The Beginner Delegator

Kevin P. Dincher

Are you a work hoarder who wants to start delegating?  It may be difficult to know how to start.  While delegating done well saves time and money and builds up and motivates people, delegating done poorly can frustrate and confuse people and end up costing you more in the end.  Not delegating at all may be better than delegating poorly.  There are four things you should do to prepare to pass on work to an individual or team for the first time.

  1. Know why you are delegating.
  2. Carefully select the work.
  3. Carefully select the people.
  4. Communicate.

Know why you are delegating. 

Are you delegating simply to off-load work that you would rather not do?  Or are you delegating in order to build up your people and organization?  If it is only the former, then you probably won’t be a good delegator.  Delegation done well is a two-way street:  the work does get done and you are successful—and your people develop skills that make them better employees and achieve the success that makes them happier employees.  Everyone wins.  [More on knowing why your are delegating.]

Carefully select the work. 

You should always choose the work you will delegate carefully—but this is especially true for the hoarder-turned-delegator when neither you nor your staff is accustomed to delegation.

  • Select something that can actually be delegated and is suitable for being delegated.  There are things that you have to do and that cannot be delegated.
  • Select something that has a specific outcome or goal that can be clearly identified or measured.
  • Select something that is not extremely big or that will require a great deal of time or a large number of people to accomplish.  Think of something that can reasonably be completed in two or three months by one to three people.  Creating short-term wins is important when trying something new.
  • Select something that is interesting and that meets a clear need of your organization.   Do not start by giving people something boring or meaningless to do—and the success of the project should matter.

Carefully select the people. 

Putting the right people in the right job makes all the difference, therefore don’t delegate a job to just anyone.  Know why you are delegating this particular job to these particular people, why these people are the best people for getting this particular job done.  Identify the general task areas needed to get the job done and use that information to select the people best suited for the job.  Take into consideration their ability and skills as well as their potential, motivation and learning capacity.   Make sure you consider and plan for training needs.

Communicate. 

Good communication is key to delegating done well.  Without it you will be disappointed in the process and the results—and your people will feel like failures.  You will need to have a frank two-way conversation with the people you have chosen.

  • Everyone needs to understand what work is being delegated—and what work is not being delegated.
  • The people you have chosen need to know why this job needs to be done, how it fits into the bigger picture and why success matters—as well as what they are going to get out of it and what you are going to get out of it.
  • There needs to be clarity on what resources are needed and available–people, facilities, time, equipment, materials, money, training, mentoring, etc.  You need to listen to concerns about resources.  Be prepared to work creatively to resolve those concerns—but also be prepared to honest about resources that are not available.
  • You need to get agreement on timelines and deadlines.  Be prepared to negotiate.  You may have to move some things around or change expectations in order to support getting this work done.
  • Work our meeting and communication plans.  Create a process for status reporting to ensure that the work is on track.  It is also important to let people know how they are doing, so your communication plan needs to include how feedback will be provided.
  • Clarify roles and responsibilities—especially your own role in supporting this work (mentoring, facilitating problem-solving, eliminating barriers, etc.).  Your people need to know who is going to do what as well as what they can expect from you.

Additional needs for clarification and concerns will emerge through this discussion.  Listen to them and work creatively with your people to come up with solutions.

Delegating done well requires a great deal of front-end work—but doing the front-end work makes all the difference.  Do you have any other suggestions for the work hoarder trying to become a delegator?


Kevin Dincher is an organization development consultant, professional development coach and educator with 30 years of experience that includes not only OD consulting but also work in adult education,  counseling psychology and crisis management, program and operations management, and human resources.

LinkedIn: Kevin Dincher

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