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  • Writer's pictureKathy Miles

The Secret to Successful Delegation in the Workplace

The Secret to Successful Delegation

I'm sure most of us have read a management book or two that puts success and productivity in the workplace down to effective delegation. It can therefore be frustrating that despite all the pages dedicated to extolling the virtues of delegation, there is in fact very little information telling you how to delegate successfully.

Consequently, most of us learn to delegate the hard way. Either through not having the task completed fully or properly or through ending up having to do the task ourselves. I've racked my brains, sought feedback, reflected on my instructions and eventually, I figured it all out - and for all the ineffective delegations previously, there was only one root cause. Yes, that’s right - every single delegation that failed I could trace back to the same single issue.

So here I am to share with you that one secret to successful delegation that I’ve learned the hard way.

The Secret to Effective Delegation:

Prepare yourself, as this is so unbelievably simple, you’ll be kicking yourself. The secret is...

You’re delegating to the wrong person.

Stop for a second and really think about this. Would you consider yourself a top performer? If so, then the task you want to delegate is also important, meaning that you need an equally top performer to complete it for you.

Many variables can impact the success of your delegated task, such as competence, experience, execution, personality etc., but they all come down to the same root cause - capability.

If the person is not capable of undertaking the task as you would, then DO NOT delegate the task to them. To delegate to this person is only setting them up for failure and yourself up for more work when you need to re-do the task or correct any mistakes.

To Delegate or Not?

Before you delegate a task to someone, ask yourself this one capability question:

Is this person capable of undertaking the task as successfully as I would?

If the answer is negative, consider the following:

  1. What improvement measures need to be implemented to turn that answer to YES? Does the person need more training? Mentoring? A performance review? To be set some SMART goals?

  2. Could I improve the way that I communicate the task and the requirements in order to turn that answer to YES?

  3. If the employee is capable, how do I check they understand my instructions and what a successful outcome would be?

If after reviewing the 3 questions above, you still cannot get a YES answer to the ‘capability question’ then you either need to find someone else to delegate to or, you need to complete the task yourself.

The Reason to Delegate:

If our employees fail the capability question, then doing the task ourselves is sometimes a necessary stop-gap. I know that I have on many occasions said to myself "if you just do it, at least you know it will get done right" or "it's just quicker if I do it myself". I'm sure some of you reading this would also have fallen into this trap previously. However, doing it yourself is a temporary measure, not a long-term solution.

Whilst you are completing a task which you should be delegating, it is stopping you from doing potentially more important tasks. You are also not being fair to your employees as you are not developing, nurturing and supporting them in order for their capability to improve.

How to Build the Capability of Your Employees:

So now that we know the one secret to successful delegation, let’s look at some simple steps that we can take to improve the capability of our employees so that they are ready to accept delegation:

1. Workload: We need to ensure their workload can allow for the delegated task to be executed with sufficient priority.

2. Effective Communication of the Task:

If you are going to delegate a task to an employee, the best way to do this is to have a delegation meeting. This allows for adequate time to communicate the task fully, check understanding and answer any questions without other interruptions. The following should be covered:

  • Why you have chosen them to do the task;

  • Why the task needs to be completed;

  • What the outcome of the task will look like;

  • What the milestones will be - if there are different milestones along the way;

  • What time frame the task has for completion;

  • What support is available; and

  • How you would like them to communicate progress/questions/issues etc. (e.g by email, via weekly meetings).

It may help you to set a SMART (Simple - Measurable - Attainable - Realistic - Time Bound) goal around the task for the employee.

3. Gain Agreement and Check Understanding:

This is the most important step, we need the employee to confirm agreement of the task and then we need to check their understanding of the task by asking them to repeat back the key information.

PDI Solutions can work with organisations to develop and deliver training tailored to your particular organisation. Training such as communication skills, negotiation skills, goal setting and managing difficult conversations can increase a managers confidence and ability to delegate. Contact us today for a free consultation at or visit our website at

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