How To Delegate Effectively

delegate, work,Have you ever found yourself wondering, “How did this get back on my desk?” after you thought you’d delegated the job to someone else.

That’s how Jane felt as a manager of a food packaging company in New York state. Working with the marketing department on the roll-out of a new package design, Jane delegated tasks to her 15-person department. She reviewed the steps she deemed necessary to design and manufacture the new packages. The contract was a lucrative one and Jane had a tight deadline to make. She was confident her staff was capable of getting the assigned tasks completed.

Jane thought herself to be some expert on delegating, after having read books and articles about the management skill. She felt confident that she could delegate effectively. Yet despite her study of delegating, many tasks of the major project boomeranged back to her desk. This pattern was slowing the project down. Things weren’t getting done on schedule and her team began to grumble about not getting support, and feeling unappreciated.

What was going wrong for Jane?

In our practice, we have observed master delegators ask themselves nine quick questions when delegating. The questions guide managers in the skill of delegation.

1. Who should I choose for this job?
Effective delegators ask not just whose job a task is, but who can actually do the job. It may be surprising to find someone in the office whose job description falls outside of the task but who has the skills to accomplish it. Alternately, no one may be capable because more instruction or training is needed. The manager may discover he or she must be a tutor as well as a delegator.

2. How has this task landed back onto my desk?
Good delegators take personal responsibility for work that arrives back in their laps. This doesn’t mean doing it them selves; it means assessing how the work returned to them. Jane discovered that she hadn’t given a colleague adequate instructions about who to contact for the next step. As a result, when the work was completed, it wasn’t moved forward to the next appropriate person. The task hit a wall.

3. How do I move something off my desk and keep it off?
When people who delegate well find that something has returned, they promptly find out the expectations of the worker to whom it was delegated. Sometimes subordinates don’t realize they can take the task as far as the leader had envisioned. They misunderstand their role in getting results. Keeping tasks off your desk in the future requires monitoring the process and looking for signs that employees may not be sure what to do next. Or they may be afraid to ask for more information.

4. Have I provided an adequate timeline with dates for progress reports and due dates?
Effective delegators create timelines for the project, touch base continually and set time frames. Jane’s major error was her reticence in creating progress report dates. She thought it would be perceived as questioning her subordinates’ abilities to have to “check in” with her. But in fact, her staff felt abandoned with the project and wondered if Jane was interested in it.

5. Did I make my priorities known to everyone?
Ensure that you tell others what is most important about the task and why. This will help the team create priorities. Knowing why something is important will help staff make decisions about the project more easily. Jane didn’t mention the fact that the contract was the richest the company had ever received.

6. Have I explored why the job was not finished on time?
When goals are not met, an immediate analysis of the factors that created a delay is essential to avoid repeating the mistake again. The idea is not to finger-point but to see where things went awry.

7. What worries me most about delegating?
Maybe the stakes seem too high, maybe you really like doing it all yourself or – part and parcel of that – maybe it’s hard to let go and trust others. Whatever the reason, ferret it out and remember it while you’re delegating. In Jane’s case she was concerned that people wouldn’t get things done. So she’d sometimes do things that were previously delegated. She was afraid to ask about the project’s status for fear of appearing to undermine her team.

8. Have I appreciated the job done?
Acknowledging and congratulating people for their efforts is the key to getting things done. That’s what delegating is all about. 9. Did I review the entire job after it was finished for ways to improve operations next time?
Before moving onto the next challenge, review with your team how the delegating process both worked and didn’t work. Use the team’s feedback for the next project.

In the end, Jane missed the project deadline and the client was disappointed. However, luck was on her side and the client’s product was also behind schedule.

But luck is not always going to be on your side. Avoiding costly delegating mistakes is the ideal way to go.

Dr. Jennifer Newman is a registered psychologist and director of Newman Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development company.  Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.  Dr. Newman can be contacted at:

Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.

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