The word “delegate” comes from Latin de-legare which literally means “send with a task”. Nowadays more commonly defined as the act of entrusting a task to another person (generally less senior). As such, the delegation act implies a trust relationship between two people in which one person gives a task to the other one. Hence, only when a trust relationship is established between the two parties then an act of delegation might happen. It is very important to underline the trust factor as this is the main difference between the act of delegation and the act of assigning a work/task. Delegation means sharing authority, responsibility and accountability.

Then why do we need to delegate? And when and what do we need to delegate? There are essentially two reasons why people should delegate: either because lack of time or because other people might do the work better (or faster or cheaper). This is valid for both personal life and in business. Mastering the different delegation techniques can even be instrumental for the success of a person no matter of how he/she defines it.

What would happen if instead people would not delegate? Consequences are quite straightforward. The number of hours in a day is still twenty-four hence without delegating there are only a certain number of things one can do. This means that if a person does not delegate, then either the work does not get done (or other task are de-prioritized), gets done in a sub-optimal way or the person who’s not delegating might reaches a “burnout”.

No matter how efficient and masterful people are at their job, there are only so many tasks they can accomplish within a day. This means that, at a certain point, delegation becomes paramount in order to achieve more. Understanding what to delegate, when and to who is then what will drive success vs failure. As such delegation is a critical skill for everyone but especially for entrepreneurs and leaders in order to become successful. Remarkably when properly done, delegation is also a very powerful motivational tool for the team. As previously mentioned, the act of delegating implies a trust relationship hence when people get a delegation they will understand that they are trusted thus valued.

“Get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.” Jim Collins (good to great). As Jim Collins mentioned, it is not just a matter of having the good people but also about having them doing the “right” things. This is valid for the team but even more for self. Sometimes we are our worst enemy – many of us believe that they can do faster and/or better than anyone else, but unfortunately, this is not always the case. We should make sure that the work gets allocated to the most skilled people for that specific task. In this way we could not only increase the amount of achievements but also improve the overall results.

In a nutshell, delegation might not only save time but it could also drive better results for self and/or the team. While it is not always evident or easy, delegation needs to be carefully planned. Hence how do people delegate? The secret lays in finding the perfect combination between tasks to delegate, right people to delegate to and style of delegation. At the beginning this might be a quite cumbersome process and accomplishing tasks might take longer. However, over time the more one practices the easier and faster it will become.

delegation  process

Delegation Process in 7 Steps:

1. Accept. The first and most obvious step is the “acceptance” – acceptance that delegation is inevitable at a certain point. No matter whether we are unemployed, entrepreneurs or employees – there is always a point at which we will need friend, family or a team to achieve more or better results. If one has never delegated in the past, the first time might be difficult hence it could be worth starting with a single, low priority task. Once the very first task is accomplished then it might start being easier to delegate more and bigger tasks. This might help accepting delegation as a way to increase productivity and then he/she can move to the other steps.

2. Map.  After having accepted the fact that delegation might become a must we can then start identifying the tasks that need to be delegated. This is about mapping all the tasks we generally accomplish and the one we are not yet capable of doing because either lack of time or competences. First identify the ones that are repetitive or relatively easily accomplished – like the ones that could be done by a (virtual) assistant. One could easily delegate, for example, agenda, meeting and travel arrangements. Then, move toward the highly complex and specialized like legal work or accounting tasks. Finally evaluate the ones in between which generally are more difficult to hand-off. Remember that delegation might work in any direction – one might delegate to peers, managers and direct reports. Don’t be concerned about delegating up or sideways – just find the best way to do it effectively. While building the “to delegate” list think also about what you do not want and should not delegate. For example, tasks of a highly sensitive nature which, depending on the size of the company, might relate to salary reviews or customer relationship for example.

3. Combine. The most sensitive part of the delegation process is about finding the perfect combination between task and the most appropriate person to accomplish it. As we mentioned at the beginning, delegating is about asking someone we trust to do something for us – this means that the first thing to look at is “trust”. However, this does not mean that we need to find people who we generically “trust”, but rather that we need to find people who we trust can accomplish the specific task. For example we might generically trust our partner but I’m not sure we would trust him/her doing a surgical operation on us (unless he/she a surgeon). In other words, once you have listed all the tasks to delegate try to understand who in your team you would trust to accomplish that specific activity (independently from role/level). This implies that you know your team and their strengths and opportunity areas. Conversely, if you are not sure, involve the team and ask them who feel confident and motivated to accomplish the specific task. Never forget, though, capacity of other team members – make sure not to overload any of them.

4. Assign. The way the act of delegation is executed is also fundamental to the achievement of the desired result. You don’t want them to just execute your “recipe” because they will never achieve the result you expect. You want your people to achieve the ultimate end result; you want their complete commitment, motivation and engagement. The only way to do that is via finding a win-win solution; you want to delegate and your people want work that value them and help them develop and grow. This is a very sensitive step hence few consideration in this context:

a. Delegate vs Assign. Have a proper briefing session and start from the big picture to then go into the details of how their task fits in it. Explain why the task needs to be accomplished within the specific timeframe. In order to further motivate explain also why you have specifically chosen that person to accomplish the task (emphasize his/her skills). Finally before moving forward ensure that they have positive feeling about the task and if not try to understand and address any concern.

b. Set clear expectations. Set very clear expectations both in terms of results expected and in term of time for the delivery and also underline any flexibility in either of them. Don’t get into the temptation of describing in a detailed way how to achieve the ultimate end result – no one want to be just an executer – focus on the final result and help them only if they seek for more details. Be clear on the measures you will look at in order to understand whether the task has been accomplished successfully.

c. Enable. Before letting the person work on the task make sure he/she has everything needed to accomplish it successfully. If this is not the case then evaluate what’s needed hence how to enable him/her. Flag the fact that your door is always open in case new roadblocks should arise – this might be especially valid if you are delegating first time or to junior people. Finally don’t forget that you are delegating not just a task but also authority – your people need to feel 100% empowered if you want to achieve the best results.

d. Get out of the way. Once you have done the above then your own task is about disappearing! Don’t micro-manage, don’t check continuously developments, don’t wander around … all those actions will ultimately de-motivate your people. Remember you are delegating to a person you trust hence there is no need to be around and if you feel the need then this means you don’t trust that person … hence delegate to someone else! This does not mean that you should never ever check – especially if you are delegating a long term project, you might have some check points along the way. The important is to make this clear when you set expectations so that the person does not take it as micro-managing but as a way to share ideas and check whether there is need for help.

5. Contingency Plan. Things might always turn bad and having a contingency plan is not a bad idea especially when delegating critical task for the first time or to people with limited expertise (which should not happen). However, before taking control back try to understand whether the person you delegated to can still fix the situation. This could be an amazing learning opportunity for him/her but also for you. Only if she/he cannot fix it then will be your turn to jump in and solve the situation.

6. Feedback. Upon completion of the task is always a good habit to review the entire process together. There are lots of learning that could be gathered and be beneficial to anyone in the company or organization in general. If the task has been accomplished successfully don’t be shy with praise and compliments as those are great motivators. Conversely if there have been some hiccups then be direct (with tact) and flag improvement areas – you want to make sure that next time this will be accomplished successfully.

7. OrganizationThis is the moment to (re)assess the organization. After having delegated some task you might be in a better position to evaluate your people and see who you can trust for specific task (or not). This actually starts at the hiring moment – when interviewing candidates always wonder whether you would delegate specific tasks or even functions to the person. In case of doubt don’t hire as it would be totally useless to have a person in the team who you don’t trust hence to whom you would not delegate work.

Remember, delegation is crucial no matter whether you are an employee, business owner or even a mother/father. There is nothing wrong in leveraging the experience and expertise of others to get better results and more time for self. The sooner you learn how to delegate the faster you will get more time for yourself.    



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