It's not just assigning work - it's assigning work that you as a manager are personally responsible for. The two benefits are reducing of workload and providing growth opportunities to the person being delegated to.
If you’re only using delegation as a way of making your job easier, you’re missing the point. It’s not just about assigning work; there’s something in it for the direct, too. 1
For the person being delegated to, it's important that they also be delegated the power to make decisions related to the delegated work. It's also vital that others understand that you've delegated authority.
Potential for failure in delegation is actually a pro! It gives the opportunity to learn from mistakes. Don't wait until a report is "ready" for the work, but rather make failure a "safe option". Set them up for success, but allow room for failure, and don't jump in immediately when things start to go off track. 2
“Early on, my manager told me, ‘I don't want you to mess up. But if you mess up, I will have your back.’ This instilled in me that my manager trusted my decisions, was willing to help me through potential failure, and subtly applied pressure to live up to that trust. He said it once, but it was impactful enough that I still think about it when I face a new decision in my role,” says Madeline Willett, Associate Director for Division Operations at Verto Education. 3
“I trust you, make the call” might be the six most powerful words you can hear from a supervisor. 4
Ask someone if they want to be delegated the work, don't just tell. And explain to them why you've chosen them. If they say yes, you should then provide a brief and explain the intended outcome. In reality you should be delegating outcomes and letting the delegate decide the appropriate way to reach them.
As for what to delegate, there's two good indicators. Easiest is if the delegate has expressed interest in that domain and it aligns with the direction they'd like to grow in. But also useful is to delegate what I personally enjoy doing - the things that excite and challenge me - as there's a good chance the delegate would enjoy it too. 5
My delegation process
- Confirm that the potential delegate has bandwidth to take on more work.
- Confirm with person that they're open to take on the work (optional/situational).
- Document the work to be done, include knowledge transfer and setting of expectations, time-frame, and constraints.
- Set a date to check-in on progress.
- Give feedback to the delegate, both during the project and after its completion.
A delegation backlog
As a manager you'll always have more in your backlog than you can ever accomplish. It's good to be honest with yourself about whether you can truly get to everything there, but I've found a nice alternative to doing a "select all and delete" on your backlog is to shift some of those things into a delegation backlog that's visible to your reports. Let them know that these are projects that need an owner and you might be surprised by who takes the initiative to tackle some of those projects.