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Become an Effective Delegator

By Mark Wardell @MarkWardell |

The most critical business challenges can be solved by learning how to delegate effectively. In my experience, the issue of delegation is all too common with business owners, who think they are the only ones who can do what they do. The truth is, no matter how difficult, intricate or niche your expertise may be, there is almost always someone available (and often within your organization) who can assist you. You're wasting time and slowing your business growth when you try to do everything yourself.

Delegation is not a difficult concept. However, most business owners and managers feel uncomfortable passing their work to their employees. They don't trust that the work will be done satisfactorily or they've had a negative experience with delegating work to an employee that didn't meet their expectations.

This is where the (unfortunate) micro manager is born. The person who keeps their employees on a too-short leash. They tell them exactly what to do and when to do it, monitoring their progress from start to finish. The issue here is that the more involved a manger becomes with their employee's work, the less time he or she has to accomplish his/her own work. The result, especially when this mentality is engrained in the overall culture of the business, is a far less productive workforce.

So, how do you become an effective delegator? You need to delegate not only the work, but the decisions themselves. If you are fielding employee ideas all day and sending them back to implement your solutions, you aren't there yet. What you should be striving to do is provide the initial tools and encourage decisions and solutions from the team itself.

Here are the key points to consider, to improve your delegation skills:

  1. Be clear.

    Most delegation issues arise when people do not clearly understand what is expected of them. If things aren't clear, work will not get done and decisions will not be made. Yes, it does take more time up front to make sure things are clear, but it's time well spent. So, at the beginning of any project, clearly outline what the expectations are. If your employees know what you want, you've eliminated most of the issues already.

    Note that when people have trouble understanding something that you find simple (and they will), be patient. Showing your frustrations will only discourage them from asking for clarification the next time.

  2. Put project expectations in writing.

    A face to face explanation is important but you'll also need to put things in writing. Written documents put accountabilities on permanent record, reducing the chance that things will be forgotten. The importance or complexity of the task will determine the formality that is necessary. A more significant project should be documented in full detail, something smaller might require only a short e-mail.

  3. Assign a completion date and time.

    Never delegate without a completion date and time. For example, "the proposal must be completed and distributed by 1:00 PM on March 3." If you are delegating a permanent responsibility you need to make sure you have a date or time: "The Cost-Analysis Report should be completed by the 10th of every month." If the project is of low priority, give it a due date appropriately far away. If you don't, it won't get done. And remember, in a busy company, dateless projects will always be given a low priority.

  4. Set up checkpoints.

    Nothing is more frustrating than working for weeks on a project or new task, only to find that you were headed in the wrong direction and have to start over. The best way to give feedback is to set up dates to monitor progress. Checkpoints give your employee the freedom to work independently, with just enough supervision to keep them on track.

  5. Never take back the responsibility.

    When your employees come to you for help, offer your advice and support, but never take back the responsibility you have given. "Let me think about it and I'll get back to you" is almost always the wrong response to an employee's problem. Instead, offer your input, and then have them make their own decision. Better yet, make it a policy that employees must bring suggested solutions with them whenever they come to you with a problem.

Adopt these five delegation tactics and you'll soon find yourself with a more capable team and a more successful business.

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