How to Delegate Effectively
An Edward Lowe In-Depth Business Builder
Managers could greatly reduce their stress
by practicing a critical management skill delegation.
The inability to delegate frequently has led to the downfall
of many leaders from presidents to first-line supervisors.
This guide helps managers recognize the benefits of delegating,
what and to whom one should delegate, and a systematic approach
to the delegation process.
Let's face it: One of the reasons you're a successful entrepreneur
is you have faith in yourself to persevere. You know that when
all else fails, you can get things done.
But as your business grows, that same faith taken to its
extreme can hold you back. You'll need to rely on others
to take initiative, solve problems, and produce results. This Business
Builder gives you the tools to do that.
You'll learn the art of delegation: its benefits, its limitations,
and how to communicate what you want. We'll also show you a simple
four-step approach to delegation so that you can manage this process
Many entrepreneurs in fast-growth businesses assume delegation
will take care of itself. In a lean, mean start-up, everyone knows
to chip in, right?
Test that assumption by completing the following exercise.
Exercise 1: So You Think You're a Delegator?
Answer each statement with the corresponding number using this
1 = always
2 = sometimes
3 = never
||I find that my employees
consistently look for ways to relieve the pressure that top
management faces without being asked.
||I'm free to "think big" because
my colleagues and employees handle all the daily operational
||As my company continues to
grow rapidly, I'm totally comfortable letting go and putting
others in charge of pieces of my business rather than
clinging to control.
||I prefer to spend 30 minutes
training an employee to do a new task than just doing it
myself in five minutes.
||I say to an employee "Let
me show you how to do that" far more than I think to
myself "If I don't do it, it won't get done right."
||I look for opportunities to praise
my managers for delegating to their workers.
Review your answers. If your total score is 6-8, then you're
an excellent delegator. This Business Builder will reinforce much
of what you're already doing and introduce you to some new techniques.
If your score is 9-14, you're on the road to becoming an effective
delegator. But you need to raise your awareness and make a more
concerted effort to coach others to plug holes and take on more
For those who score over 14, you're not alone. And you're honest!
Many entrepreneurs need to confront the fact that they just can't
do it all, and that assigning jobs to others is a vital part of
building a business. Ask any legendary business builder including
our own Edward Lowe to identify a key to transforming a
great idea into a thriving enterprise, and here's the answer you'll
hear: harness the drive, skills, and talents of every employee.
That's where delegation comes in.
CLEARING THE "DELEGATION
In fast-growth companies, harried entrepreneurs usually delegate
out of rushed necessity. They'll corner a staff member in the hall
and say, "I need you to help put out this fire!" Or they'll
get an emergency phone call, race out of a meeting, and say, "Gotta
run. Chris, you take over."
Given such time constraints, entrepreneurs can wind up delegating
without even knowing it. It's informal. They're so busy that they
may impulsively flag down the nearest employee and give only the
barest instructions before moving on.
Some workers thrive under such frantic conditions. They're willing
to keep pace with you and don't need lots of handholding. Others
may want more direction at first. In any case, by treating delegation
with more care, you can transfer responsibility to your team with
a minimum of disruption.
Don't dismiss delegation as an outmoded concept that's part of
the "command-and-control" model of years past. You may
not believe in rigid, hierarchical organizations. But even the
founders of flatter, more collaborative young businesses must ensure
that every employee can acquire higher-level skills and duties.
As your firm grows, you'll begin to accept that you can't do
it all that your operation is too big and you need to pass
along responsibilities to others. You must clear the "delegation
hurdle," where you leap over the I'm an owner who does
everything stage to embrace the I'm an entrepreneur who
gives up power mentality.
- You free yourself to run your business and see the big picture.
- You develop your employees and make them more valuable.
- You spread accountability to encourage a stronger, more resilient
- You can respond faster to changes in your business when you
can rely on nimble employees to take charge.
DEFINING DELEGATION [top]
Delegation is not task assignment. You're not simply assigning
work to employees that falls within their job duties and responsibilities. To
delegate, you must give someone the responsibility and authority
to do something that's normally part of your job.
Delegation is not "dumping." If employees think you're
merely throwing unpleasant assignments on their lap, they'll resent
having to find extra time for boring or dead-end projects.
Delegation is not abdication. You share accountability for the
assignment. That's why you must establish appropriate controls
and checkpoints to monitor your employees' progress.
Your role is to set clear goals and expectations for the assignment including
any boundaries or criteria without telling the worker how
to do it. This way, you allow others to discover for themselves
the best way to follow through.
Delegation involves three elements:
When you delegate, you distribute responsibility and authority
to others while holding them accountable for their performance.
The ultimate accountability, however, still lies with you.
Are You Fooling Yourself?
Problem: You convince yourself
that you're always looking for ways to teach others to
do more. But the result remains the same: You don't delegate
Cause: Many entrepreneurs are
stubborn, independent, and self-reliant. They prefer
to maintain control by playing a hands-on role, so they're
less apt to hand off assignments to employees even though
they know they should.
Solution: Track how you spend your workday and
the number of times you delegate. Then apply the "Two-for-One
Rule": For each task you delegate, assign another
job to someone else. This way, you'll double your daily
BARRIERS TO DELEGATION [top]
The biggest barrier to delegating is overcoming the entrepreneur's
curse: insisting on doing it all. That's a fatal error that prevents
start-ups from growing into viable companies.
Here's how to tell if you're digging yourself into a hole. When
a friend asks, "How was work today?" do you talk about
how much work you did? Or do you focus on the work that you coached
others to do?
If you discuss how well your employees are "stepping up" and "lightening
my load," that's a good sign. It shows you're delegating in
a meaningful way. But if you sigh and summarize all the rush jobs
you had to handle and all the fires you had to put out that
indicates you could benefit from more delegation.
Beware of giving the following excuses to avoid delegating:
- "It takes too long to explain."
- "No one on my staff is capable of doing it."
- "If you want it done right, you have to do it yourself."
- "My people are already overworked. I can't dump anything
more on them."
Which of the above statements have you made to rationalize your
lack of delegation?
Although you may offer the above excuses, your real reasons for refusing
to delegate may appear below:
- "I'm comfortable doing things myself. If I give that up,
then I would wind up operating my company in a way I'm not comfortable
- "It's my company, so it's ultimately my job to run everything."
- "What if the other person messes up? We're a young company,
and we can't afford any mistakes."
Can you think of any other reasons why you don't delegate as
much as you should?
Even if you're an excellent delegator, your employees may resist
the chance to step in. But you can't let this stop you from dishing
out duties to them.
When you delegate, you need to anticipate your workers' concerns
and address them. Prepare to overcome these anxieties that your
employees may express:
- I'm afraid of being criticized or embarrassed if I don't do
things exactly right.
- I'm not sure I have the skills or ability to do this.
- I just don't have the time to take on more work.
- I'm being taken advantage of. I shouldn't have to do someone
- I've already done my share of extra work without receiving
any thanks, much less reward or recognition. So now I'm hesitant
to say yes.
- Are there any other objections that you hear from your employees
when you try to delegate?
THE PROCESS OF DELEGATION [top]
Step 1: Choose What to Delegate
Study what kind of job you intend to delegate. Plan how you are
going to present the assignment, including your requirements, parameters,
authority level, checkpoints, and expectations.
To determine what tasks you should delegate, begin by keeping
a log of what you do during the day. After two weeks, review your
daily activity log and ask yourself if it truly reflects what you
should be doing.
Say you make the most contribution to your firm by focusing on
- Courting new customers
- Mapping out your firm's growth strategy
- Exploring acquisitions and marketing alliances
- Analyzing new markets for your products or services
- Coaching employees
If your activity log shows you do not spend the bulk of your
time in these five areas, this should spur you to delegate. Squandering
your day on minor matters will divert you from what really counts
and stymie your company's growth.
- All routine or even sporadic clerical duties (filing, counting,
sorting, routine reports)
- Making minor decisions
- Answering routine questions
- Minor staffing problems such as scheduling
- Anything your employees are expected to do when you're not
- Jobs that can develop the employee in other areas for potential
- An emergency or short-term task where there's not time to explain
- Morale problems
- A presentation to investors about your company's financial
performance and future plans
- A job no one else in the company is qualified to do
- Personnel issues such as hiring, firing or disciplinary matters
Step 2: Choose the Right Person to Delegate to
Andrew Carnegie once said, "The secret of success is not
in doing your own work but in recognizing the right man to do it."
The key to finding the right person to delegate to is to match
skills and personality to the task at hand. As a preliminary exercise,
ask each of your employees these questions:
- What would you like to learn more about at this company?
- What areas would you like to expand your skills?
- What parts of this company do you feel you know the most/least
- Are you eager to change your current job duties in any way?
If so, how?
Armed with the answers, you can delegate duties to people who
are receptive to accepting them.
Also consider the work habits of individuals on your team. Some
people may need lots of explanation, while others merely want to
know your expectations and any guidelines before they're left alone
to "get it done."
Step 3: Communicate What You Want Done
Rather than rush to give "do this, do that" orders,
effective delegation consists of explaining the WHAT and the WHY:
WHAT do you want the employee to do?
WHY did you choose them to do it?
When you delegate, include a "WHAT-WHY statement." Examples:
I'd like you to make ten survey calls to find out
what our customers think of our new product. Given your excellent
phone manner, I think you would represent us well and get people
We need to turn in some financial information to state
regulators by next Friday, and I want you to confirm all
the numbers are up-to-date and accurate in our financial
exhibits. You're a stickler for details, so I'm depending
on you to crosscheck everything.
Can you write a letter to our suppliers about our new
purchasing policies? You're familiar with our expense control
measures and you're a good writer, so I think you would be
perfect to write this letter and provide the proper context.
Before delegating your next project, compose a WHAT-WHY statement:
Rehearse this statement out loud to see how it sounds. You may
want to practice with a trusted adviser and get feedback.
When you've polished your WHAT-WHY statement, you're almost ready
to delegate. But first, prepare answers to these three questions:
- Who should the employee work with on this assignment? Who's
available to offer help?
- What resources or tools are available?
- What's the deadline?
Weave the answers to the above questions into your instruction. Encourage
the employee to take notes, especially to confirm the deadline so there's
no misunderstanding about what you expect at that time.
The final step in communicating what you want done is to gauge
the employee's willingness to comply. End by asking, "Are
you excited about doing this?" or "Do you feel comfortable
You might also ask for input on how the individual intends to
get started. Example: "How do you plan to approach this?"
Step 4: Follow Up
Establish checkpoints to monitor progress. This discussion should
be a collaborative process where you reach mutual agreement on
how you intend to follow up.
You have three options to track an employee's work:
- Scrutinize and approve every step of the assignment before
the worker proceeds to the next stage.
Pro: You ensure the project is completed satisfactorily,
and you can satisfy your urge to know what's going on throughout
the process. Many control-oriented entrepreneurs prefer to
keep a close watch on an assignment after they delegate it,
especially if it involves lots of details or complicated
Con: You might make the employee feel stupid by
signing off on each step. You risk showing you don't trust
others to think for themselves without your constant oversight.
Plus, it takes more of your time.
- Set a date for the individual to complete the work. Instruct
the employee to come to you with any questions along the way;
otherwise, you stay out of it.
Pro: You give the worker a chance to operate independently
without lots of interference. Your hands-off role also frees
you to do what's most important.
Con: You may be in for an unpleasant surprise if
the work isn't done by the due date or it's done incorrectly,
and you may have no way of knowing how it's going unless
the employee chooses to keep you informed.
- Designate a manager who's in charge of overseeing the employee's
work. This is really double delegation: you're assigning work
to someone and assigning a supervisor to monitor that work.
Pro: You increase the odds the work will get done
properly without having to spend time tracking it
yourself. You can also give your team leaders a chance to
expand their supervisory role by making them the "contact
person" for your employee and by having them follow
the worker's progress.
Con: In a fast-growing business, you may not have
the luxury of putting a manager in charge of monitoring an
employee's work. And that manager may not have the time to
track the project carefully or provide meaningful help to
AVOIDING PITFALLS [top]
Reverse or Upward Delegation
Most entrepreneurs expect their employees to wear many different
hats. But some workers lack the versatility to take on different
roles in a young company.
Even if they're comfortable taking on a range of duties, they
may lack the drive to do what you ask of them. They may take the
easy way out, in which they keep coming back and asking you what
Many entrepreneurs fall into the trap by taking the assignment
back unwittingly. They might say, "Here, let me show you," and
they wind up doing the whole project.
To avoid falling victim to the reverse delegation syndrome, make
employees think or problem-solve for themselves. Play the role
of coach. Begin by asking the employee various open-ended questions
to find out what has already been done and what the person thinks
should come next. Offer help and support, but don't take back an
assignment that you have delegated to someone else.
You may think you're doing a great job delegating to one of your
employees. But you may wonder why the individual isn't ecstatic
over the opportunity. The likely culprit: poor communication.
It's easy to assume that the employee knows and understands your
motivation. Yet in some cases, employees feel "dumped on" or
taken advantage of. To prevent this, explain the benefit of the
assignment to the employee. Remember to point out What's In It
For Them a concept sometimes remembered by the acronym:
Grabbing the Glory
Some high-ego entrepreneurs hog the credit for an employee's
hard work. Make sure that you give the appropriate recognition
to those who deserve it. If you must salute yourself, mentally
pat yourself on the back for being a great delegator.
MEASURING RESULTS [top]
In order to determine how well you have mastered the art of delegation,
complete the following assignment:
Name one of your responsibilities that you wish to delegate to
Identify the person to whom you are delegating. Why choose this
person? Consider this person's skills, experience, and personality.
Outline the specific tasks to be done.
Define expectations and performance standards.
Determine how you will measure your success as a delegator.