Delegating to the right person: the dos and don’ts
While delegation is an essential part of management, it is sometimes difficult to get right. Selecting which tasks you should delegate, and to whom, requires careful consideration. Here are our dos and don’ts to help you delegate to the right person.
Pick someone with enough ability to do the job
If you pick someone whose basic skills are not up to the job, you are setting both them and yourself up to fail. That’s not to say that they already have the requisite skills, just that they can develop them within the timescale necessary to do the delegated task. So if you need something completed and completely accurate by Friday, don’t pick a new starter with no idea. But if you need to get a task off your desk and onto the desk of one of your team and you have someone capable but inexperienced, take time, coach and teach them and invest in their learning and development.
Pick someone with time or capable of finding time
One of the main reasons we want to delegate is because we don’t have time to do the job ourselves. If you delegate to someone with an even bigger workload, don’t expect this to go well. At the very least, expect to have to coach the staff member in how to reprioritise.
Pick someone willing to take on the job
Delegating to someone who is very unwilling to take on the new responsibility is always risky. It may be that the staff member is anxious about their ability and this may be something you can work with supportively. Or they may be worried about their current workload, in which case you may be able to help with prioritising (see above). But if the task is something that they really don’t take to and that isn’t part of their regular job, it may be dangerous to insist on their taking it on. For example, if your PA was taken on for his secretarial skills and attention to detail but hates public speaking, getting him to do presentations may not work well.
Pick someone for whom the job is motivating
The converse of the previous paragraph is that if you pick someone who wants to develop and has a desire to take on the new task, the motivation is already in place and delegation will be much easier. This can be nerve-wracking for managers. If someone is very keen to take on a task that you enjoy and you suspect they will be good at it, this can undermine your confidence in yourself. However, this is unhelpful. It’s the sign of a strong manager that they can delegate according to strengths and skills, admitting freely that a staff member will perform or is performing better than they would.
Pick someone who can develop within this job
This is very similar to the point above. Ideally, delegation is an opportunity to develop new knowledge or skills or a deeper understanding of the organisation and how it works. You should regard delegation as a preliminary to promotion and regard this as positive. If you develop your team, they will be motivated and performance will be enhanced.
Don’t pick your ‘favourite’
Many of us have one or two team members with whom we get on particularly well and who always seem to be willing and ‘up for it’. It’s unfair to these people and very unfair to the rest of the team to turn to them every time a task needs delegating. Try to pick the person according to the skills and workload of the whole team and to give everyone the opportunity to develop.
Don’t try to be ‘fair’
However, you do need to consider who is the right person for the task each time so allocating delegated tasks by rote, because it’s so-and-so’s turn this time is equally unhelpful. You need to be considered and strategic and to pick the ‘right’ person each time rather than just sharing the tasks around as if they were sweets.
Don’t necessarily pick the most skilled person – can you develop someone else?
It’s very tempting when delegating to pick the most skilled person available. However, this may be wasting an opportunity to develop another capable person. If there’s someone else who has the capacity to develop the necessary skills and understanding and if you have the time for the necessary coaching and support, then investing in resourcing your team with two capable people instead of one is a good idea.
Don’t always pick the most willing person – you may demotivate the others
This seems like the same point as the first but is subtly different. The most willing person may not be the person you favour but may be the keenest to take on extra work, perhaps because they’re looking at promotion prospects or want to impress you or are looking for an end of year bonus! Again, you need to be strategic. They may be willing but are they skilled, do they have the time and do they have the workload capacity? And are others in the team equally qualified to take on the new responsibility? Always decide on the basis of the long-term benefit to the team and the company, and your decisions will be much easier to justify.
Whether you're a new manager or someone who has had managerial responsibilities for years, it's often difficult to delegate as well as you would like. Our one-day Delegation skills training course will give you new ideas, new tools and new confidence.