You know delegation is a critical skill in the workplace, but how effective are you, really? Do you often find yourself with work piling up, even though you've committed to delegating more of the low-level tasks bringing you down? Do you find your delegated tasks unsatisfactorily completed? Are you just confused about where to start because you've never done it before?

You're not alone. Delegating isn't the simple, straightforward process it masquerades as; it takes time and effort to master the art. But with these seven secrets, you'll up your game and learn to delegate better than you ever hoped.

1. Trust your staff

The biggest obstacle to successful delegation is the persistent urge to not delegate anything at all--ever. Sometimes, it's a point of pride for a boss to retain as much work as possible, but more often, it's created from the mentality that your workers wouldn't be able to handle it, or that they wouldn't get it done the right way. To get over this, you have to learn to trust your staff. You're the one that hired them--isn't that because you thought they were good at their jobs? Yes, you might challenge them with some tasks outside their comfort zones, but you'll be there to guide them if they run into any trouble along the way.

2. Stop expecting perfection

The other side of the equation when it comes to trusting your staff is to stop expecting perfection. No, your employees aren't going to be able to complete your projects in exactly the same way you would, in exactly the same amount of time. They aren't you. However, that doesn't mean they can't complete those projects effectively. It can be tough to set aside your perfectionistic expectations, but until you do, any work you delegate to your staff will be perpetually "not good enough." Lower the bar, just slightly, and you'll feel better about the entire system.

3. Have a prioritization system

Some things you can delegate. Some things you can't. It's hard to tell the difference in the moment, but having a clear prioritization system will help you in two ways. First, it will help you identify when your workload is too big--if there are too many "high" priorities" to deal with, you'll need to start pushing some tasks out. Second, it will help you identify which tasks to give in the first place; for example, a low-priority task won't have the same consequences of failure as a high-priority task. Start with low-priority tasks as you get to know your system and team better.

4. Know your team, inside and out

Speaking of teams, you'll need to know yours, inside and out. Every member of your team will have strengths, weaknesses, and preferences that will ultimately dictate what types of tasks they can take on, as well as how effectively they can complete them. As a simple example, you might assign small, entry-level tasks to someone new to the group, but trust a bigger technical project to someone with years of experience in that niche. Personal preferences are also important; you may find that some employees resent handling certain tasks, but enjoy the challenge of others. Use this to your advantage to keep morale and productivity high.

5. Set clear expectations from the beginning

Delegation can be ruined if your communication isn't effective or clear. If an employee dawdles on a task because you never emphasized the deadline, it's your fault for never mentioning it. If an employee completes a project incorrectly, it's likely because the original instructions were unclear. Take the time to be precise and specific in how you introduce and assign tasks; it takes a greater investment up front, but it will save you lots of time and headaches later on. You'll get better at this as you practice it regularly.

6. Understand that teaching is an investment

Some professionals avoid delegating altogether because they're afraid of the time it takes to teach an employee a new skill. If it takes 10 minutes to do the task, but 20 minutes to teach it, the short-term solution is to take the task on yourself and save the 10 minutes. However, if you spend 20 minutes teaching that skill, you'll save 10 minutes each time the task repeats itself--giving you net time savings as soon as it repeats itself more than twice. Teaching is a long-term investment, so make the short-term sacrifice; your future self will thank you.

7. Practice, and get better

When you first start delegating consistently, you're going to have trouble. You'll assign things to wrong people, and your workflows will be inefficient. The only way to get better is to give and receive open feedback about your processes. Listen to your employees, learn from your mistakes, and don't be afraid to make adjustments if you want to improve. This is especially important if your responsibilities are changing, or if new people come onto your team; each person will handle delegation differently, so you may need to make adjustments for each individual in some cases.

Successful delegation starts with the understanding that delegating requires focus, practice, and development like any other skill. Once you prioritize it and start learning from your mistakes, you can start turning it into an effective tool to reduce your workload and increase the efficiency of your entire team.

Published on: Jun 9, 2016
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