Tips for Effective Delegation


Smart delegation goes hand-in-hand with leadership and teamwork. Done well, it can save you hours of time and create a fantastic resource for your company. Getting it wrong means office awkwardness at best and a lost sale or employee at worst. But if your job involves managing even one other person, you can’t get out of delegating.

So how do you set yourself up for success? Here are a few key elements of any delegation.

Think about what to delegate:

Avoid assigning one-off tasks. Remember that delegation is not about outsourcing mundane tasks. Effective delegation is focused on building competency and confidence in an employee. The person doing the work should have an opportunity to see and take ownership of the project, when possible. Distinct, recurring processes are your best bet. The project should come with goals that are defined, specific, and achievable.

Provide the right tools:

If you’ve carefully chosen the person to delegate to, they’re probably pretty adept at doing the work. But they still need to be given the right tools to successfully implement your requests. These include (a) context; (b) authority; (c) resources; and (d) feedback.

The delegation process:

Plan and structure the email or meeting in which the delegation will happen.

Clearly define the project or goal. Be specific, not general, and make sure the goal is achievable. Example: “I would like a list of 10 options for copyright attorneys with litigation experience practicing in New York State.”

Set a realistic deadline. This is too often overlooked! If you do not set a deadline, your employee will not know how to prioritize. It is critical to set this deadline in a collaborative tone. Example: “Do you think three days is enough time to get this done? If so, how about a deadline of 12 pm EST on July 23rd?” Now you have both the deadline and the employee’s buy-in to that deadline.

List any constraints. Include your specific needs around time, budget, or quality. Example: “I need to sign this contract by the end of the month. Lower price matters to me more than experience. I am willing to pay up to $350 per hour for the right person.”

Authorize independent action. Explain what steps your employee may take on your behalf. Remember to take their core competencies into account when doing so, and resist the urge to look over their shoulder. Example: “You are free to interview any prospects on my behalf. And you may discard any obviously unqualified prospects.”

Define success. Explain your desired end result. What will success look like? How will it be measured? This gives context about your ultimate objective. Example: “This project will be successful if I sign a contract with an experienced, reasonably priced attorney in less than 10 days.”

Be ready to offer necessary background and resources. These may include contacts, schedules, previous research, call notes, prior experience, white papers – anything that would benefit your employee’s efforts. Example: “I am attaching a referral list given to me by my business contacts. Please start with this list.”

Confirm that the other person understands the assignment. An easy way to do this is to have them repeat or explain the assignment back to you. This is a great way to end the meeting or email. Example: “Please confirm by email today that you understand this assignment, and have the resources to complete it.”

Schedule regular progress updates. Frequent check-ins have saved many projects. Example: “Let’s check in tomorrow at 2 pm EST to see how you are doing. Please call me with any questions.”

Giving feedback:

Feedback builds trust over time and improves efficiency and understanding on both ends. It’s important to be honest, especially about your own performance, when providing feedback. Always start with an (honest) self-evaluation (did I delegate properly; did I make assumptions; what mistakes did I make, etc). Only after that should you give feedback to your employee.

The best feedback is (a) timely; (b) frequent; (c) specific; (d) about actions and outcomes, not about the person; (e) clear and direct; and (f) focused on future improvements.

Want some suggestions for delegating specifically to a personal assistant? Check out our blog post on the topic here.

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