Tips for Better Delegation

As I’ve tried to convey many times, a big part of your productivity and success depends on other people, and particularly on getting other people not only to do what you want and need help with, but to provide this help how, when, and where you prefer.

In many situations, this boils down to delegating – whether to subordinates, colleagues, specialists, or anyone else – some of the important tasks in your work and your life, and your ability to do this delegation most effectively.

Unfortunately, effective delegation does not come naturally to most of us. But delegation is a well-understood skill that can be studied, practiced, and mastered.

Here are some guidelines to help you get better at delegation:

Understand the Importance of Effective Delegation

There’s a natural tendency among many productive and successful people to neglect their delegation skills. You may feel you can’t find other people who can deliver results that meet your standards, or that getting others to deliver satisfactory results is more time consuming and difficult than simply doing the work on your own.

Sometimes, these feelings make sense. But recognize that even the greatest masters of painting, sculpture, music, politics, and industry have often worked with time-saving assistants they had trained to bring tasks along to a point where the master could apply the finishing touches and thereby produce larger volumes of great work.

The trick is to provide sufficient and proper direction so the person to whom you delegate becomes a help rather than a hindrance. Without this kind of effective delegation, you’re strictly limited to what you can produce in your own limited time.

Delegate Early

Good delegation need not absorb more time than doing the work yourself. But you get better work from your delegate when s/he has plenty of time to accomplish the task. That’s why it’s helpful to delegate a task well before the moment you would start work on it, if you were doing it yourself.  

By delegating early, you allow your delegate plenty of time to get up to speed on the task, to bring you reports of difficulties or obstacles, to correct any errors that occur, and to learn as they go.

Delegate Often

Simply put, delegation is a skill you can’t perform judiciously unless you keep in practice. What’s more, since delegation offers so many advantages to improve your productivity and success, you’ll obtain larger benefits from doing it more often.

Practicing your delegation skills will not only make you more adept at off-loading some of your tasks to others, it will generally create opportunities for others to become more skilled and better suited to be of help to you.

Delegate to the Right Person

It’s a common misperception that delegation involves simply handing off a task to someone else. But since people have different skill sets, experience, and knowledge, their relative ability to handle a specific task varies greatly. So part of delegating effectively is delegating to the person (or team) best suited to deliver top-level results.

Carefully selecting to whom you delegate each task also helps you more accurately identify the full range of your delegates’ capabilities.

Delegate with Guidelines

Another common misperception is that you can just hand-off a task to a delegate and forget about it. That might be true after you’ve delegated a number of similar tasks to the same person (or team). But for the first few times, and for every new or different task, your delegation procedure should include a detailed discussion.

This discussion should include such matters as:

  • Important details regarding the task, such as content to include in a presentation or preferred vendors to work with.
  • Expectations, goals and deadlines for completing the task.
  • Where your delegate has flexibility on the task, where s/he doesn’t.
  • Criteria for evaluating your delegate’s performance on the task.
  • A timeline for reporting progress on the task.
  • Enough information so your delegate understands where the task fits into the bigger picture.
  • Indicators that might provide warnings before the task goes off the rails.

Delegate for Training

There are often opportunities for you to delegate tasks that you might prefer to do on your own, but which can better provide training and experience to others.

For example, by allowing your delegate enough flexibility on a task, you leave open opportunities for them to find their own best methods and procedures to reach the agreed-upon goals for the task.

In addition, by delegating simpler versions of more demanding tasks you may want to delegate in the future, you can help to upgrade the skills and abilities of one or more persons who will then be more valuable to you as delegates.

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