May 22, 2024

Why delegation matters so much (and how to do it properly)

“If you want something done right, do it yourself”. It’s the mantra of many seemingly high-performing people – and from the outside, it can seem to be true. 

Think of the successful professionals or managers you know who always instil confidence when they take the reins. They’re the ones who are always a steady of pair of hands, the ones who’ll put in the time and effort to do a good job, the ones who you want working on your side.

But research shows that while this approach might be good in the early stages of a business or enterprise, after a point, it begins to hold it back. It prevents organisations from scaling and promotes ‘key person’ risk. It also often sows the seeds of dissatisfaction among staff and eventually leads to the burnout of the non-delegator. 

After all, there are only so many hours in the day, so without delegation, being successful will also mean sacrificing free time, weekends, and sleep.  

What’s more, when you delegate, you free yourself up to focus on high-value strategic activities and foster a positive work culture where people feel empowered to do a good job.

As author John C Maxwell puts it in Developing the Leaders Around You

“If you want to do a few small things right, do them yourself. If you want to do great things and make a big impact, learn to delegate.”

So, if you’re struggling with delegation, here are our tips for letting go.

Delegate to the right person

A recent article in HBR suggested that when they’re choosing to delegate a task, most leaders immediately think of “who can do it” and assign it accordingly. 

That’s the wrong approach. 

If you want to build capability in your organisation and create a culture of high performance, you should be asking yourself, “Who’ll get the most out of it”? In other words, who’s likely to be most energised, acquire the most skills, and grow the most from performing the task? 

That’s the person to choose, not the one who could do it in their sleep.

Define the task clearly

A lot of delegation falls down because we can’t be bothered to think the task through properly. What needs to be done, and in what timeframe? Where do the limits lie? What’s outside of scope? What does success look like? Too often, this gets overlooked. By working this out at the start and communicating it clearly, you’re far more likely to get a successful result.

In fact, at this point, I suggest putting together a brief for the task—in just the same way you’d brief an external agency or contractor. That way, you have a single source of truth that you can both go back to and make sure you’re both – quite literally – on the same page.

Give proper deadlines

There’s a tendency within most organisations to want everything yesterday. And, if someone is trying to impress with their performance, there’s also often a tendency to commit to delivering yesterday, too. So, while we’re on the topic of setting parameters, you also need to think of realistic timeframes and deadlines for delivery. You don’t want your delegation to take a load off your desk only to weigh down someone else’s

Provide the right resources

If you’re setting up someone for success, you need to give them the resources and support they need to do the job well. If you want them to use particular data or research, specify this upfront. Similarly, if you don’t want them using particular information or specifically don’t want something done a certain way, include this in your brief.

Check in regularly

There’s nothing worse in a project than a big ‘reveal’ that goes wrong. 

All of that wasted time and energy that someone has put in, only to miss the mark entirely. 

Check in regularly to ensure everything is on track, both time-wise and quality-wise. Agree upfront when that will be, and if you find things going a little off piste, meet even more regularly. Make “no surprises” your mantra.

Trust them

That said, delegation is also about trust. You have to trust in the person’s ability to deliver a good job, so don’t nitpick or micromanage when it’s not warranted. By giving them a sense of ownership and autonomy, they’re more likely to be engaged and productive.

Celebrate success (and follow up)

If the person you’ve delegated does a great job, let them know – even acknowledge them more widely if you need to. This can be great for motivation and cohesion. Also, have a proper debrief session. Talk about what went well and what you think could be improved next time. Most importantly, ask them how they found the experience and what they learned.

In short…

I know it can be hard to let go, but delegation is a vital skill – one that will make your life easier and set you up for business success. 

If you’d like to know more about how to set up your business’s systems and processes to delegate work more effectively, contact us. 

say hi to our author

Merilyn founded Catalina Consultants in 2012 on the belief that all organisations, regardless of size, should have access to top quality bespoke HR services. She enjoys working closely with her clients and believes that the best results are built on relationships of rapport, trust and authenticity. Growing up, Merilyn had her sight set on stardom and dreamed of becoming an actor. She also sang and played the piano, but ended up studying accounting and HR. Whilst she hasn’t won her Grammy just yet, she still loves a good karaoke night. Merilyn loves to travel with her family, with South Africa being one of her most memorable destinations.

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