Control issues. It looks lazy. I'm used to doing all the work myself. If I'm not careful, I'll become irrelevant.
I've heard (and felt) all of the above excuses for not delegating. But it's an important skill to master, no matter how uncomfortable it may make you feel. When done well, it tells people they're a trusted resource and an important part of the success of the company. As for you, it opens up more time for you to solve new problems.
In short, it helps everyone up their game. So, in the spirit of upping our delegation game, let's examine some of the ways to determine whether you should -- or should not -- delegate. Plus, we'll look at some ways to delegate successfully when the time comes.
Should You Delegate That? Ask Yourself These Questions First
1) Is someone else on the team more qualified to do this?
If a project will take you 10 hours to complete and it'll take someone else 10 minutes, the clear answer is "delegate." (And, perhaps, ask them to teach you their shortcuts so you can fend for yourself if necessary.)
Sometimes it's not as cut and dry as that, though. In those cases, I refer to the "moving analogy:"
I'm a frugal person. Last time I moved, I was on the fence whether I should hire movers -- I had never done it before, always moving my stuff myself. But I went for it, hiring a team of three movers. It cost me a few hundred bucks, and they were done in two hours. Compare that to my experience moving myself: The truck rental alone cost a few hundred bucks, it took me all day, I was sweaty and unhappy at the end, and I owed my friends a lot of beer and pizza at the end of it all.
Bottom line: The movers are better at moving than I am. That's why they're in the moving business. And that's why you hire people that are better at other things than you are ... because we all can't be good at everything.
2) Does this give someone else the chance to do something noteworthy?
Be a leader? Get visibility in front of important people? Grow their career? Expand their skill set? These are good things that keep people around, engaged, and happy. Consider delegating the work if it meets the other "delegation-worthy" criteria.
3) Is there a time restriction to consider?
If something comes up that needs to get done stat, it's not only wise -- but crucial -- that it gets delegated to the one most qualified to do it correctly and on time. And if that person happens to be you, it's best not to delegate it, despite the opportunities for learning and growth that might come with it. In fact, trying to squeeze a learning opportunity into a time-crunched situation can seriously backfire. Without the proper time to train or answer questions, the person to whom you delegate can end up feeling rushed and deliver a sub-par end-product.
If you ever find yourself in a situation where only one person cam solve a problem, though, you might need to set up some cross-training. There should never be just one person who can execute an important task; be sure there's at least one other person who can play backup for someone with specialized skills.
4) Is this work likely to come up again?
If something is likely to become a recurring responsibility, it makes sense to appoint someone as the DRI (directly responsible individual) for that task. That person could be you -- but it doesn't have to be.
With new tasks come the perfect opportunity to teach and learn. This could be a good career opportunity that someone else might relish. Don't hoard all those good opportunities for yourself!
5) Are there enough support systems to make delegation successful?
Delegation doesn't mean saying, "here, do this" and disappearing. It requires that you provide a clear request and context for the request, at the very least. But it may also require additional resources -- time spent training, documentation to follow, availability for questions, a collaborator or resource to turn to, etc.
If the responsibility you're considering delegating requires any of these things, and you don't have the ability to offer it, it's best to keep yourself as the responsible individual to ensure it wraps up successfully.
6) Will delegating have unintended negative consequences?
Even the most well-meaning instances of delegation can backfire without considering the unintended negative consequences.
For instance, is the employee to whom you're delegating work already incredibly overwhelmed? If so, what would normally be a logical step or exciting opportunity might just come off as a nuisance. If that's the case, consider discussing how you can reprioritize responsibilities so as not to miss out on those opportunities.
When Not to Delegate
Speaking of unintended negative consequences when delegating, there are some times delegating is definitely not the answer. Here are some of those times, just for good measure:
1) When no one else is qualified to do it -- even with training, support, and resources.
Stretching someone too far outside their comfort zone can lead to overwhelmed feelings and a poor end-product. Instead of delegating the entire task, look for teaching opportunities so you can gradually coach smart people to take on the project later on.
2) When the stakes are really, really high.
Could this project get someone canned if done wrong? Hurt their reputation in front of important people? Equip them with sensitive information that's inappropriate? When the stakes are high, ask for help, but the pressure should stay on your shoulders.
3) When it'll have a bad long-term affect on the team.
No job is fun all the time. Busy work, staying late, doing grunt work -- these things happen to everyone. But it should be evenly distributed across the team, leaders included. It says a lot when you delegate the "blah" stuff, but it says more when, periodically, you don't.
Tips for More Effective Delegation
1) Explain why it's important the person take on the work.
Offering context on why the project is important for the company, your team, or just for personal growth can help make an exciting project even more so. But, more importantly, it can help make a mediocre project seem worth doing. It also offers your teammate the information they need to make intelligent decisions on their own.
2) Offer guidance and resources.
Again, guidance and resources help empower your teammate to make intelligent decisions. It also ensures the work gets done right the first time, instead of ending up back on your plate later on.
3) Make it easy to ask questions about the work that has been delegated.
If you've delegated work, you should make it clear you're available to answer questions about that work. If you're not the best person to answer those questions, make it clear you'll get them in touch with the right person to answer them.
4) Offer frequent and specific feedback to work that has been delegated -- both during the project and after its completion.
Everyone should have access to frequent, specific, and constructive feedback about their work. This shouldn't occur just at the end of a project, though. Just as you make yourself available to help someone with work you've delegated as they're getting up to speed, make yourself available to offer feedback when they're getting their sea legs.
I don't think I've met anyone that's totally comfortable with delegation. If I did, I'd probably side-eye 'em. But from being on the receiving end of delegated work, as well as delegating myself, I've found these considerations jive pretty well with a productive, modern work environment. Please let me know what else you like to consider in the comments.
Originally published Aug 7, 2014 8:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017