How managers can delegate effectively to develop employees

Managers have some tasks that they need to do, but their primary job is to make sure that others are doing what they have been assigned to accomplish the mission and goals of the organization. Effective managers know what responsibilities to delegate to allow themselves time to plan, to collaborate with others in the organization, and to monitor the performance of their employees, making sure to give them adequate feedback and development opportunities.

Often, managers think that they are delegating when they assign tasks to employees. Sometimes this is merely dumping on people. Real delegation is assigning responsibility for outcomes along with the authority to do what is needed to produce the desired results.

Why is this not done well in most organizations? A major factor is the failure of organizations to assure that the supervisors and managers know how to delegate effectively. Many managers have never received training in delegation. 

Other reasons why managers do not delegate as much as they could include:

  • The belief that employees cannot do the job as well as the manager can.
  • The belief that it takes less time to do the work than it takes to delegate the responsibility.
  • Lack of trust in employees’ motivation and commitment to quality.
  • The need to make one’s self indispensable.
  • The enjoyment of doing the work one’s self.
  • Guilt associated with giving more work to an overworked staff.

Here’s what you can do to improve staff and achieve organizational goals:

  1. Keep a delegation attitude. Ask yourself frequently: “Who else could do this?” Question every task, particularly those you have done for years.
  2. Define the desired outcome. Ask: “What is the result I want accomplished?” Learn to assign responsibility for achieving results rather than unloading tasks.
  3. Select the person. Consider more than one criterion when choosing to whom to delegate something. Some things to consider: Who has experience and skills? (Be careful not to overload this person.) Who needs to learn how to handle this responsibility? Who has the time to accept this responsibility? Who would like to have this opportunity?
  4. Get input from others. Ask for ideas about what to change, who to involve and how to define the results. Consult one’s own team, other managers who interact with the team, one’s boss and customers.
  5. Assign the responsibility and define the time factors. What is the deadline? When will you want progress reports?
  6. Provide training and guidance. Does the person need training before assuming this responsibility? What guidance will they need to succeed? Remember to allow them freedom for independent thinking.
  7. Define the authority level. How much power will they need? What kinds of power? Who else needs to know that this person has the authority to act? Be sure to inform them to assure cooperation with the employee.
  8. Agree about the control process. What kinds of controls are needed? How can one feel in control and still empower employees to act independently?
  9. Monitor progress. Pay attention and maintain control of the situation. Managers are still responsible for the success or failure of this person and for achieving the desired results.
  10. Provide feedback. Stay in touch, giving plenty of positive reinforcement and coaching when needed.
  11. Identify the lessons learned. What did the employee learn? What did you learn? Often, the person with the new responsibility will figure out better ways to get things done and such improvements need to be identified, documented and shared.
  12. Evaluate performance. Give the person helpful feedback. What did they do well? Where can they improve? How can the results be improved? How can the manager do a better job of helping them succeed?