Delegating tasks sounds excellent in theory. We know we should delegate but also struggle to let go or pass sensitive to the workload of others, leaving us in a delegation stalemate. Let’s discuss techniques on how to delegate effectively and how to improve your delegation skills.
The Importance of Delegating for Managers
Despite the discomfort around delegating, it’s critical to success. Although managers often reach that rank by doing everything themselves, the paradox is that once you are a manager, you need to start doing the opposite of what you did to get there.
From the employee’s perspective, it’s very challenging to grow without your manager giving you new things to do, so hoarding all the tasks to yourself isn’t helping your team’s professional development. Moreover, from a corporate perspective, managers need to delegate because it makes them more effective while also providing a succession plan if and when that manager departs.
If you want concrete tips and steps to get better at delegating, read on. This article covers some essential techniques for delegating that meet the needs of you, your team, and your company.
6 Tips to Delegate Effectively Employee Work
Like most things, delegating gets easier when you have a structured way of doing it. The following sections cover the steps needed to delegate and some helpful techniques for each one.
1. Plot your work on the Eisenhower Matrix.
The Eisenhower Matrix is a prioritization framework helpful in delegation because, at its core, delegating is prioritization on steroids. The Eisenhower Matrix is a simple construct. First, you list everything you need to do and then slot them into the matrix. The way the Eisenhower Matrix works is things that are both urgent and important are what you work on now. Next, tasks that are important but not urgent (at least not yet) should be scheduled (which may involve some planning). Finally, essential but not urgent tasks should be delegated, and those neither important nor urgent should be abandoned.
2. Consider your team’s strengths.
Now it’s time to look at the list of people you can delegate. Consider whether the task for a specific colleague falls into an area of strength for them, something they’re comfortable doing, and in which they have experience. The task, however, may be an opportunity to do something new, a learning opportunity that forces them to stretch and adds to the team member’s career development.
By considering whether or not a task is a strength or a growth opportunity, you can be strategic about matching functions to people. For example, some experts recommend trying the “70 percent test“ to determine whether you should delegate the task. This rule suggests that if an employee can perform the task at least 70 percent as well as you can, you should delegate it.
Finally, there will be those have-to-do tasks with little career glitz, but still,l need doing, and those tasks should be quickly assigned to subordinates while being transparent that this is just part of the job—no need to position “printing out nametags” as a career development opportunity.
3. Assign tasks and load balance.
After figuring out which tasks to delegate, select the individual to perform each task using a strength and growth-based perspective. Then, before, before jumping onto a quick call to fill everyone in on what must happen, take a moment and step back to contemplate the context.
Consider each team member. Does one person have all tasks that leverage strengths and none offering growth opportunities? Time to rearrange things before that person gets bored and starts browsing the job boards. That emerging leader you stacked with growth opportunities? She might not be successful if she has to learn something new on every front. Give her some tasks that play to her strengths, so she isn’t exhausting her mental capabilities all in one go.
4. Hand off the task… the right way.
You’ve put in time and effort to analyze the work and divvy it so everyone has a mix of strength and stretch tasks. Now it’s time to hand them off. Don’t forget to let your team know why you selected specific functions for them. This shows them the big-picture strategy and that you are thinking about their development in addition to getting things done.
5. Determine what level of check-in is needed.
A seasoned colleague performing a strength task can likely be empowered to make and execute decisions without checking in with you. A new addition with great experience but little internal knowledge will need more guidance upfront and more frequent check-ins to make sure things progress as planned. A mismatch between what the colleague needs and what you’re providing can lead to bewildered workers being ineffective and unsuccessful or experienced colleagues feeling micromanaged and belittled, so alignment matters. Ideally, you’ll have trained your team members in conflict resolution, and they’ll tell you they’re insulted or overwhelmed so you can address it, but why take the risk or put them in that awkward situation if you can help it?
6. Lastly, make expectations clear.
What do you expect from the employee, what help can they expect from you, and how much authority/autonomy will they have on the project? It’s hard for people to proceed confidently if they don’t know their limits.
Check-in and follow-up as agreed upon.
We recommend setting milestones and checkpoints, so no one becomes overwhelmed and feels supported. This is also an opportunity to provide them with greater context on how their efforts contributed to company success and adds feedback on their performance, which can be incorporated into the next similar task until it becomes a strength.
How to Delegate Effectively Even While Remote
Having at least some of the team at a remote location at any given point is the reality for most teams today, adding an additional layer of friction to the delegation process.
Researchers at MIT’s Sloan School of Management identified three dimensions of workplace “distance”–physical, operational, and affinity. Their researchers showed that managers could delegate effectively to make up for the lack of physical closeness with an increase in affinity or the feeling of closeness or connectedness.
In the past, articles about remote delegation might focus on enabling software, such as task or project management applications. Today, with a hybrid workspace, the default structure, the tools used to delegate remotely aren’t much different from those used in in-person environments. The key is using these tools consistently, so they become the go-to resource for information on task status and ownership.
Improve Your Delegation Skills in 4 Steps
Like any new skill, getting the hang of delegation takes time. So let’s look at common pitfalls and how to avoid them.
1. Delegate the right amount.
If you’re a bit Type A, and especially if you’re a newer manager, delegating is both thrilling and terrifying for all the obvious reasons. When you did your Eisenhower Matrix, you likely didn’t put enough things in quadrant three, delegation. Delegating isn’t just about freeing up your time. The first few times you delegate something to a less-experienced team member, it may take a similar amount of time as doing it yourself. You’re making a tradeoff between being the exhausted hero who does it all and the leader who helps everyone else effectively do their part. Be the leader.
2. Be transparent.
If you’re adopting a new approach to delegating, tell your team. Explain why you’ll be delegating more, the benefits and opportunities to the organization, and how you’ll think through assigning tasks. If you’re asking them to adopt new tools or ways of working, use your change management skills to assuage fear, uncertainty, and doubt while encouraging feedback on how the process is going for everyone.
3. Have difficult conversations.
Often when delegating, there’s a moment when you may hesitate before assigning a project to the seemingly ideal team member. Their work hasn’t been great lately, and you could give this to your rockstar worker, who will zip right through it. Resist this temptation. Your rockstar will become resentful that the reward for excellence is extra work, and the rest of the team will hold a grudge that the struggling colleague has a lighter workload.
In this case, delegation pain is a symptom, not the disease, but the treatment is the same–you must have a difficult conversation with a teammate who isn’t living up to expectations. Assign the underperforming worker a mixture of strength and growth tasks and make it clear that you are holding them accountable. Check-in more frequently and ensure they have the support that they need. If they rise to the occasion, well done! If not, start working on how you can migrate this colleague to a role better suited to their skills.
4. Recognize your employees and provide career growth.
Be sure to give your employees credit where credit is due. For example, bring up their names in meetings and emails, have them present their project in meetings, or point questions their way so they get more visibility beyond your immediate team. This not only recognizes their outstanding contributions, but that visibility also helps establish them as subject-matter experts within your organization and highlights their ability to deliver superior work.
When it comes to learning how to delegate effectively, you can’t forget to make time to demonstrate your gratitude privately. According to a study by OC Tanner, 79% of employees say a lack of recognition was a significant reason they quit a job. So ensure your employees feel seen and appreciated by carving out a few minutes of your next 1-on-1 meeting to thank them. Tell them you appreciate their efforts and provide constructive feedback to help them grow from the experience.
Effective Delegation Pays Off for Everyone
Ultimately, learning how to delegate effectively can be a win for everyone involved. Sure, it might initially slow your progress, but investing in your team’s skills pays off.
Plus, you might get a little breathing room and maybe even the opportunity to tackle some new projects of your own. Just as critical, your employees will gain confidence with their newly developed skills.
To learn more about being an effective manager in today’s hybrid work environment, check out our ebook on managing remote teams!