No matter how hard we try, we simply can’t do everything ourselves. The ability to delegate is an essential management skill, allowing us to free up our time so we can focus on our most important tasks.
Without delegation, it’s easy to spread ourselves too thin by trying to take on too much. This can negatively affect our productivity, the quality of our work and lead to unnecessary stress as we try to multitask - something we aren’t naturally good at.
Delegating not only improves our efficiency and time management, but it also benefits our peers too. Giving other people responsibilities gives them the opportunity to learn, develop new skills and advance in their careers, while building trust between you and your colleagues and improving communication.
Being able to delegate effectively also pays off, too. In 2014, Gallup studied the entrepreneurial talent profiles of 143 CEOs included on the Inc. 500 list. Of those surveyed, those with high delegation skills posted an average three-year growth rate of 1,751% - 112 percentage points greater than those CEOs with “limited or low” delegation skills. Overall, CEOs who delegated well also generated 33% greater revenue in 2013 than those with low or limited levels of the talent.
Another 2016 study by Northwestern University Professor Thomas N. Hubbard and Luis Garicano examined the returns of delegation within the law profession. Focusing on partners who work with associates, the researchers found that delegating work to associates allowed the median partner to earn more than 20% more than they would otherwise. Top lawyers earned at least 50% more.
However, delegation is something many leaders struggle with. According to the Gallup research, 75% of the employer entrepreneurs studied had “limited-to-low levels of delegator talent” and struggled with people management, hindering their company’s potential growth.
Often, we assume it will take longer to explain the task to someone else than actually just doing it ourselves. We may feel guilty about giving others more to do, or question if they are capable of completing the project to our standards.
Delegating is also about relinquishing control, which can be difficult. “At the heart of it, delegation is about giving power and authority to work on assigned tasks. It deals with how power should be handed over for delegated tasks to be completed successfully,” researchers from Wits Business School wrote in a 2020 paper. So how can we master the art of delegating successfully?
As the Wits Business School researchers highlight, delegation isn’t about giving orders or dumping a load of work on a colleague’s desk and expecting them to just get on with it. Rather, it’s a “two-way process” that needs to be dealt with carefully.
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Know which tasks to delegate
Not all tasks can be delegated to other people. Some responsibilities will rely on your expertise and experience, which is why you were hired for the job in the first place. However, consider which day-to-day activities might not require your direct input.
If you have a co-worker with the right skills to do it, who may appreciate the opportunity and responsibility, consider if they would be happy to take on the task instead.
However, the employees you delegate to don’t necessarily need to have knowledge distinct from yours. As long as you give the right information and communicate clearly, it may be a good learning experience for them.
Provide the necessary information
If the person you’re delegating work to needs specific training, resources, or authority to complete the task, it is the manager’s job to provide these.
Simply asking someone to do work without giving them the necessary resources will cause frustration on both sides, which can have a lasting negative impact on the relationship. The work won’t be done to the right standard - and you may end up having to do it again yourself.
There is no point to delegating if you then have to spend time managing the process or answering follow-up questions. Communicating clearly, concisely and effectively is the best way to ensure other people know what is required of them. It also helps to build trust among team members too, according to research.
Benedict Mathebula and Brian Barnard argue that a lack of trust “means giving little information, which creates a chain of delegation because the manager is not transparent with his subordinates.”
After the work is done, giving feedback about what has gone well and could have been done differently is important. Delegation is as much about learning as it is about time management.
However, it’s essential to be constructive, not critical. And if something has gone wrong, consider if your instructions or guidance could have been better.