How not to delegate

Delegating helps you to work more efficiently and effectively. It not only saves time, but can also ensure the best job quality. However, there are some pitfalls to avoid when delegating - especially when you’re in a managing position. Otherwise, you might end up with a demotivated team and poor results - the exact opposite of what you can achieve with good delegation. So be mindful of these 9 frequent delegation mistakes:

1. “This is my baby” – being too possessive

“I’m the most qualified person for this task.” “He doesn’t take it as seriously as I do.” These are just two of the countless arguments for avoiding delegating. For managers, this attitude is especially harmful as they get trapped in their day-to-day business, losing time for strategic thinking or other important issues. Transferring relevant tasks, however, saves time and motivates your colleagues to deliver excellent work and to build on their skills.

Harm Verheijen, Consultant:

Delegating is sometimes letting go of the idea of perfection. The thought that when you do it yourself, it will be better quality and get delivered faster. How can you GROW your people when you don’t delegate and the only ‘perfect’ person in the team is yourself?

2. Overwhelming people

Take care not to delegate tasks which people are strongly over- or under-qualified to do. Challenging employees is motivating, but projects that completely overwhelm them make little sense. On the other hand, it’s okay to assign a job someone is overqualified for from time to time. However, if this happens too often, it will be demotivating. So try to delegate the task to the person who’ll provide the best result or to the person who wants to develop or should develop this skill for the future. If you’re unsure who’s the best or you want to promote the learning of new skills within the team, ask them openly “who has the required skills or wants to learn them on the job?”

Harm Verheijen, Consultant:

Dare to delegate the tasks an employee likes to do and which you (as manager) think he/she isn’t good at. The return on learning is much greater when employees find out for themselves what they’re good at, instead of you telling them up front… You might be surprised to uncover some hidden talents in your team.

3. Not officially responsible

Once you’ve given someone responsibility or authority for a new project, everyone else should know that. Only then can the colleague act with determination. Also give your colleague confidence, by letting him know he can always turn to you with questions.

4. Unclear definition of a project

When co-workers don’t know the objective or the framework of the assignment, it will be difficult for them to be efficient. So get in touch with the employee or team first and work through what to do and what to expect as the end result. Provide as much information as possible and agree on a time schedule.
Also make sure the employee has really understood what to do - not all employees will tell you when there’s a lack of clarity. It might also be helpful to ask the employee what his next steps will be.
Never send a task by e-mail or stick a post-it note on a colleague’s desk.

Motoaki Goto, Consultant:

Delegating means setting clear goals and granting a flexible path to achieve those goals. If you delegate well, you give autonomy and exert positive control.

5. Constant meddling

It can be difficult to give up control of a task, especially when it’s important. Nevertheless, you should refrain from constantly controlling its progression. In addition, don’t expect your colleague to do the job the way you would do it. Instead, rely on her skills and give her the freedom she needs. If you’re constantly involved, she’ll think you don’t trust her to achieve good results.

6. Lack of positive control

The other side of the coin: although the employee should work autonomously, the final responsibility is yours. So assure yourself that your co-worker is advancing with the assignment and offer help to remove obstacles.

Motoaki Goto, Consultant:

Positive control is only possible with a clear briefing, set expectations and SMART goals.

7. Passing on unpleasant activities

Don’t fall into the trap of only passing on unpleasant or boring tasks. This gives the impression that you want to avoid certain work. As a result, your employees will feel under-utilised because the transfer of small jobs tells them “Your working time is less valuable than mine.”

8. Waiting until five to twelve

“I can do it myself.” This is what you think until it’s five to twelve. Then you realise you need help and send the files quickly to your colleague. Now both he and you are in a rush.

Last minute delegating only creates frustration. Your colleague will be demotivated and the result of this quick job will perhaps not be the best. Keep in mind that it takes a certain amount of time to produce a good quality assignment. Therefore, it’s better to delegate in advance so that your colleagues have enough time to reorganize. There are of course days with exceptions - but these should remain exceptions.

9. Not giving feedback

Once the task is completed, don’t forget to give honest feedback. This ensures that your colleague benefits, that she can develop her skills in the future. Saying thank you also show that you appreciate her commitment and her work. Gestures like these make colleagues want to work with you in the future as well.

In today’s work environments, there’s always a lot to do. As professionals or managers, we don’t have the time to do everything on our own anymore. If you know how to delegate well, you will perform better. Moreover, you will be using the power of your colleagues, helping to building expertise, and developing deeper relationships.