When to Delegate


Delegating tasks and responsibility is a vital component of time management. The primary reason most people delegate is to decrease their workload, which enables them to focus on other tasks and responsibilities. Other reasons to delegate include improved staff satisfaction, better ability to get an increased amount of work done, and faster career growth for the supervisor and the employee who completes the project. Not only does the supervisor's workload decrease, but his staff members also have the opportunity to advance. When delegation is effective, the entire team and the business itself can succeed.


  1. Are you delegating enough?
    1. Quiz - Are you delegating enough or effectively?
    2. Why delegate?
    3. Why do people choose not to delegate?
    4. What you can delegate
    5. What not to delegate
  2. Who should you delegate to?
  3. Preparing to delegate
  4. Communicate with designated employees through a meeting
  5. Meet and communicate regularly
  6. Assess the results and the employee's performance and communicate
  7. Demonstrate appreciation
  8. Summary
  9. Resources

I. Are you delegating enough?

Delegation is the administrative technique in which supervisors give their immediate subordinates the authority to accomplish an assigned task. To determine if you are delegating enough work, ask yourself this question: "Could the company get along without me if I had to be away for three months?"

If you answered yes, then you are doing a great job delegating. If you're still not sure, try the following quiz to assess if you are delegating enough or effectively.

QUIZ: Are you delegating enough or effectively?

Answer these simple questions to see where you stand.  

1. Do you work extended hours trying to catch up?  Yes  No 
2. When you delegate an activity, do you merely say "Do it?"  Yes  No 
3. Do you take work home evenings and weekends?  Yes  No 
4. Do you postpone long-range projects?  Yes  No 
5. Do you lack confidence in your subordinates' abilities?  Yes  No 
6. Is the work on your staff below your expectations?  Yes  No 
7. Does your staff have low morale?  Yes  No 
8. Are all decisions deferred to you from your staff?  Yes  No 
9. Has your staff stopped presenting their ideas to you?  Yes  No 
10. Do operations slow down when you're away?  Yes  No 

If you answer yes to more than five of the questions, you're not delegating enough! 

Why do people choose not to delegate?

Contrary to popular belief, delegation does not mean you have to give up control. Entrepreneurs or business owners may find it difficult and scary to give up some control of projects, or they may lack knowledge about the art of delegation. Other reasons people fail to delegate include:

What you can delegate

There is a litany of tasks you can delegate, including:

What not to delegate

In most cases, the following activities should not be delegated to others because they require the expertise of experienced managers:

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II. Who should you delegate to?

When delegating, it is important to select the right person for the job. Don't delegate to the first person you think of or the staff member who consistently receives delegated tasks because of their previous performance. Many staff members have untapped abilities that must be discovered and cultivated. The employee's skills and personality style must match the assignment. For example, if the job requires training the staff on new company policies, the individual must buy into the project and have effective teaching skills.

It is easy to fall into the habit of delegating to one or two key individuals in your department. This practice will not only frustrate the individuals but other employees, and may cause morale problems.

Specific factors to consider when selecting the appropriate individual are:

For junior staff members, start by delegating assignments that can be broken down into parts, each with a separate deadline and end result. Their initial projects should be less difficult than the tasks you assign to senior level staff, and they should be provided with some latitude and allowed a certain degree of freedom to complete their delegated assignments.

It may be helpful to keep records or a dossier on your staff members that delineate their strengths and weaknesses, other projects they are working on, special skills and notes from prior assignments. An employee who had difficulty with a previously delegated project may or may not have difficulty with future projects. Both the employee and supervisor need to reflect on the past assignment. The prior project may have a mismatch of abilities or the employee did not realize the limits of her authority.

Mentoring is a critical component of the delegation process. This can be done by you or a key individual in your department with a strong track record.

In the education industry, Jere Brophy is recognized for the concept of TESA - Teacher Expectations, Student Achievement. The concept is simple. If a teacher enters a school year knowing ahead of time that one of his students misbehaves and is lagging behind his classmates academically, the teacher will expect poor performance from that student. This same concept can be applied to delegation as Employer's Expectations, Employee's Achievement (EEEA). By using this line of reasoning, employees will rise to your level of expectation for them.

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III. Prepare for delegating

Before you communicate anything about the project to your staff, you need to define the specifics of the project. Key points that you will need to discuss when delegating a project include:

There are many issues to address with the employee who is assigned a delegated task. Brown says that the key to delegation is that the employee understands the expectations and keeps you informed about decisions before they are finalized. To clearly delineate your expectations and other details of the project, complete the Project Worksheet below. It will help define your expectations, enhance your ability to track the project, and improve your communication to your staff.

Keep in mind that dumping a project or task onto a staff member is not the same as delegating. Teaching your staff to take initiative by setting an example is a valuable lesson. For example, many people on your staff may readily volunteer to clean up a messy work area if you show no qualms about cleaning up the mess yourself. Not only does this demonstrate respect but a willingness to also do the dirty work.

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IV. Communicate with designated employee through a meeting

A formal meeting, not an impromptu discussion, should be scheduled with the staff member who will be taking on a new task. Some key things to consider when communicating the project are:

Using a written project delegation sheet, like the one shown below, may enhance the employee's understanding of the project and clarify the delegated task for you, as well.  


Project Title:


Background Information:

Start Date:

Completion Date:

Responsibility Level:

Resources Available: Staff 


Monetary Support 

Special Training


Next Meeting:


Some rules of thumb for delegating include:

As long as you are honest and open in communicating with the employee, the delegation of a project should work effectively.

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V. Meet and Communicate Regularly

Schedule regular meetings with your employee to discuss the project. You must take the time to meet with staff and assess the status of the project. With junior staff, it is critical to schedule deadlines for various parts of the project. The checkpoints enable you to monitor progression of the project and allow you to provide guidance and direction.

Mentoring staff members through project completion may be critical for junior-level staff or when attempting to foster skills in other staff members. Being flexible, asking the right questions, and providing direction and guidance in a non-judgmental fashion will strengthen your managerial skills. This will improve the individual's skills, heighten morale, provide staff with a sense of ownership, and empower staff to be more proactive and creative.

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VI. Assess the Results and the Employee's Performance and Communicate

Completion of the project is not the final step in the delegation process. The process is complete only after the staff member and supervisor privately reflect and discuss the following:

  1. The final project:
  2. Their performance in handling the project:
  3. The support, feedback and direction received from the supervisor:
  4. Resources:

The above should be discussed between the employee and supervisor who delegated the activity. The supervisor should ask probing open-ended questions, rather than closed questions which require a single word response. From this, the supervisor can adjust their delegation skills for future endeavors. Don't expect everything to go smoothly. Remember, there is always room for improvement.

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VII. Demonstrate Appreciation

It's critical for the employee who does a good job to receive recognition for his or her work. This can be done numerous ways, including recognizing their efforts through a newsletter, at a staff meeting, via a computer bulletin board system or an actual bulletin board in a common area. More substantial recognition may include a bonus check or a raise. This will vary from company to company but the key is recognition for a job well done.

By celebrating the success of an employee, they'll  want to do even better next time. Through effective delegation, communication and demonstration of appreciation, your staff will be empowered to present new ideas to you, which again results in success for all parties involved.

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VIII. Summary

Although communication is essential, it alone cannot determine what should be delegated, to whom at what times. Delegation requires courage and commitment, and mistakes are anticipated.

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IX. Resources


T. Pollock, "Mind your own business," Supervision, 59(2):24-26, 1998

B. P. Sunoo, "Teach generation Xers to micromanage themselves" Workforce, 77(3):23, 1998

"Work easier and better by delegating tasks to employees. Profit-Building Strategies for Business Owners," TPR Publishing, 22(7):6, 1992.


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