The Two Rules of Delegation

The concept of delegation is fairly simple: handing a task over to another person should, in theory, lighten your load while giving them a project to which they’re suited. On paper, delegation is a win-win.

A lot tends to go wrong in practice, however.

If you’ve ever delegated something to a team member, only to be disappointed by their results, it’s possible that you’ve forgotten one of the two cardinal rules of delegation:

  1.       Know your audience.
  2.       Know the task.

Know your audience.

Managers, fires will arise. There won’t be enough hours in most days. Sometimes, the only way forward is to get things off of your desk and onto someone else’s. But if these moments of crisis are the only meaningful time you spend thinking about your team’s abilities, you’re several steps behind where you need to be.

Invest time and energy into getting to know your people before you delegate. Use the calm moments to learn your employees’ strengths, their aspirations, and most importantly, what life experience they’re bringing to the table. Did your accountant spend six months doing social media marketing in a previous role? Does your maintenance person happen to have a forklift license? These are skills you may need down the road.

Know the task.

Every shop has that one jack-of-all-trades who has been there for years, and knows the business inside and out. Delegating to that person is easy.

Things change when you’re talking to a newer hire, however. If you’re handing a task over to someone less experienced, do your research first – how have other shops handled this? What obstacles can you anticipate? What is a realistic timeframe? – and then communicate that data to the team member. The more information you give, the more likely you are to be pleased with the results.  

This is the point at which most managers decide to just do the job themselves. I want to caution against that. Yes, research and clear direction are time-consuming, but you’re assisting your employee in building experience – experience that will benefit them (and you!) down the road. The sooner you invest that time, the sooner you’ll see the rewards of it.

Delegation is a skill. Skills, like muscles, improve with use. The more intentionally you delegate, the more productive your shop will be.

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