The Art of Delegation – Increasing Productivity, Creating Results & Nurturing a Healthy Work Environment

This article on the importance of delegation; what the effects are; how to go about it; and the key questions you need to ask yourself before delegating, is part of our article series on productivity. This is one of our more detailed parts as delegation is such a key issue when it comes to increasing your personal, your team’s and your company’s productivity and create amazing results. It is often called the art of delegation, and although it is not art as such it is a craft and a skill that can and should be honed.

Why Delegate?

Delegation goes hand in hand with prioritisation and ensures that you work with your colleagues and outside contractors/partners to solve the most important issues for your business. But it is also the tool whereby you ensure a lot more gets done than what you are capable of doing on your own. That is not to say that there aren’t pitfalls involved in delegation. If you don’t delegate effectively, you will probably be disappointed in the quality of work you get back and, even worse, you can deal a serious blow to staff morale if you just do the fun parts and get everybody else to do the stuff you dread.
Delegation is therefore a question of finding the right balance so you best:

  • Utilise people’s skills
  • Develop those skills over time
  • Free up your time to focus on what you do best – or what only you can do
  • Motivate staff by giving them interesting and challenging tasks – and empowering them to make decisions

As this quote from the UK web site Leadership Expert put it:

“When you delegate successfully, you gain the full value of your staff or team members because you allow them to use and develop their own skills and knowledge to their full potential. In fact, without delegation, you lose your team’s full value. At the same time, delegation enables you to distribute tasks more efficiently, so that you can make the most of your own time and skills as leader.”

So who needs to delegate? The short answer is everyone. Or at least you should if you care about your career and about increasing your productivity. If you don’t, well then you probably don’t need to worry too much about delegation… In all likelihood, though, if you are reading this article it is because you actually want to learn more about it. Delegation is as important for entrepreneurs/self-employed people as it is for employees (whether managers or not) in an organisation.

It all comes down to improving your career prospects. Delegation is one of the most important skills for you to learn or improve.
Let’s look at the cases of entrepreneurs/business owners/self-employed as well as employees in a bit more detail.

Entrepreneurs/Business Owners/Self-Employed

Delegation is often the one skill that holds entrepreneurs back from taking the next step. Many business owners tend to micro-manage and seem to think that they can do tasks better AND faster than anybody else. This is a complete fallacy and you will see why later on. It can also be that you have reached a certain inflection point in the growth of your business and are wondering how to take it to the next level.

Tony Robbins described that situation very well by saying:

“I realized that I am never going to have the impact on this world I want if I do it all. I have to be like a Richard Branson, where I can bring in the very best people, be a strategist, and then turn them loose and really believe, engage, and empower them. That’s really what changed my life. That’s when I started growing my businesses at a whole different level, as opposed to doing it all myself.” — Tony Robbins during Inc. Magazine interview

This also shows you clearly why, as I said at the outset of the article, that delegation goes hand in hand with prioritisation.

It is, all too, often the case that an entrepreneur tries to take on everything. Do the bookkeeping, handle the invoicing, and deal with legal/regulatory requirements. If you’re one of those entrepreneurs stop doing it!!!

Look back at the article on The Eisenhower Priority Matrix and think about how many of those tasks belong in the second box – the things you need to do in order to achieve your long term goals and vision. Not many, right? Probably without you even realising this, it is holding you back from growing your business. Why? The transaction cost (in terms of the time you’re spending on doing tasks that add no value, i.e. don’t increase revenues) means that you’re shooting yourself in the foot. You should be out there selling – not doing admin tasks, which can easily be handled by others.

Another argument is that it’s faster for you to do it yourself than to delegate it. This is only true in the short term and might be the case for a few tasks, but if you train and instruct the people you’re delegating the task to, it won’t be long before they will be proficient enough to do the task nearly as quickly as you. You also still have the extra time free to sell, sell, sell!

Employees – Managers, or the Ones Wishing to Become One

Successful managers will know that one of the key ingredients of their success is delegation (in addition to being able to surround oneself with good talent, clear thinking, great communication and relationship skills and a few other things – including goal setting and prioritisation, which we have already written articles about).

Why is delegation so important?

The answer is two-fold:

  1. It allows employees to focus their time on the most important tasks – the ones where they can add the most value or the tasks that only they can do.
  2. It helps develop subordinates to perform better – meaning your overall performance will be seen in a better light – and, perhaps, most importantly: by delegating and empowering others you will build stronger relationships with them and can help foster a much stronger performance culture (and score you much better upward feedback)

Delegation is a general and necessary skill

It is worth noting that delegation is a general business skill. It is completely independent of company, industry and country – and it’s a necessity in order to make a business succeed and get your employees pulling in the same direction.

In other words, you NEED to be able to delegate!

What Are the Benefits of Delegation?

Before moving on to describing how to delegate, I just wanted to clarify a few points about what the benefits of delegation are.

  • It allows you to get more done faster
  • It creates great results for teams – and develops your team member
  • It allows you to focus on the tasks where you can add the most value and are the most important – or to focus on the tasks that only you can do


How to Delegate for Success

Now that we’ve dispensed with all of the preliminaries and set the scene for the importance and value of delegation, let’s look at how it’s done in practice.

Claus Møller put it thus in his workbook on delegation:

“Ignore problems that solve themselves. Delegate problems that others can solve. Do yourself what only you can do.” – Claus Møller, Delegation

There are also other models for delegation and the one below offers a slightly different description:



Below you will find out more about the practicalities of how to actually delegate and the process one must go through.

How to Delegate

There are, in essence, 5 different things you must do when delegating. According to an article on they have broken the first point into two, but this process can be simplified as the one shown below:

  1. Decide what to delegate
  2. Communicate clearly about expectations and process
  3. Empower staff and partners/contractors
  4. Learn to let go
  5. Invest the time necessary to ensure there is a long term reward

Now, let’s look at these in more detail.

Deciding what to delegate

In the original article it was suggested that you need to decide:

  • What to delegate “down”
  • What to delegate “up”

In the end it still comes down to determining, which tasks can be done almost as well or as well (“down”) or done as well or better than you can do (“up”). Delegating down is what you tend to do to less experienced team members and delegating up tends to be to somebody with specialist knowledge in a field.

Delegating down, you must decide on the tasks that can be done in a satisfactory manner and improves overall team productivity by freeing up your time. Delegating up it is a question of ensuring that a specialist can do as good, or better, a job – and probably using less time. In this instance, the result is that it improves overall productivity as it frees up your time to focus on the things that you have prioritised (box 2 in the Eisenhower Decision Making Matrix).

Communicating clearly about expectations and process

As I’ve previously touched upon in my article on how to spend your time right, there are some simple rules for effective communication – and you need to use these in order to succeed with delegation as well.

The Guardian had an interesting checklist for how to go through this in practice with 7 specific questions to be answered:

  1. Define the decision-making processes. What can the staff member decide, and when should they defer to you? Clarity on authority is essential.
  2. Explain why the task needs doing and why you have chosen this person to do it.
  3. Find out how they feel about the task. Are they happy to rise to the challenge? Do they have any fears or concerns?
  4. Give details about what exactly needs doing by when, including any flexibility there is.
  5. Make sure the result you are looking to achieve and how the task fits into the wider picture is understood. What difference will the outcome make?
  6. Say when you need progress reports and agree how monitoring will occur.
  7. Ask if there are any questions. These will help you discover if what you have said has been taken on board. If there are no questions, ask your staff member to explain back to you what needs doing, so that you can check that you have communicated clearly, with no room for misunderstanding.

Once you have gone through the entire checklist you are putting yourself on the road to success. As the Mashable article put it:

“The key to successful delegation is being absolutely clear about what you’re expecting for the outcome. How much direction you provide to get from point A to B will depend on the level of expertise of the person doing the task.”

Empowering staff and contractors

This is really taking the first three questions on the checklist and look at how you can get people to perform at their best. Delegation is not just about getting rid of tasks, but also ensuring that you get your team members to perform great jobs by you placing trust in them and challenging them. That means you must give them the opportunity to take responsibility and make decisions.

As Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward put it:

“Groups become great only when everyone in them, leaders and members alike, is free to do his or her absolute best.”—Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman, Organizing Genius

Or, as the article put it:

“Delegating provides an opportunity for employees to develop their own skills, knowledge and abilities. By allowing your workers to make their own decisions and responsibility, you’ll ultimately have employees who can work independently and deliver even more value to your organization.”

That goes straight back to the purpose of delegation: to create better results all across your organisation…

Learn to Let Go

This one is really important and one of the biggest problems with why people choose not to delegate. A lot of people feel that it’s best they do the work themselves because they think they can do a better job of it – and this is (very) often not the case.

If you have difficulty letting go, you are running a much greater risk of failing as an entrepreneur and your promotion prospects could be a lot bleaker if you’re an employee!

Nobody wants to work for a boss who can’t let go, or, if they do, they won’t be willing to do so for long. I have seen this in countless entrepreneurs and it’s the biggest failing they have as managers – and it’s directly harming their chances of growing their businesses to the extent they want. Because they don’t trust others to do the jobs they are spending time doing petty administrative tasks which don’t help grow their organisations. They completely fail to see the transaction costs in terms of their time expenditure.

So why is it that managers and entrepreneurs can act like this? There seems to be this ingrained belief that since they are the manager or the business owner they must be smarter than the person working for them and therefore the employee “couldn’t possibly do it as well as me”. That is a very dangerous misconception. Firstly, if you think people are idiots you will treat them accordingly and they will either become “idiots” who add no value – or they will leave your company and go on to do great things elsewhere. Secondly, they might actually have a lot more aptitude than you for the task.

That is why, in successful companies, managers make sure that they hire people smarter than themselves. People who have specialist knowledge or skills in certain areas and who complement each other. As the manager who delegates to a group of smart individuals you are also likely to receive even greater admiration and, who knows, that promotion might just be around the corner yet.

Invest the Time to Reap the Long Term Rewards

Going hand in hand with the point above, is this fact: if you don’t train staff to deliver to the standard that you want, you’re failing as a manager.

Micro-management and failure to let go are almost, but only almost, as bad as not taking the time to train staff to bring them up to the level that you want them to perform at. Why? Because you need to motivate and challenge them in order to have productive staff – and you risk completely alienating them if you don’t spend the necessary time to develop (and let them develop) their skills.

The argument is that there is no point in you spending time to train staff because it’s faster to do a task yourself. Unfortunately, that is a misguided and very short-termist view. In other words, it is a bit like peeing your pants on a very cold day… Managers and business owners who take this view fail to see the big picture about how they are spending their own time and they therefore might end up doing the same task 6 or 8 times. Training (or delegating to) a team member might have meant the task would have taken double the time the first time around, but probably around the 3rd or 4th time it would have taken the same amount of time. This would mean that by then you had a team member capable of handling the task and it would free up your time to develop the business.

Think about what you’re communicating (verbally and non-verbally) to your team members. You have to show them trust, respect and allow them the platform to perform on. If you just rule by fear and criticism you will fail because if you think that you can just use compliance to get staff to do something (or threats for that matter), nobody is going to want to deliver more than the bare minimum. There will be no “wow” factor to their work and you are creating a culture of apathy and mediocrity. The lucky ones (the ones who quit before you drag them down for good) will likely go on and thrive at one of your competitors. And all of it is down to the fact that you couldn’t be bothered in spending that bit of extra time showing them what you want done, how you want it done and allowing them to feel empowered and challenged. You might be the next one in line who needs to dust off the old CV…

Are You Ready to Delegate?

According to the article in The Guardian, there are, in essence, three questions you need to ask yourself in order to be able to delegate effectively:

  1. Are you willing to let go?

Don’t hold on to all of the fun parts and just give the dreary ones away. Make sure that you motivate and challenge your team members as well. That way they will grow and be able to be much more productive. If you don’t, staff are likely to become disillusioned and leave.

As the Leadership Expert article put it:

Remember, though, the delegation is not just getting someone else to mechanically do a specific job, but to get them to take over ownership of the task and be responsible for the decision-making process. This means you are entrusting your authority to others in certain areas and enabling them to act independently and under their own initiative, so that they are assuming responsibility with you for certain tasks. They also have the authority to react to situations and decide on a course of action, without always having to refer back to you.”

  1. Are you monitoring to meet their needs, or yours?

Micro-management makes everyone feel a failure and creates a toxic culture of distrust and low morale and job satisfaction. What do you think that does for quality of work and productivity? If you delegate and communicate clearly what you expect (along with when you review) and you get the employee’s agreement then you have to sit back and let them do the job you hired them to do in the first place. If it not up to scratch you will then need to review and determine how they can get the proper training and use any failures as a learning process that might actually end up being useful because of tangential discoveries or process improvement ideas they might bring about.

  1. Are you committed to them? Are they committed to you?

If you try and create a culture of compliance with “Big Daddy’s Rules” then you will guarantee the minimum acceptable effort from your team members, not the work that will set your company and the world alight. You need to create a culture of openness, trust, and respect where staff feel empowered to make decisions and are challenged to deliver great work. You want to have team members willing “to go the extra mile”, but just remember that you succeed or fail as a team – and you will be ultimately responsible for the performance of your team.

As the Leadership Expert article went on to say:

… if things go wrong, remember that you are still ultimately responsible as leader of the team – therefore, you skill as leader is to delegate in such as way so that things are less likely to go wrong or if they do, not likely to go wrong badly.”

Don’t be afraid of failure, but make sure you communicate clearly about your expectations. Learn from it and make sure you and your team members come out even stronger for it.

Delegation – A Final Thought

Delegation is one of the most important tools in your managerial toolbox and one of the key deciders in both your own, and your team’s productivity. Therefore, whether you are a manager or somebody who wants to become one someday, you will need to learn this vital skill. Using the tips in this article are a good step on the way, but I have also listed a few other articles as inspiration at the end.

So I shall leave you with this thought on the art of delegation:



More inspiration

This is part of an on-going series on productivity for Honeydew Health and If you want to read the other articles in the series, you can start with the first article, which sets the scene for the discussion about the topic of productivity. From here there are also links to the other articles in the series. Alternatively, you can click “Productivity” in the tag cloud in the right hand column of this page.

If you would like to find out how our absence management solution, Engage can help you create a healthier and more productive work force you can find out more here and then you can sign up for a free 30 day trial.