The Step-By-Step Guide To Delegation:

Tips, Tricks, and Templates for Delegators

According to a Harvard Business Review study, knowledge workers, those whose primary contribution at work is knowledge on a specific topic, spend an average of 41% on discretionary activities that offer little personal satisfaction and could be handled competently by others. In this guide, you'll learn everything you need to know about effective delegation, such as its importance, what to delegate, and the skills delegators need to succeed.

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There is never enough time in the day.

If you’re a leader and have thought this before, you’re not alone. Regardless of your title, seniority, industry, or geography, leaders have at one time or another felt like there is too much to do and too little time. This might have something to do with the fact that “knowledge workers (someone whose primary contribution at work is knowledge on a specific topic) spend a great deal of their time—an average of 41%—on discretionary activities that offer little personal satisfaction and could be handled competently by others,” according to Harvard Business Review

How then can you be the best leader you can be with a finite amount of time, energy, and resources? 

The answer is delegation. If you want to be a good, maybe even a great leader, then you must delegate. That’s because delegating the right tasks to the right people at the right time not only makes your job easier and relieves time for the tasks only you can do, but contributes to the success, growth, and development of your employees. It’s a win-win. 

The reality though is that 46% of organizational leaders are worried their managers and supervisors do not know how to delegate tasks effectively. Not to mention, one SHRM article pointed out that there are leaders who actively resist, avoid, or flat out refuse to delegate for any number of reasons including: 

  • The belief that employees cannot do the job as well or “only I can do it” 

  • The belief that it takes less time to do the work than it takes to delegate the responsibility

  • Lack of trust in employees’ motivation and commitment to quality

  • The need to make oneself indispensable

  • The enjoyment of doing the work 

  • The guilt associated with giving more work to an overworked staff

Regardless of how you currently feel about delegating or the status of your delegation skills, there is no better time to start learning than now. In the following guide, you will find answers to the most commonly asked questions regarding delegation such as why it’s important, which tasks to delegate, who to delegate to, and how exactly to delegate. Let’s begin.

What is delegation?

Delegation is defined as the act of assigning someone else, typically an employee, a project, task, or duty to complete independently. It may be administrative or strategic in nature. When delegating a task, the delegator is ultimately responsible for the outcomes, whether positive or negative, and should therefore take special care to provide instructions, training, coaching, and feedback throughout the process to ensure a successful outcome for all parties involved.

What Is the Importance of Delegation? 6 Benefits You Should Be Aware Of

Delegation is much more than just assigning tasks you do not enjoy or do not want to do. It is a leadership practice that demands thought, sound judgment, and careful attention. While it may prove challenging at the beginning, with practice and time-effective delegation will prove beneficial to not only yourself as a leader, but your employees as well.

 

Reduces Your Workload for High-Value Activities

In a study conducted by Consultancy.uk, managers and supervisors agreed that they don’t spend as much time actively managing (directing their staff, making plans, and following up on them) as they would like to. To be specific, these supervisors and managers were spending just 6% of their time on active management. Another study by McKinsey found that only 52% of respondents felt the way they spent their time matched their organizations’ strategic priorities. Nearly half admitted that they were not concentrating sufficiently on guiding the strategic direction of the business.

If you are ever to get time for high-value activities that only you can do, such as active leadership and strategic planning, then you must delegate often and effectively. While the time spent initially equipping, training, and coaching employees to do the tasks you delegate is an investment, over time your employees will become more self-sufficient, thus allowing you the time needed to think strategically and lead intentionally. 

 

Contributes to the Development and Growth of the Employee

When you delegate a task or project to an employee that falls outside their day-to-day job, they will be working in uncharted territory. With that, they will need to wield their critical thinking, sound judgment and decision-making skills to ensure the task is completed according to your directions. Of course, in doing so they may encounter learning opportunities that require additional coaching and mentoring from you as their leader. You should not only expect this to happen but actively seek out coachable moments. By capitalizing on coachable moments, you not only will be able to provide constructive feedback but also pass on your own strengths and knowledge that further encourage your employee to grow and develop in a specific area. 

 

Creates a Sense of Purpose for Employees

It is deeply important to those in the workplace today to find a sense of purpose and meaning in their job. This was confirmed in a PwC survey, where 83% of respondents said that meaning in their day-to-day work was the most important thing to them in their current job. 

As a people leader, you can, and should, feed this by regularly reminding your employees of the importance of their job in terms of the bigger picture. One way to do just that is by delegating important or meaningful tasks to them. As the authors of an article featured in the Frontiers in Psychology journal noted, delegating these types of tasks can make employees feel their job is meaningful, responsible for outcomes, trusted, and organizationally important.

It should not come as a surprise that there is a correlation between delegation and a sense of purpose. As you can imagine or may have even experienced first-hand, it’s hard to find a sense of purpose at work if your direct leader micromanages everything you do. In fact, it may even leave you asking, “Why was I even hired in the first place?” Fortunately, this can be avoided if you delegate not just mundane, administrative tasks, but strategic or meaningful ones as well. 

 

Boosts an Employee’s Self-Esteem and Confidence

When you delegate a task that you typically do yourself or that has historically been done by someone senior, it sends a message to the employee to who you are delegating the task that you have confidence in their abilities and that you see potential within them. Whether you realize this is the message you are sending or not, you are boosting their self-esteem and confidence. 

Be aware though if you are delegating to insecure employees. In which case, Mary Shapiro, a professor at Simmons College School of Management, advises that, “You can’t just delegate and move on. This person will have a lot of questions that a ‘secure’ employee might not have. So, make sure this employee understands the specifications, the resources available, and the timeline of each task.” 

 

Builds Trust with employees

Delegation by its very nature shows that you have trust in your employee that they will complete the task you delegated on time and in the appropriate manner. When you delegate it builds trust and when employees trust their boss and organization, there is a significant impact. In an HBR article on the neuroscience of trust, they found that people at high-trust organizations (compared to low-trust companies) had 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer days absent from work, 76% higher engagement, 40% less burnout, and 29% higher satisfaction with their lives overall. It is undeniable that trust is a critical success factor for individuals, teams, and organizational success, and delegation is one way to build it.

 

Increases employee engagement and satisfaction

When employees are engaged with their work and the organization, they are more productive, less likely to be absent or leave the company, and are more likely to hit targets and achieve their goals. Moreover, when employees have the appropriate amount of freedom to complete an assigned task on their own, employees show engagement levels in the 79th percentile, as compared to their micromanaged counterparts who rank in the 24th percentile for engagement. Of course, you should be mindful of who it is you are delegating to and what it is you are delegating, so you can strike the right balance between giving your employee too little or too much freedom.

The Importance of Delegation

Deciding What to Delegate

Whether you’ve been reluctant to delegate in the past or are a first-time supervisor or manager with little to no experience doing so, it can be a challenge to determine exactly what to delegate. Though if one thing is for certain, it is that you should be cognizant of delegating a mix of the menial (“boring”) tasks and the more meaningful ones. No one wants to feel that their leader is giving them all their “dirty work.” Therefore, you should keep some of those tasks for yourself, as it makes employees feel like you are not “too good” or “above” a task and portrays that you’re in it together. 

To help you decide what to delegate, review the following list of examples and begin a list of things that would qualify: 

 

what Not to delegate

  • Core leadership responsibilities such as hiring, discipline, difficult conversations, and performance reviews
  • High-risk tasks
  • Onboarding new employees
  • Crisis management
  • Leading change initiatives
  • Decisions that affect the entire team or multiple departments/stakeholders
  • Feedback or constructive criticism
  • Creating a team vision and casting it

what to delegate

  • Tasks that can be taught
  • Tasks that align with and forward an employee’s career trajectory
  • Tasks that you aren’t good at that others have the skills and passion for
  • Tasks that cannot be automated and take up a significant amount of time

Once you have thought through the tasks on your to-do list and have an idea about what you want to delegate, try using this interactive assessment from Harvard Business Review.  

Deciding What to Delegate Checklist Image copy

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Who Should You Delegate To? 11 Questions Delegators Need to Consider

Now that you know what to delegate, it’s time to decide who on your team it should be assigned to. This is a critical step in the delegation process as you need to select an employee who has a proven track record, who shows accountability and initiative, who is engaged and motivated to do a good job, and above all, is someone you trust. Ideally, you will hand the task off to this person with little doubt that they are capable of doing it and that even if they struggle, they will immediately turn to you for support. If you feel this way, then delegating should be that much less worrisome. 

To determine if the person you have in mind for a delegated task is the right person for the job, ask yourself the following questions. 

  • Do they have the time and resources to actually complete the task?

  • Would they be keen to take on a task beyond their daily responsibilities?

  • Do they have sufficient experience for the task?

  • Do their soft skills and tactical skills meet the requirements of the task?

  • Do they have a proven track record?

  • Have they shown sound judgment?

  • Do they take responsibility for their actions and mistakes?

  • Are they ambitious to grow and learn within your team or organization?

  • Do they work well independently? Can they handle more autonomy?

  • Have they established informal authority with their peers that would help them get the job done?

  • Have you worked together long enough to establish a relationship based on trust?

Who Should You Delegate To (1)

How To Delegate Tasks: An Easy 3-Step Process

Once you have decided what you want to delegate and to whom, it’s time to actually delegate it. To do this effectively, you must have and follow a process to ensure the task is followed through to completion. 

Remember, delegation does not mean you tell someone what to do and then are completely absolved of responsibility for the successful completion of the task. In fact, the task you have delegated remains your responsibility even if someone else is doing the work. Therefore, you should stay close to the task so that you can quickly course-correct problems, assist a struggling or overwhelmed employee, and even answer questions your own boss or colleagues have about the work. 

In fact, the “30% Solution” from the Project Management Institute reflects this as it shows just how involved a delegator must be from start to finish for a task to succeed.

PMI 30% Solution

Start Together (20%)

To begin, you should work side by side with your employee to clarify the goal of the task, give them directions, set checkpoints, and explain when you want to be looped in if a challenge or roadblock arises.

On Their Own (70%)

While the majority of the work at this time will be completed by your employee independently, you should always be available to provide insights, feedback, and clear roadblocks.

Finish Together (10%)

As an employee wraps up the assigned task, you should “land the plane” together. This means you as the delegator should check the work to ensure it meets your expectations and instructions.

As a delegator, if you want to be sure you are delegating as effectively as possible, we recommend following the checklist below as it indicates exactly what actions to take at every step in the delegation process.

 

Step 1: Initial Conversation

The initial conversation should take place one-on-one and should not be rushed. If you attempt to delegate a task while you are in a hurry, there is an increased chance that a miscommunication or mistake may happen as a result. For that reason, you should schedule time with the individual you have chosen where you can thoroughly explain yourself and answer questions. In this conversation, be mindful to discuss the following:

  • Explain what needs to be done and the desired outcome. At this point you should answer the following questions: 

    • Who

      • Why have you selected them to complete the task?

    • What

      • What is it you need them to do? This should be explained in as much detail as possible.

    • When

      • When does the task need to be completed? 

      • When should they check-in with you? 

      • Are there milestones they need to meet by each of those check-ins?

    • Why

      • Why are you delegating the task? 

      • Why does this task need to be completed? 

      • What is the impact on the team and organization of completing this task?

      •  What is in jeopardy if it is not completed?

    • How

      • How should the task be completed? 

      • Is there a specific set of instructions to follow? This will depend on their experience, skills, and track record of sound judgment and decision making.

      • In what situations should you be consulted/looped in? How much authority do they have to make decisions?

      • Are there any resources available such as money, equipment, external consultants, senior leaders, etc. to get the task done? 

  • Have the employee say back to you what you’re asking them to do

  • Get commitment from the employee they are willing and able to take accountability for the task you have presented them with

  • Ask if they have any immediate questions or concerns. Make it clear that you would rather they come to you with follow-up questions than try to go it alone or worry about “bothering” you.

 

Step 2: Ongoing Support and Coaching

Given that effective delegation goes beyond the handoff of a task, you must remain actively aware of the status of any task you have delegated until it is completed and successful. Be mindful not to micromanage your employee though. At this stage, you should be focused on the progress and results you’re seeing, not how the task is actually being completed. So, while it might not be the way you would do it, you have given your employee the authority to produce the desired outcome as they see fit. 

Instead, you should focus on finding opportunities throughout the process to provide coaching, offer constructive feedback, and pass on your knowledge and strengths. Not only will this make an employee feel truly supported, but it will achieve the goal of turning the delegated task into a learning experience. Here are a few specific actions to take and questions to ask during this stage of the delegation process: 

  • Schedule one on one meetings (if they are not already on your calendars)  

  • Request status updates

    • Are you on track to meet the agreed-upon timeline? 

    • Are you on budget?  

    • Have you encountered any roadblocks that I can remove? 

    • Do you need my feedback or approval on anything? 

  • Ask questions to get a sense of how your employee is doing with the added responsibility. Closely listen to what they have to say, their non-verbal cues such as body language and tone, and even what they’re not saying, to get a sense of their mindset and intervene if needed. 

    • Are you enjoying this task? 

    • Is this task making you feel challenged? 

    • What could I do to help ensure you’re successful? 

    • How are you feeling about balancing this added responsibility and your day-to-day commitments? 

  • Encourage and remind them of the importance of the task to you, the team, or the organization. This is a chance to show them you have confidence and faith in their skills and abilities to achieve the desired results.

 

Step 3: Completion

When your employee gets near the end of the work you assigned them, it’s time to step back in and take a more active role to ensure the task is completed. To do this, be sure to take the following steps:

  • Review the work completed against the expectations and instructions you gave during the initial conversation

  • If revisions are needed, explain your rationale and clarify if it is in fact wrong, or just personal preference. 

  • Say thank you

  • Give credit where credit is due and provide appropriate recognition for a job well done

  • Schedule a post-mortem to identify what went right, what went wrong, and what could be done differently next time. 

How To Delegate Tasks (1)

5 Skills that are needed to be an Effective Delegator

To successfully delegate tasks, you need to wield several leadership and management skills. Review the following list of skills to determine which leadership training topics you should invest in to further develop your delegation skills.

CRITICAL THINKING AND DECISION-MAKING Icon Orange

 

Critical Thinking and Decision-Making

Determining what to delegate and to who requires critically examining the consequences of the task you’re thinking about delegating. As a delegator, you should think through the impact on the team, organization, and the person you’re delegating to, as well as consider all possible scenarios or outcomes. Not only will this help ensure you make the best decisions regarding a delegated task, but help you prepare in advance to ensure the outcome.

Communication Icon

Communication

It will be nearly impossible to successfully delegate tasks without speaking with clarity, asking insightful questions, and actively listening to employees. Yet, one study found that 91% of employees surveyed said their leaders lacked the ability to communicate well. Communication skills are one area all delegators, regardless of tenure, should be continually working on as it has one of the greatest impacts on effectiveness.

Coaching and delivering feedback icon

 

Coaching and Delivering Feedback

One side benefit experienced from delegating is it creates an opportunity for the delegator to deliver timely and relevant coaching and feedback. Remember, your employee will be hungry for your guidance, to collaborate with you, and to receive feedback and encouragement as they step up to the new challenge you’ve assigned them. Therefore, you need to be proficient at coaching employees, as it will serve both of you well throughout the delegation process.

Time Management Icon Orange

 

Planning and Time Management

Even though a team member will be completing the task, the delegator needs to have impeccable planning and time management skills. Delegators need to set deadlines for checkpoints, milestones, and the completion of the task and hold the employee accountable to the timeline. 

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Problem-Solving

If the task you delegated was larger, it is more than likely that a situation will arise where you and your employee need to apply your problem-solving skills. At this time, your employee will inevitably look to you as the leader to help them identify the issue, come up with a solution,  and implement a solution. Therefore, it helps to have developed and honed your problem-solving skills so that you are not only prepared to deal with the problem but to teach your employee how to do so for themself.

Conclusion: Develop Your Delegation Skills with Niagara Institute

There is much more to delegating than simply assigning someone a task. It takes consideration, confidence, and commitment; consideration that you are assigning the right task to the right person, confidence in the person you have delegated to, and a commitment to seeing both the task and employee through to success. 

In light of the fact that London business school professor, John Hunt, estimates that only 30% of managers think they can delegate well, and of those, only one in three is considered a good delegator by their subordinates, it is not surprising that many managers, supervisors, and team leaders, crave additional opportunities to develop their delegation skills. With Niagara Institute, you have access to some of the very best leadership development training programs, one-to-one leadership coaches, and assessments to do exactly that. Explore all your options today and get a sense of what is possible to become a truly effective delegator.  

 

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