Tips for More Effective Delegation

Sept. 1, 2015
How to build accountability and confidence in delegating duties to employees

A common concern for business operators is the idea that “nobody can complete a task as well as I can.”
Whether or not that’s true is beside the point, says Patrick Donadio, a business communications coach who
teaches courses for the Automotive Management Institute.

Feeling like nobody can do things as well as you is a barrier that prevents shop owners from letting go, says Donadio. And, if you can’t let go, your shop won’t be able to grow.

“It’s a critical skill for leaders,” says Sharon Gregory, an organizational development expert with PPG and
owner of SBG Learning Strategies. “The reason why I think they struggle is because of time constraints. It’s so
much easier for a shop owner to just do it themselves, rather than take the time to train their employees. They
either micromanage the employee or totally drop it on the employee and expect them to know what to do.”

Delegating is a process but it’s one that can benefit both shop owners and employees. Gregory and Donadio
outline the steps to better delegation.

Before You Start: Find the Right Fit

Before delegating, Donadio and Gregory recommend that you spend some time analyzing who is capable of
taking on certain tasks—so you don’t end up redoing it yourself anyway:

  • Think strategically when hiring new employees. When interviewing a new employee, think about some of the tasks you’ll want them to take over down the road, and hire people who match your needs.
  • Identify employee personality traits. Match those personalities to the tasks you wish to delegate, and start to groom a specific individual for the task. That can help ensure you don’t delegate a task to somebody who isn’t comfortable with it.
  • Analyze each employee’s drive and desire to do more. Doing so can help you uncover hidden talents your employees may have that could be tapped into, he says. Spend time with each employee—talk to them and watch them work—to get a feel for what skills they have to offer. “They should identify people in their shop who have the desire to take over tasks in the future,” Gregory says.

Six Steps to Better Delegation

Gregory says most people have a reactionary approach to delegation: Something comes up or they feel
overwhelmed and they start dumping tasks on other people or micromanaging. But that’s not how successful
delegation works.

“They need to start looking before it becomes a problem so they can start developing,” she says. “That
should be part of their job description as owners: How can I develop my employees? Instead of waiting until,
‘Oh my gosh, we need other people to do this because I’m in the hospital and I can’t do this.’ They need to
have a developmental plan where they identify people who can move into different roles and begin to find ways to slowly give them more specific tasks to get them to that endpoint.”

Although this takes patience and significant energy, Gregory likens it to investing: If you invest up front, it will pay off later down the road.

The trick to effective delegation, Donadio and Gregory agree, is having a plan, working at it consistently and
supporting the employees without micromanaging.

To do that, a system of checks and balances is helpful when you start assigning new tasks to your employees.

“Create a system that keeps some control in your hands, without actually having to do the work yourself,”
Donadio says.

“Create a system that keeps some control in your hands without actually having to do the work yourself.”
—Patrick Donadio, business communications coach

Donadio and Gregory outline a six-step process to help business owners get started delegating:

1.  Use “degrees of authority” to test employee abilities. Give an employee a small, specific task. If they succeed, then give the employee more responsibility.

“You have to decide what degree of authority this particular task calls for,” he says. “A low degree of authority is, ‘Can you look into this and give me some information because I need to make a decision?’ The high degree is, ‘Can you get this done? And I move on.’&rdquo Eventually, give them control over an entire project, and you will see whether they’re capable of taking that task on for the long haul.

2.  Set goals and objectives together. Be clear and specific about what you want the employee to do and what the end result should look like. In addition, make a decision together about a deadline for
completing the task. 

“People will let you know what the comfort level is,” Donadio says. “As a leader, it’s going to give me an idea of the length of time it’s going to take to get it done and if it’s longer than my timeline, I’m going to ask a few questions. Let’s say I’m thinking next week and they don’t agree, I can ask what we can do to get this done earlier.”

3.  Assign tasks with confidence. People might feel flattered that they are asked to take on a new responsibility, Gregory says, but often times, that comes with timidness, too.

“At the beginning, they’re optimistic and they want the task and the added responsibility,” she says. “But they don’t know what they don’t know. Meaning, they think it’s going to be fun but when they start realizing that it’s harder than they thought, the honeymoon is over. They start doubting whether they should have taken on the additional role.”

That’s why it’s important to let your employees know you have confidence in them and that you want them to succeed at the new task.

“You have a status as a leader and if you come across as too busy, they don’t feel comfortable asking and they may make some decision that aren’t as good as they could have been.”—Patrick Donadio, business communications coach

4.  Acknowledge that delegating is a process, not an event. Delegating is about giving somebody a skill to learn so you won’t have to worry about that task in the future. It’s a process, Gregory says, and it requires different levels of coaching. At the beginning, she says that owners should be more hands-on, teaching the employee to do the particular tasks and overseeing their work. Once the employee gets the hang of it, she says it’s important to fall back into more of a supporting role.

“When they start asking questions, you might say, ‘You tell me what you think you should do in this particular case,’” she says. Give the employee flexibility on how to handle some of the details of the task, she says, and don’t be afraid to allow them to do the job differently than you currently do it.

5.  Create a feedback loop. When you’re training somebody in on a new task, allow them to check in with you periodically to make any course corrections. That could be as simple as asking them to send you a quick email at the end of the week detailing the progress they’ve made, or checking in at the beginning of the morning.

Make yourself available to answer their questions and during any check-in, leave a few minutes for questions.

“In my mind, if I think this is about a two-minute conversation, you want to leave seven minutes so there is enough time for questions,” Donadio says. “Again, you have a status as a leader and if you come across as too busy, they don’t feel comfortable asking and they may make some decisions that aren’t as good as they could have been.”

6.  Have a review process. Meet with the employee after the task is complete to discuss successes and problems. If things went well, give positive recognition. If things went poorly, turn it into a learning opportunity and create a plan for improvement. Gregory says to look for specific things that the employee is doing well, in addition to areas for improvement.

“Think of it like a sandwich, where you tell them what they’re doing well, then what they need to work on and then end with another positive,” she says.