1. Build trust
The single biggest stumbling block to better delegating is fear – fear that workers to whom you are delegating will botch the job, damage something, waste raw material, offend a client, expose your business’s weaknesses to the outside world, or simply be more trouble than they are worth. To a certain, limited extent it is a healthy fear, but it can very quickly become debilitating.
The antidote is to build trust, with the emphasis on “build”. If you simply trust blindly, your fears will almost certainly prove true. Rather, building trust is a process that requires time, careful thought and good people management.
2. Start simply
If you are in any way uncertain about delegation, start with small, routine tasks delegated to a general assistant. Administrative systems such as compliance paperwork and book-keeping are excellent for practising your delegation skills while you attend to the core business of your enterprise.
While delegation normally refers to the work you allocate to your employees, outsourcing tasks to professional outfits outside of your business such as a firm of accountants is a related form of delegating that may be a good place to start.
3. Provide clear instructions, goals and expected outcomes
Your attempts at delegating can only be effective if your employees understand what you want. Sometimes, when the precise way in which a task is executed is important, a precise set of instructions is needed. In other situations you might want your employees to improvise solutions and take initiative to adapt the way they do things as circumstances change. In these cases they have to understand clearly the broader outcomes that you require from them. It is crucial to invest time and effort to communicate your instructions and desired outcomes clearly to your employees.
4. Invite questions
When your employees are too shy or intimidated to ask you questions about the tasks that you want them to do, misunderstandings will arise sooner or later. It is natural for someone to want to check whether they understand a task correctly by discussing it or by asking for more information. Create an atmosphere in your business that encourages questions and discussions, even if the emphasis remains on getting on with the job. Don’t ever dismiss their questions as stupid or a waste of time.
Feedback to your employees should be constant, clear and sincere. The consistency and improvement of the work done in your business is only possible if you follow up on the tasks you delegated with proper feedback – negative as well as positive. Criticising someone’s work is a sensitive undertaking, but it can be done in a way which motivates and encourages improvement. Praise for work well done is a great motivator, but be careful of diluting its potency through overuse or insincerity.
6. Beware of micro management
Find a balance between giving your employees the space to get on with their tasks on their own, and keeping an eye on what they are doing. When you are dealing with school-leavers in their first job, it is obviously best to err on the side of too much supervision, while experienced workers will find a constant peering over their shoulder irritating and demotivating.
If you find that you are constantly having to correct and supervise the work of an employee through an ever more intricate set of instructions and checklists, it is probably time to confront the fact that you have delegated the work to the wrong person.
7. Employ people with the right attitude
Delegating is easier when you work with enthusiastic team players who are self-motivated and eager to learn. In contrast, defensive types who are overly sensitive to critical feedback are a misery to manage. It is therefore important to try to employ workers with the right attitude, especially in owner-managed businesses where on-the-job training is the order of the day.
8. Know the rules of employment
How do you build a team of keen, positive workers if the labour laws make it so difficult to fire the bad apples? By knowing the labour laws. Terminating someone’s employment who makes your life as a manager miserable is only difficult if you don’t know the labour laws. It is entirely possible to terminate someone’s employment, within the ambit of the law, when they refuse to fit into a team and display a negative attitude.
9. Seek advice and mentorship
Good delegating requires a broad range of skills and knowledge, from team building to planning to knowing the labour laws. Learning all of this through trial-and-error may well turn out to be more expensive than seeking out advice, mentorship, books on the subject or even formal training.
10. Know yourself
Delegation can often go wrong because of your own foibles, rather than those of your employees. You may be emotionally attached to being the best craftsman or salesman in your business and resist the idea of handing over to your workers. Perfectionist tendencies may cause you to redo the work that you’ve delegated. Or an inability to trust may cause a major bottleneck in your business when you insist on signing off everything. Self-reflection, perhaps with the help of a coach or a mentor, can only help to make you a better delegator