Update 26Jun13:

Outsourcing, engaging a contractor, getting your car fixed, and even going to the doctor, are all forms of delegation, so employing the steps below is just as critical to achieving your desired outcome.

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Delegate, Relegate, Back-up, Follow-up.

Read that again.  That’s the short version, for memory.

Here’s the slightly longer version:

  1. Delegate the task
  2. Relegate authority
  3. Provide Back-up
  4. Schedule Follow-up

These are the four steps to successful delegation.  Simple.  A friend taught me this a long time ago and it has served me extremely well.  It needn’t be more complicated.

Remember and use these steps and you’ll end up making yourself redundant, which should be the goal of every leader. We’ll go into detail in a minute.  First, let’s look at what delegation actually is (and isn’t), and when you should delegate.

What is Delegation?

To delegate means to give another person a task, duty, or activity while retaining responsibility for the outcome.  That latter is key.  When you delegate, you are still responsible.

Essentially, when you delegate you are giving away a part of your own responsibilities, but;

Delegation is not abdication!

You still own the outcome and are therefore still vested in the task, duty, or activity.

Delegation is not a means to creating free time for yourself.

You can and should delegate to free up your time, but not so that you can enjoy free time while others work.  Nothing creates resentment quicker than a boss palming-off his or her own responsibilities to already overloaded reports, and then taking a long lunch.

Why delegate?

There are two equally important reasons to delegate:

  1. To free up your time for highest-value use; and,
  2. As a development tool for your people.

As a leader, highest-value use of your time means being creative; working out how best the organization can maximize the value it exists to create.   The more time you get to spend analyzing, reviewing, strategizing, planning, and just plain thinking, the better.  This may well include thinking about how to get the rest of the organization doing more of these things too!

The second reason is just as vital.  Everyone in the organization should be growing; actively learning and increasing his or her capabilities.  Delegation is a prime mover to that end.  Delegating part of your own responsibilities to a report is effectively training them how to do part of your job; helping to prepare them for the next move in their career.

When and what to delegate?

A major part of the leader’s job is delegation.  Leaders should delegate as much as possible, on the understanding that it is not possible to delegate everything.  If it were, you’d already be redundant!  This goes for CEOs and one-man entrepreneurs, and everything in between.

The CEO delegates to a protégé who will eventually take over.

The Department Head delegates to the Assistant Manager until promoted to Division Head, and then the Assistant Manager becomes the new Department Head… because they were ready.

The small business owner trains and delegates to their staff so that they are free to work on the business, instead of in it.

The one-man entrepreneur outsources (delegates) production, marketing, administration, logistics, and whatever else its possible to delegate.  If he didn’t, he’d be swamped, and have no time to do what he needs to, which is to continually conceptualize and create the business.

So, leaders must delegate.  But there are limits.  Not everything should be delegated, and circumstances are not always right to delegate.  Here are the rules.

When NOT to delegate:

  • Do not delegate those things that only you are empowered to do.
  • Do not delegate unless the assignee has the capability to handle the task or you have the time to train them properly.
  • Do not delegate to those already struggling with their workload.
  • Do not delegate tasks where there is significant risk of failure and the cost of failure is higher than the cost of your time to do the task yourself or properly train someone to do it.

How to Delegate – The Four Steps:


Outline in detail the task, activity or responsibility AND the time-frame:

  • Specify in all essential details what a successful outcome looks like
  • Solicit feedback to ensure understanding – you and the assignee need to have exactly the same understanding of what’s expected
  • Specify methodology if required and depending on experience and competence of assignee
  • Be clear on time-frame and schedule milestones


Assign required authority and resources – ensure assignee is equipped and empowered:

  • Does the assignee have the decision-making authority required to carry out the task, activity, or responsibility?  What are the limits to his or her authority?
  • Does everyone who needs to, know that the assignee is now responsible for this task or activity?
  • Does the assignee have access to the resources they’ll require?


Provide channel(s) for support and assistance:

  • Ensure assignee is aware that they should ask for help and support if needed, and provide time and channels for them to do so.
  • Discuss potential “hazards and roadblocks” and possible solutions if such should arise.
  • Schedule milestones and briefings to review progress and/or effectiveness, and intervene as necessary to nudge things back on track if they’re sliding (that said, give as much leeway as you can without jeopardizing value – a major point of the exercise is development of the assignee.  Making mistakes and correcting them is a major factor in successful learning)


Schedule yourself to follow-up:

  • Don’t wait for assignee to ask for help.  Check early and often to make sure things are on track.  The more important the task, the earlier and more often you should check on progress.
  • Keep track of tasks delegated in your time management system, and schedule regular follow-up.
  • In some cases, a simple, “How’s it going?” might suffice, but you may get a “Fine” when things are not.  Fear, embarrassment, false pride, or defensiveness might stand in the way of you hearing about trouble brewing.  Better to ask a few pointed questions to find out more precisely how things stand, and to view already completed material or drafts if appropriate.
  • Don’t accept sub-standard work.  If you check progress early and regularly, you can head off poor performance and make sure quality standards are high.
  • Reward good work.  Gratitude for a job well done is always appreciated.  Conversely, a lack of acknowledgment and reward for effort and achievement is often a serious demotivator.

Say it again:  Delegate, Relegate, Back-up, Follow-up.


Why Some Leaders Avoid Delegating

I need to be “Hands On”

Some leaders pride themselves on being “Hands-on”, and the short-term bottom-line focus of last century’s corporate culture made “hands-on” a catch-cry for good leadership.  In many “old-school” industries it still is.  If they’re not “doing” things, some managers feel inadequate.

I enjoy doing it

Everybody has a tendency to do what they’re best at and most enjoy.  Some leaders, especially newly promoted managers, continue to do what they did in their old position, even though in the new role they could and should be delegating these tasks, and focusing on what the new role requires of them.

I don’t have time

Still others think they don’t have time to delegate.  They feel it’s a hassle to explain, train, and guide others and just plain quicker to “do it myself”.  This is self-defeating in the long term.  Think it through, and you come to the conclusion that you don’t have time not to delegate.  Every minute invested in properly delegating to a worthy report frees up multiple hours of future time, and, importantly, increases the productivity of everyone.

I can do it better myself

Finally, some rationalize not delegating because they think they can do it better.  That may well be true (though you might be surprised), but not everything needs to be “perfect in your eyes”, and there are usually many ways to achieve the same outcome.  In truly critical areas where you doubt the quality achievable if you delegate, work in partnership.  Take a mentoring approach; delegate only parts of the task and supervise closely.

One last time:  Delegate, Relegate, Back-up, Follow-up.

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