As any manager knows, managing employees often requires delegating tasks beyond a worker’s regular job duties. And the harsh reality for too many managers is that a routine function like delegation is often not so simple or easy. But an established procedure – and the use of your office printer – can smooth the way.

Delegation Goes Beyond the “Job Description”

Business woman sitting in office chair while reading sheets of paper coming from copier machine on deskVery few businesses can effectively manage their workforce without delegating tasks and responsibilities. Yet, too many managers simply assume that these additional tasks will be done properly and efficiently with just a verbal request. 

Print management, for example, requires a series of delegated tasks that have to be performed at specific times and dates for a number of clients, simultaneously. Without structure, scheduling and documented tasks or procedures, the process cannot be carried out effectively.

 Management requires more than simply making sure everyone is doing their “job description” functions. Depending on the type of job and industry, it can regularly require delegating specific tasks or projects to employees that are not part of their normal assigned duties.

Dealing With “Other Tasks as Assigned”

Delegation can be defined as “giving accountability to someone else to act as your representative.” In other words, as a manager, you are ultimately responsible for the work and actions of your direct reports. By delegating a task or function to an employee, you are adding to that list of accountable actions.

As a manager, you also can’t do everything yourself. Optimum productivity and best results can often be achieved by delegating additional work to your staff. While most of an employee’s job tasks and duties are documented in a job description, there can often be additional tasks and work that must be done. In order to effectively facilitate this, a clear process for delegating work is needed.

Having a delegation process allows managers to confidently entrust their employees with the work to be done. And it allows employees to know they’ll have all the information and resources they need to accomplish that work.

It’s Not Enough to Simply Tell Them

For too many organizations delegation consists of a manager “telling” an employee what needs to be done. One problem is that a manager may not communicate everything that is required for effectively delegating the task. Or the employee doesn’t hear or retain it all. 

Another issue is that tasks are delegated to the wrong employee, or the same employee over and over again. While the old saying, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person” may have some truth to it, it’s an ineffective delegation practice.

So how can a manager implement an effective delegation process?

Here are four essential steps for delegating effectively:

  1. Identify the Task and the Proper Employee

Generally speaking, almost anything can be delegated except for the following:

  • Another employee’s entire workload (unless that person is leaving)
  • The specific work of someone else’s job description (unless you have their agreement)
  • Work or results delegated to you (that you’ve agreed to)

Determine which position – not employee – is most appropriate for a delegated task. If the employee in the position you’ve identified does not report to you, you should coordinate with that employee’s manager to properly delegate the task.

If the position you identify for a task has multiple employees (retail clerks or customer service reps, for example) delegate the task based on individual workload, capability, and time requirements. Again, avoid delegating to the same employee repeatedly. This can become counter-productive and create time issues for that employee.

  1. Document the Delegated Task and Assign a Due Date

It’s important to document as much detail and specificity as possible. This can be done with photocopied “delegation forms” or a simple email template. The point is to have something that can be referred to when needed.

By writing out the details and a deadline you will:

  • Communicate clearly what you need
  • Minimize any misinterpretation of what is required
  • Create a record of the request for reference
  • Avoid misunderstanding or confusion
  • Be clear as to what your employee is agreeing to

These three items are always required for every delegation request:

  • The result required

Employees can usually determine what is required to accomplish the delegated task, but there may be times when you should provide a step-by-step plan.

  • The standards to be met

The due date and time is critical. As a manager, you must be clear and specific about when you want the task completed. An employee cannot be accountable for being “late” with a result if they weren’t given a clear due date.

  • The deadline date and time

State the due date as follows: “Monday, July 12th by 3 p.m.” as opposed to something like “in a few days” or “in a couple of weeks.” It is especially important to avoid using “ASAP” as that is inherently open to interpretation.

Sometimes it may be difficult to determine a specific due date because of uncertainty about how long the task might take. Use your best judgment and get the employee’s input, as well. Having a process for status updates, or reporting loops, and re-setting due dates is helpful if the task takes longer than estimated.

  1. If Possible, Discuss it With the Employee

Whenever possible, it’s best to talk through the task with your employee. Even if you use a delegation form, a brief face-to-face discussion will help to confirm the details.

In addition, this will:

  • Clarify the objective of the delegated task
  • Confirm the feasibility of the due date
  • Highlight the impact of the task on the employee’s other work responsibilities
  • Reveal any challenging aspects of the task
  • Allow questions to be asked
  1. Agreement From the Employee

Getting the employee’s verbal agreement to take on the delegated task assures you of a commitment on their part. Without a clear commitment you have no guarantee the task will be completed.

Realistically, an employee might want to decline taking on the task because of a lack of time due to their other accountabilities. Or an employee may feel that he or she lacks the ability to do the job properly. By using a delegation agreement form you provide your employees with a forum to communicate their concerns.

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Review and Follow Up Consistently

This process allows employees to work with managers to determine how results can best be achieved. It will lead to more agreement, more commitment, and more timely results and more satisfying working relationships.

As a manager, you may find yourself walking a fine line to avoid under-managing or, worse, over-managing your employees. You don’t want to leave your staff “in the dark”, but you also want to avoid unnecessary meetings.

This is especially true for delegation.

The key is to follow up with an employee after a delegated task or project is completed. Ask for feedback to help analyze the effectiveness of your delegating approach. Ask about what works well and what, if anything, you can do better or differently.

Effective delegation can help transform both how you work and how effectively your company functions as a whole. And you’ll build stronger working relationships with your staff.