Expert Commentary

Best Practices for Delegating

"Delegating" is entrusting another person with a task or responsibility. Parents delegate the education of their children to school administrators and teachers, auto owners delegate the repair of their cars to their auto technicians, and restaurant patrons delegate the preparing of their meals to the chefs. The delegator must clearly communicate what needs to be accomplished, what resources are used to do the job, and by when it must be completed.


Employee Hiring, Development, and Retention
August 2014

However, the delegator is not present while the job is being done. The delegator does not have input as to how the job is being done. The delegator defines what must be done and may even tell how he or she expects it to be done and then has to trust that the person will complete the job in an appropriate way, within budget, up to standards, and on time.

On What Should the Delegator Focus?

The delegator should focus on these five primary points:

  1. Clearly defining the job
  2. Having the job done the way the delegator needs it done
  3. Communicating in such a way that no confusion exists
  4. Choosing workers who will be able to be trusted again
  5. Being free to give his or her attention and energy to other things

Delegating is the appropriate management style when all three of the following are present:

  1. When the workers have motivation/desire, proven judgment, and experience
  2. When the workers will be discouraged if they are not receiving greater responsibility and autonomy
  3. When it is unlikely that the worker would become so discouraged or frustrated that he or she will fail

Recommended Four-Step Delegation Process

The first step is to schedule time to meet to define and express the desired outcome(s) and parameters for the task/job that is being delegated. This can't properly be communicated in a "passing conversation."

Second, confirm that the employee is clear as to exactly what must be done by having him or her repeat what is supposed to be done and the desired outcome, when it must be completed, what resources are required to complete the task, and how you will interact while the employee is working on the project.

The third step is to be clear about when, what, and why you need progress reports. If this step is not clearly communicated, you may be viewed as a micromanager when you do ask for progress reports, which could be perceived as you not having confidence in the employee.

The fourth and final step is to review the final outcome and bring closure to the task, recognizing the work, efforts, accomplishments, and how thankful you are for the employee's efforts.

Delegators Delegate Authority, Not Ultimate Responsibility

Sometimes managers try to delegate responsibility without giving authority. This means that the employees are responsible for the outcomes but do not have the authority to significantly affect those outcomes! Good employees won't stand for this, and it is a major cause of frustration in the workplace. Effective delegators know that ultimately the buck stops on their desks. They know that even though they have handed the responsibility to another person, they are still responsible for the outcomes. Yet they also know that they have to give authority to the person doing the task. That person has to be able to make decisions and use resources to get the task accomplished. So, the person has to have authority, even though the ultimate responsibility rests on the delegator's shoulders.

Delegating Requires the Use of Several Thinking Centers

There are four types of thinking centers: structured, self-concept, practical, and intuition and empathy.

Structured Thinking

To be effective as a delegator, a manager must be able to:

  • Think through a clear plan
  • Explain exactly what is expected and how it fits into the whole plan
  • Make sure the employee knows how things work
  • Equip the person for future success and understanding
  • Be patient in the face of the person's learning, trying, and doing things differently
  • Think about what the person will need to be successful
  • Communicate plans for proceeding, meeting, and reviewing the work once it is finished

Self-Concept Thinking

To be effective as a delegator, you must think in terms of how you should be and what you have committed to and strive to be responsible (even though you are delegating significant levels of authority to the employee), do a thorough job, be consistent to your word, and not fluctuate depending on your moods.

Practical Thinking

To be effective as a delegator, the manager must think in a practical way. This includes assessing what other individuals are capable of doing, wanting to get things accomplished, seeing and being able to interact with another person as to what it takes to get a particular project done, and responding in a positive and motivating way to good work that others do.

Intuition and Empathy Thinking

To be effective as a delegator, the manager must care about the employee's development and growth, pay attention to what motivates the employee, and inherently trust that the employee wants to do well and will handle things with the best of intentions.

Managers who delegate effectively contribute in three important ways. First, they assure employees that they are valued and trusted and that their careers are important. Second, they manage in such a way that frees up their time to do other things. Third, they are actively preparing future leaders and managers for the company to be able to use as the need arises.


Mike Poskey is president of ZERORISK HR, Inc., a Dallas-based human resources risk management firm and exclusive provider of ZERORISK Hiring System. For more information, visit www.ZERORISKHR.com or email Mike at .


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