14 Jul 2022

Learning The Essential Art of Delegation

“The really expert riders of horses let the horse know immediately who is in control, but then guide the horse with loose reins and seldom use the spurs.” (Sandra Day O’Connor, former Supreme Court Justice)

For years you have been working in the industry of your choice and now you have decided to start your own business. At this point it’s hard to see just what you are going to need to do to transition the business to a thriving enterprise. One of the major skills you’ll need is the ability to let go of doing everything yourself and rather get others to actually do the heavy-lifting and carrying.

As a new manager it can be tempting, and even inspiring, to be seen “rolling up your sleeves” to execute tactical assignments. But as your responsibilities become more complex, the difference between an effective leader and someone who is battling to do everything themselves will become clear. While it may seem difficult, elevating your impact requires you to embrace an unavoidable leadership paradox: You need to be more essential and less involved. The trick is learning to delegate effectively – a skill you may not have expected to need to know.

To know if you are delegating well or need to still learn a few tricks, you just need to ask yourself this one simple question, “If you had to take an unexpected week off work, would your initiatives and priorities advance in your absence?” If the answer is no, or only maybe, then you need these tips for learning to delegate.

Work out what can be delegated

Step one is knowing exactly what can, and should, be delegated. It’s important you take time to analyse the work you are doing to assess which things aren’t maximizing your efforts and time to the fullest and then work out which tasks would help your teammates develop into the kinds of people the company will need in the future. For your team members to grow, you will need to offer them opportunities to prove themselves and learn new skills. The perfect tasks to delegate are those that are within an individual’s capabilities, but which push them outside of their comfort zone and force them to develop new skills or ways of thinking.

Take time to teach them how to do it

When you first delegate a task you will need to take the time you would have used actually doing that task to teach the new person just how to get it right. This period of training will achieve a few things. Firstly it will make the person who is tasked with the new responsibility capable of actually getting it right first time, but secondly it will give you the confidence to hand the task off effectively as well as develop your new and valuable skill of mentoring and training.

During this period of training you need to stress the reasons for the task. When people lack understanding about the value of a task or why they have been chosen to do it they also lack the motivation to do it well. Giving them the context about what’s at stake, and the benefits of the opportunity, increases personal relevance and the odds of accurate follow-through. As well as reasons, you also need to clearly provide your expectations. Your employee cannot read your mind, so the need for quality and meeting the delivery date must be equally clear-cut when you pass the job over. Once clarity is established, confirm their understanding preferably face-to-face to avoid any later confusion. Often, mistakes by trusted employees can come down to poor communication on the brief.

Let them do it themselves

For people used to doing everything themselves, this may be the hardest aspect of the entire process. While monitoring them doing the job from afar will allow you to pick up any mistakes as they happen, micromanaging them will only put unnecessary pressure on them and can force mistakes. You need to get out of their way. If your hiring process has been good, you have chosen the right person to delegate to, have clearly defined the task, taken time to teach it to them and then explained your expectations, micromanaging them doing it will not be necessary. Demonstrating that you trust them to do the work will likely yield rewards. Part of delegating is learning to respect the varied and creative ways your teammates get the jobs done instead of requiring that they do it exactly the same way you would have.

Being able to do this successfully builds confidence in the employee tasked with the job and also gives them greater job satisfaction at the end of the day when they achieve it. This in turn will make them more willing to take on other tasks and keep them happier in their workplace, meaning you are less likely to lose a now skilled employee.

Prepare accurate feedback

Once the task is complete for the first time, it’s important to have a follow-up session at which you analyse their performance with the task and offer both positive and negative feedback. This is an important step in reinforcing the lessons, building confidence and correcting any errors in technique or process before they become locked in habits. It’s as important here to recognize the things the employee did well as it is to recognize the things they did badly. Likewise, if the work differs too much from what you were looking for, take immediate and decisive corrective action. Mutually agree on a plan to return to the targeted goals and take a more active role in monitoring of the task. If the situation doesn’t improve, end the assignment and move on.

Once you are confident the job can be done well, feedback sessions remain important, but can be conducted less often. It’s vital to ensure you continue to recognise the input of your employees and reward those who are doing well. Exceptional performance is more likely to continue if it’s noticed and rewarded. Do follow through when someone performs exceptionally and be generous with promotions, salary increases, bonuses, and a sincere and heartfelt thank-you.

We offer a wide range of specialist services, including consulting, accounting and payroll services. Should you need our advice or assistance, contact your contact Partner at MGI Bass Gordon. Send an email to info@bassgordon.co.za or call us on 021 405 8500. 

Additional reading:

  • Research shows delegation can fail simply because we are uncomfortable doing it.
  • How we can encourage our employees to actively seek feedback.

The article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied upon as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice.