’ve reached this stage, don’t forget the old saying of “lather, rinse and repeat”. Go back to the first stage and start again.

Getting the balance right

Any leader can struggle in finding the balance between delegation and micromanagement. As a result, some leaders go to the extreme to avoid micromanagement by being a hands-off leader. That isn’t a good idea either, it is all about getting the balance right which takes patience and practice. And you don’t have to navigate this journey alone and on your own.

Whether you are a seasoned leader or currently going through leadership training, applying the art of delegation in your day-to-day routine not only benefits your team, but it also allows you to do your actual job. Our team of HR experts can help you understand the responsibilities and skills across your team to make delegation that much easier. HR can be painful. We do the heavy lifting, so you can focus on running the show. Get help now. Contact us today.