The Secrets Of Delegating Effectively

By Neil Clark.

Delegation can be a scary thing. Many executives find it so risky that they hang on desperately to operational tasks that others should be doing. It is likely that you have seen quite a number of overworked managers in your time. The other side of this situation is when an executive recklessly delegates all of his or her tasks to people who make a total mess of things. This is not delegation, it is abdication. The ideal is somewhere in between these extremes. But how do you find a happy medium, where you are able to safely unburden yourself and stop working 80-hour weeks and still be sure that the wheels are not going to fall off?

And, furthermore, how can you be sure that those you pass your responsibilities to, will be able to perform those tasks as well as you? More importantly, is there a way to actually increase the odds of success?

It is a simple fact. You cannot personally perform every single job in your area of control. You need the others in your department to perform most of the tasks. You have to delegate.

The Delegation Prerequisites

Before you even consider delegating anything to anyone, you need to know exactly what it is that they are supposed to be achieving by way of results.

Sit down and write out the basic, functional structure of the job you are going to delegate:

  • What is the overall purpose of the job?
  • What are the major activities that will lead to achieving that purpose?
  • What are the specific results that these activities will produce?
  • How will those results be measured?

Suppose you are the manager of a finance department that collects outstanding invoice payments, pays all the bills for the organisation and keeps track of the bank accounts and other assets. Maybe you already have several people who perform some of these functions, but you have always done the collections yourself. Now you want to delegate the collections function to one of your team members. A great place to start (even before you tackle the list of items above), is to describe how the job would look if everything was operating perfectly. How would it look if it all ran exactly as it was supposed to? Take the time to describe that situation. Write a couple of paragraphs, or half a page, on just how it would look.

For example:

All invoices are issued on time and are followed up with clients at least one week before they are due for payment. All clients understand the payment terms and agree to make their payments on time. Any clients who later run into cash flow problems and are unable to pay their invoices on time, agree to a payment plan and stick to it. No invoices are more than 30 days outside the standard payment plan.

Now, realise that you may be describing something that will never be achieved in reality. You are describing what it would be like if it were 100 per cent perfect and nothing is ever that good. But it gives you a good perspective on the overall job and how well it is being performed. How close does it come to this ideal? You have now established the benchmark against which you can measure the performance results in the real world. Realise, also, that in defining this perfection, you have set the performance framework against which non-optimum results will be much more visible. Things that need to be corrected in your organisation can be identified and handled rapidly.

The real benefit of describing this ideal world as your first step is that it then becomes very easy to define the purpose and results of the activity. If you know how it should look, you can easily describe the reasons for doing it and what impact it will have on the rest of the organisation. And, finally, you will be able to define the purpose, activities, results and measurements as previously described.

You have now defined the job sufficiently to be able to delegate it to someone else. Be sure to write it down so that the person taking over will have easy reference to what to do and how to do it.

The Delegation Process

It is important to choose someone proven to be effective in what they have already been doing. Most people could probably do the job you are delegating but, if you choose an effective performer, they will pick it all up much faster.

There are two things involved here:

  • The clarity with which you have defined the job they will be doing.
  • The effectiveness and ability of the person taking over the job.

If you follow the above process in defining the ideal performance, you will accomplish the first point, that of clarity. The second point, the effectiveness of the person taking over, is relatively easy to measure if you look at their past performance.

Look at the results they have previously achieved. Have they ever exceeded expectations? Have they consistently produced the results expected of them? By their results, you will know them.

You may have done a great job until now but, if you fail on this next step, you lose everything. So far, you have examined, defined and written down the job that is to be delegated. You have selected someone who has the ability to do the job. How do you now ensure they take over in such a way that they will succeed?

Firstly, take whatever steps are necessary to train them in the activities involved. This may be a simple step like showing them how to do it, or it may involve specialised external training.

You need to make sure they understand:

  • The purpose of the job
  • The activities they will perform
  • The results they will be expected to achieve
  • How these results will be measured.

In the example we are using, delegating the collection of outstanding invoices, you would simply have the person read over the material you have written about how to perform the job. After that, it is probably the simple act of training them by example. You do the job, while they observe, and then you observe them doing the job and correct them.

It is also crucial that you follow through by continuing to closely monitor the performance of the new person. In this way you will quickly observe any non-optimal results and fix them before they become bad habits.

Effective delegation has three main aspects to it:

  1. Ensure that the job to be delegated has been defined and outlined sufficiently.
  2. Choose an effective performer to take over the job you are delegating.
  3. Train the new person in how to do the job, and then monitor their performance so you can correct any non-optimal results.

Done right, you should see the new person’s results build from an erratic low level, through a steep climb as they take control, to eventually settle at a steady, high-level plateau.

Neil Clark has spent 30 years as a manager in both large and small organisations in Australia and South East Asia. He can be contacted via, where more articles of this type can be viewed.