How to Delegate Effectively

One of the cardinal avenues to business growth is the ability to delegate work to others. Unfortunately, effectively delegating isn’t easy until you know how.

First, we need to dispel some misconceptions and false beliefs about delegating. If you’re not thinking about it correctly, you won’t follow the proper steps and will fail to delegate and, therefore, fail to grow.

Then, we’ll cover the seven steps needed to delegate work effectively. This approach allows someone else to own the work while freeing up your own time to focus on higher-leverage work.

Reset Your Delegation Mindset

Before learning the steps to delegation, you must reset your mindset and what to expect when you delegate work.

We all want more time to focus on more strategic and valuable things. Most people want to achieve by delegating, but most fail because they think about delegation the wrong way.

I was once on a call with my mentor, Dan Martell. I asked him about delegation, and what he told me changed my whole approach to hiring (and was even included in his book Buy Back Your Time).

Dan said, “My approach is that 80% done by someone else is 100% f’ing awesome.”

What Dan was getting at was that to delegate effectively, you must:

  1. Lower your expectations (at the start)
  2. Be willing to coach the person to do it the way you’ve been doing it
  3. Accept that you won’t ever be able to hand everything off 100%. You’ll always be involved somehow.

Once you accept these three truths, you’re ready to start delegating work.

Lower Your Expectations (At The Start)

When you start delegating, you first need to lower your expectations. This step doesn’t mean you accept sub-par work, but rather that you lower your expectations for what the person you are delegating to will be able to do when they’re just beginning.

Think about it – when you first started, you were similarly bad at it. You hadn’t done it before! Over time, it became second nature as you practiced.

With that empathetic approach, you won’t get as frustrated when the person doesn’t do it exactly right the first time. Trust me, you will still feel like saying, “It would just be faster to do it myself.” 

The truth is, you’re right. The first few times they do it, they will take longer than it would take you.

That’s not the point, though.

If a task takes you 30 minutes, and it takes them 60 minutes with 10 minutes of input from you, it’s not taking you double the time. In fact, it’s taking you 1/3 the time, and double the time for them. Over time, they’ll get that down to 30-40 minutes as they get more experience, and you’ll spend a minute or two.

As the task frequency increases, you’ll save even more time from your calendar.

Coach Them (Give Feedback)

Most people’s issue with delegation is that they expect to hand it off 100% with minimal training or direction and have it done right.

This attitude will keep you from handing off tasks fully.

Instead, adopt the attitude of a coach. You’re no longer the star who needs to step up in this situation. You’re needed for something more valuable. As your business grows, you’ll need to develop this skill anyway, so you might as well learn it as early as possible.

Think about the coaches you’ve had in your life. They showed you how to do something. You tried, and they’d correct your form. You’d try again and do it better. They’d make adjustments over time, and you’d continue to improve.

It works the same way with work in the real world. First, you show them how to do it, and then they try. You give them feedback,  and they do it again. Then, you provide more feedback, and so on. Over time, they get better, and you have to give less, if any, feedback most of the time. Eventually, you know that they will perform when it matters most.

Delegate, Don’t Abdicate

The final mindset shift you need to make is from abdication to delegation.

They’re different words, so they have different meanings.

“Abdicate” is a transitive verb meaning:

:to cast off: DISCARD

“Abdicate a responsibility.”

Source: Merriam-Webster

“Delegate” is both a transitive and an intransitive verb.

transitive:

:to entrust to another

delegate authority

intransitive:

:to assign responsibility or authority

“A good manager knows how to delegate.”

Source: Merriam-Webster

As you can see, abdication means “to give it over,” essentially to quit. When a king abdicates their throne, they’re not beginning a transition period. They’re quitting, and their successor has to figure it out.

Delegation is entirely different. You’re still in charge but entrusting a duty to another and expecting them to do it well. You’re still around to give feedback and guide/coach them as they have questions.

I love the intransitive definition because you’re assigning responsibility. Too many managers or delegators-of-work think they’ve delegated a task, but they never actually give ownership to the person. They simply say, “Here, do this task.” The person told to do it doesn’t necessarily know if they need to do it continually, when it needs to be done, how often it needs to be done, or what done looks like.

When you assign them the responsibility, they should know it’s their responsibility to do it every time. You also must give them clarity around when it needs to be done, how often that will likely come up, and what done looks like.

Here is an example from my own work.

I own sales at EditorNinja, but I realized that I don’t also have to be the one creating all of the Master Service Agreements (MSAs) or Statements of Work (SOWs). MSAs and SOWs take 20-30 minutes each to prepare, so I spent 2-3 hours per week on this task.

I decided to delegate the task to someone else at the company. To do this, I gave them these instructions:

  1. When I need an MSA, SOW, or both created, I will submit a form on the site.
  2. When this form is submitted, a notification with all the information will be posted to Slack, and you will be alerted.
  3. When that happens, you will create the requested documents within Signwell within half a business day.
  4. Once they are created, respond in a thread under the original Slack message with links to the individual documents. Tag me.
  5. I will then review them, change anything I want, and send them to the recipient.
  6. I will also give you feedback within the same thread, and I expect that feedback to be considered moving forward.
  7. Expect 2-3 MSAs/SOWs needing to be created each week.

See what I did here? I gave them full responsibility and spelled out precisely what, when, and how I expected it to be done. I also set their expectation that I will provide them with feedback. With the above, I have now effectively delegated MSA and SOW creation to someone else, and it is now part of their job, not mine.

The Delegation Process

Now that you’ve fixed your mindset and understand why delegation failed you before, let’s outline my exact process to delegate tasks and responsibilities to others effectively. If you follow these, you’ll have a high likelihood of success, which means you will finally be able to get out of the tasks you currently do but are now below your pay grade, and you’ll be able to focus on those that move the company forward.

Here are the seven steps:

  1. Establish what needs to be done
  2. Do it a few times
  3. Identify who to empower
  4. Record yourself doing it
  5. Hand it off officially
  6. Trust and coach
  7. Let them own it (and hold them accountable)

Establish What Needs to Be Done

Before you delegate something, make sure you fully understand the scope of the task and what it involves. If it helps, write the steps in a document (Google Docs are best for sharing knowledge). As the saying goes, “Clear writing is clear thinking.”

As you write, you’ll uncover areas that seem incomplete or are hard to explain. If you build the process and it confuses you, it will confuse someone else.

Use this as an opportunity to simplify the process so you and someone else can easily follow it.

Do It a Few Times

Next, complete the task yourself, following the instructions you wrote out above. When you find things that don’t make sense or where you’re doing something that isn’t included, fix them within the document.

After you’ve done it 2-3 times, you’ll have a better ironed-out process than before. It may not be perfect, but it will be much closer to right.

Identify Who To Empower

Once you’ve documented the task and understand its full breadth, figure out who is best suited to take over the task. If you have a virtual assistant and it’s a necessary but lower-skill task, they are often the right person to take it over. If it’s a higher-value task, it may be a manager or the subject matter expert. In these cases, ensure you’re not just offloading a task of less value than your hourly worth to someone who will equally be unprofitable. 

Communicate to them that you have a responsibility to hand off, get their buy-in and agreement to take it on or ask questions first, and then commit to handing it off to them.

Record Yourself Doing It

Next, record yourself doing it using a screen capture tool like Loom. As you do the process, talk through it and explain not only what you are doing but also why. 

Ideally, record yourself doing the task 2-3 times and share all those with the person responsible moving forward. This way, they can pick up any nuances or things that may change (an “it depends” sort of situation), which means they’ll have to ask you fewer questions.

Note: If you want to shortcut the process but sacrifice potentially more questions, you can start by shooting a video and sending it to the person.

Train and Hand It Off Officially

Now we’re to the best part – training the person and officially handing it off to them. I like to do this with a meeting where we go through it together after they’ve watched the video and read the document you created. 

After you go through it together once, go through it again, but with them doing it. This process gives you a chance to observe and correct. Let them lead and do it at their own pace, letting you see where they need clarification. Coach and watch them improve.

At the end of this second meeting, you should explicitly state that it is their responsibility to do it moving forward when necessary.

Trust and Coach

Now comes the hard part.

The next time the task needs to be done, don’t do anything.

That’s right. Don’t even check in on them to see if they’re doing it. 

This step is the true test to see if you handed it off sufficiently and that they can own it moving forward. By not checking in to see if they saw it and are doing it, you show them that you trust them to do it. 

Not checking on them doesn’t mean you don’t expect them to do it by when you told them or expect them to tell you if it will be delayed. If they do it like they’re supposed to, great. Review and give feedback for next time.

If they tell you they need more time, inquire what task was a higher priority. There’s a chance they have something else that is a higher priority, in which case you can reset your expectations. But if they’re working on something that is lower priority, you can coach them to work on the higher priority things, which should also be higher value. 

If they don’t do it as asked and don’t say anything, you need to check in to see what happened. Maybe they missed the notification. Perhaps they simply ignored it. Either way, you need to know so you can trust that this responsibility will get done as needed.

Let Them Own It (and Hold Them Accountable)

Once they’ve done it a few times and you’ve given them feedback, let them own it. But ensure they do it promptly, especially when a subsequent task relies on it. If they’re good employees, they’ll do it as they agreed. If they don’t, then you need to reconsider whether they’re the right fit for your company. 

Delegation: The Key To Scaling a Business

The key to scaling a business lies in having a team and processes that you trust. Additionally, working on the areas of the business that provide the most value and bring you the most joy is the best way to ensure that you enjoy running your business for as long as possible.

Learning to delegate well will only serve you well in the future.

PS: Are you a content agency or working on a marketing team, and are you interested in outsourcing editing to someone else? Then, schedule a free Intro Call with EditorNinja to discuss if we’re a good fit for you. Schedule a call here.