David Mastovich

To delegate tasks or not to delegate tasks, that is the question. 

If you’re someone who struggles with delegation, you’re not alone. 

In theory, delegating a task and freeing up your workload sounds easy and ideal. 

However, as human beings, we’ve created some sort of mental barrier that inhibits us from actually doing it. 

When you delegate tasks, feelings of unease and anxiousness usually creep up because you are letting go of control and placing the responsibility on someone else. 

Whether we like to admit it or not, we’ve all been there before, and rather than continue this pattern of behavior, let’s look at how we can break this habit to not only help you grow, but help facilitate growth with your team, as well. 

• Decide what you want to delegate

The first step in delegating tasks is deciding what exactly you will delegate. Keep in mind that delegating is different from simply assigning someone a task that is already a part of their normal job requirements. 

When you delegate, you’re giving someone else one of your job tasks; but you ultimately maintain control and responsibility. 

• Clarify the results you want

Determine the results you consider necessary for the successful completion of the task. 

In general, the employee who you delegated work to will use his/her own methods to accomplish the task. If you expect them to use a specific method, be sure to articulate that to them from the start. 

• Clearly define the employee’s responsibility

You, not the employee, determine the level of responsibility. 

Be sure the employee understands this. After you’ve given the employee the information about the delegated task, ask them to give you their understanding of both the task and goal. If the employee’s answer doesn’t match your expectations, review the matter in detail again. Remember, ambiguity breeds mediocrity.

• Communicate the employee’s authority over the delegated task

Define the scope and degree of authority given to the employee. Explain which decisions he/she can make independently and which require your approval. Be specific. If you tell the employee, “Do whatever it takes,” you may end up with an unpleasant surprise if the employee violates company standards. 

On the other hand, a too-limited approach may stop the employee from accomplishing the task. Give the employee the authority necessary to accomplish the task but not so much that he or she can create a major disaster before anyone discovers the problem. 

• Be sure the employee understands his/her authority

Again, have the employee repeat back to you their understanding of authority regarding the task. Resolve any discrepancies in the beginning. 

• Establish a timeframe

Time means different things to different people. If you want the delegated work completed within a certain period of time, make it clear. 

Also, if you want portions of the work completed by certain dates, make that clear as well in a project timeline. 

• Create a follow-up schedule 

Use a series of follow-up meetings to monitor progress and determine a need for assistance. 

Monitoring the progress can help avoid a discovery two days before the due date that the task isn’t on schedule. It also serves as an indication of whether the employee needs help. 

Some employees hesitate to ask questions because they fear the manager will interpret it as a sign of weakness or inadequacy for the job.

That’s why it’s important to build follow-up meetings into your timeline to facilitate an environment that encourages questions. 

The frequency of these meetings will vary from project-to-project and employee-to-employee.

• Stick to the delegation program and avoid “reverse” delegation

This means that an employee might try and delegate the task back to the manager, and a manager may feel tempted to take it back if the employee seems to be struggling with the task. 

In extreme circumstances, a manager may have no alternative other than to take the task back in order to avoid permanent damage to his or her own performance record. 

However, this should be only in extreme cases. 

When you take back a delegated task, the employee loses the opportunity to learn and grow. This can also discourage the employee who desired to do well, but needed more assistance at that point in time. 

There are even times when an employee may decide to perform poorly in order to avoid additional work. Do not encourage this attitude. Stick to your decision and work with your employees to see the task through to completion. 

Managers delegate work not to just relieve their workload, but to allow the employees they supervise to grow professionally. 

Effective delegation requires a mutual level of discussion and understanding. 

Be clear about the delegated task. Give employees an opportunity to ask questions, monitor progress and offer assistance as needed. 

David Mastovich is founder and CEO of MASSolutions, host of the “No BS Marketing” podcast and author of the book “Get Where You Want to Go Through Marketing, Selling and Story Telling.”