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Effective Delegation in 5 Steps

Effective Delegation in 5 Steps

If every person had the time, energy and ability he or she could potentially do everything themselves in business (or in life in general for that matter). In such circumstances, there would be little need for teams (or people to need to work together or share workload) and the need to delegate would not exist.

However, in managerial life in particular, we are often time-starved, and over-stretched in terms of the volume of the work that we are asked to do and frequently lack the knowledge or experience to perform every task well. As a result, we have no choice but to engage in some delegation. We should consequently try to engage in the practice in the best way possible.

The dictionary defines delegation as:

‘Entrusting an individual or individuals to take on a particular work task(s) or to make certain decisions’

At face value at least, delegating a task or project should therefore be relatively straightforward. You simply assign a task to a given individual or team, agree on milestones and some kind of measurement system, monitor progress and, finally, offer feedback to the individual when the task is complete. However, the ways in which you engage with people in each of these four steps can be quite different.
There is also, of course, a big difference between good and bad delegation.

Good delegation saves you time, develops people, helps to build skills (or even groom a successor), and is motivating. Bad delegation causes you frustration, demotivates and confuses the other person, and fails to achieve the task or purpose itself.

One useful way to think about what kind of work you might delegate successfully is to think about your tasks in terms of the layers of an onion, as shown in the diagram below. Just like the onion, the core is the most important part of your work which you should keep to yourself and control personally. For the outer, more disposable, layers you can involve others and use delegation more often.

Delegation Diagram

Although the evaluation of what can or cannot be delegated will be unique to each individual, here are seven general areas you might like to consider before you start to look at your immediate ‘To Do’ list:

  • Repetitive or routine tasks or actions that you perform frequently
  • Technical work that others are better equipped to handle
  • Immediate opportunities for direct reports or colleagues to work together
  • Work that will increase the experience and/or skill of direct reports or colleagues
  • Opportunities to ‘unleash’ individual creativity
  • Any tasks or projects that will provide job-enrichment or variety for others
  • Tasks or actions that will increase the breadth of responsibility of direct reports or colleagues

Although there is no one formula for delegation to occur, a simple 5-stage process can be followed:

1. Identify the Task/Project
  • Look in detail at your priorities.
  • Tick off those things that others could do or help you with.
2. Identify the right person
  • Think about who could help you. Are they willing, capable and interested?
  • Think about workload and timing issues
3. Brief the person and set goals and priorities
  • Discuss what you’re aiming for and by when,
  • Set specific goals and Targets offer help in the form of coaching, training and/or support.
4. Support the individual appropriately
  • Offer help in the form of coaching, training and/or support as appropriate
  • Set review milestones and monitor process.
5. Recognize the effort or contribution
  • Learn jointly from the experience for next time
  • Offer positive recognition.

Although it will not always be possible to follow these steps (especially of time is short) the more a manager does so, the more likely it that success will follow.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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  1. Jenifer RybczykNovember 25, 2012 at 3:51 pm

    This really answered my drawback, thanks

  2. Don GriffithsMay 29, 2013 at 2:17 pm

    Hi Jon, great article thanks. Empowering your employees gives ownership, instils pride and allows them to grow within their roles. Getting to know your audience is key to ensuring that the right tasks get delgated to the right people – the last thing you need is someone out of their depth not acheiving and getting deflated/demoralised nor do you need someone feeling patronized by getting no “stretch” whatever on their talents. Encouragement and praise as required, without being overbearing, go a long way too and by delegating appropriately you can gauge performance or delivery for use at appraisals or reviews.

    • Dr. Jon WarnerJune 3, 2013 at 3:34 pmAuthor

      Thanks Don. I very much agree with your comments as well.

About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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