Delegation Part II: The 5 Levels of Delegation and Effective Implementation

Along with communication, delegation is arguably the most important aspect of effective leadership. Yet as crucial, necessary and productive as delegation can be, it is still quite often underused, underappreciated and underrated.

The more effective and successful a leader is, the more crucial his or her ability to delegate becomes. Why? Because no one can be everywhere and do everything all the time — at least until cloning becomes 100 percent effective and foolproof. That makes the ability to effectively delegate responsibility and tasks to qualified peers, co-workers and subordinates extremely important, not to mention valuable.

So how do you go about implementing delegation? What is the best way to utilize it and how do you avoid going to extremes by either under- or overusing it?

There are five basic levels of delegation, but there are many ways to use it. There are also a lot of ways to introduce and implement it.

Levels of Delegation, Take Five

Everyone is different, and that is why there are different levels of delegation. Not everyone can handle, or responds well to certain styles. A good and prescient boss knows which level to use with which subordinate when assigning a task. Although some may disagree that there could be many more, there are at least these five basic levels of delegation:

Ÿ  LEVEL 1: Follows right to the letter. The first, and most obvious, is the “This is your task. Do it exactly as these instructions say and no other way – No exceptions” level. This leaves no wiggle room or margin for deviation. The person assigned the task is to complete it EXACTLY as instructed with no changes, slight or significant. This type of delegation is often used for new employees who are embarking upon an entirely new profession for which they have absolutely no experience.

Ÿ  LEVEL 2: Assign, evaluate, and/or consult before approval. This offers wiggle room, as the desired task is first assigned, then the employee either consults with the manager to come up with a jointly-agreed-upon course of action, or the assigner then delegates which course to take after consultation. After the consultation, the boss or manager may also give instructions or a checklist of needs, such things to assess, tackle and complete the task satisfactorily. This level offers opportunities for more instruction, coaching, and development of the employees. It is often used for employees who may be changing companies but staying in the same career, so they are familiar with the task but not with the new employer’s working style and requirements.

Ÿ  LEVEL 3: Assign, evaluate, decide and wait for approval. The third method is a derivative of Level 2, with the added step of offering more input and creative involvement by the person or persons assigned the task. Not only does this convey more trust and faith in the chosen employee, it also facilitates training, improves the overall experience and increases educational opportunities for the assignees. This is a good happy medium for both new and veteran employees and works well in large workplaces where the tasks must be managed properly for structural purposes.

Ÿ  LEVEL 4: Assign, evaluate, decide and do it… unless. At this level, the employee is almost entirely held accountable for the task with very little instruction. However, the ultimate decision making is still made by the manager. This method shows a lot of faith and pays a compliment to the assignee as to their manager’s level of confidence in their ability to complete the task successfully. It is often left for seasoned employees, particularly those who have performed the repeated or said task successfully in circumstances prior. One drawback to this approach is it can also be a source of frustration for an employee who is told they have the expertise and capability to do what is requested the way their boss wants it done, but then if they lack the confidence in their boss to follow through or if something goes awry, then it makes this person almost entirely accountable. This Level requires trust, rapport, confidence and understanding.

Ÿ  LEVEL 5: Assign, evaluate, decide and run with it. This level conveys the highest confidence in the employee’s abilities, as well as the idea that he or she is well on their way to promotion and advancement. Level 5 is the ultimate in autonomy and confidence shown in the person or persons chosen to complete a task assigned by a superior. The boss doesn’t even require a heads-up or check-back before the assignee starts work on the task. This is not only complete freedom, but also the ultimate compliment in terms of a superior’s confidence in the assignee’s ability to complete a task to the assigner’s complete satisfaction. Many companies who have seasoned staff members use this type of delegation to accomplish more. It can also be beneficial for smaller companies who trust in their employees to help them perform at maximum potential. 

The Art and Implementation of Delegating

When it comes to effective delegation, you can’t just simply order people around. Just as every worker — and person — is different, and therefore responds best to different stimuli or styles of delegation and criticism or praise, so too are there varying degrees of even those five basic levels of delegation.

This means in order to be most effective, and get the best results from people chosen to have tasks and projects delegated to them, bosses must be both creative and knowledgeable when it comes to picking the right person for the right kind of delegated assignment.

Don’t be afraid to seek input from the person you’re considering for a certain project. While people generally are capable of more than their higher-ups may think, there is also a lot of truth in a memorable line uttered by one of Clint Eastwood’s characters when he said “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

When it comes to effective delegation, there are many ways and styles to do it, but it’s always a good idea to practice clear and detailed communication. That includes spelling out exactly what the task is and what’s expected of the person tackling it. Other key factors in effective delegation include:

Ÿ  Emphasizing your teaching skills and making yourself available to help whenever questions or problems crop up.

Ÿ  Using standards that are consistent, so subordinates have a clear idea of what is expected and to what degree those results and outcomes are expected.

Ÿ  Be sure to extend assignees plenty of freedom, but also conduct regular progress checks so any possible snags don’t turn into major roadblocks or delays.

Ÿ  Share the wealth. When a subordinate worker completes the delegated task successfully, or to an even higher degree than expected, be sure to share the credit and single that person out for accolades and praise. The worst thing to do it to take sole credit for the delegated project’s success. Not only does this make workers distrustful and resentful toward their bosses, it also provides disincentive for future tasks to be performed to the best of an assignee’s ability when he or she knows they won’t share in any of the credit or reap any rewards for their hard work.

“The growth and improvement — and thereby success and profitability — of your business is directly linked to the growth and improvement of its employees.”

Another benefit of delegation is that it is a proven way to develop and determine the best candidates to succeed their bosses and administrators. Failure to develop successors through delegation means a lack of qualified candidates to fill higher-up positions of leadership and skill when leaders and skilled workers retire or move on. That creates a vacuum of leadership, skill and productivity. It could turn into a disaster if not done properly, but if done right, delegation will streamline the business and put you in a valuable position amongst your industry.

One of the best ways to spur business growth is also by delegation, because successfully implemented delegation leads directly to increased confidence, experience, and capability; and thereby a more capable workforce overall. While delegation doesn’t always lead to promotion, improved productivity and experience, failure to use delegation almost certainly guarantees a total lack of those factors and an overall stagnation and malaise among your subordinate workforce. At best, it means the business is increasingly more reliant on the small minority of workers who can perform higher-end projects, and at worst it means certain projects and tasks may not even be tried or started unless the boss or a small circle of proven workers are available to do it.

Delegation Part I: Knowing When and How to Let Go of Control

If you are like the majority of leaders, you have paid your dues. You have completed your education, internship and may have even started at the bottom of your field and worked your way to the top after many years of employment. And whether you are currently at the bottom, middle or at the top of the ladder, you have experienced delegation.

While barking orders from busy managers may come to mind as your perception of delegation, there is much more to be understood about why it is such an essential skill of successful leadership.  From small businesses to Fortune 500 companies, delegation is a fundamental process that makes everything fluid, creating a streamlined environment that works.  Delegation is necessary to ensure the well-being of the customers and the development of the staff.

Why?  You may not like taking orders from superiors, yet without a leader everyone could be doing the wrong things.  There would be miscommunication and little opportunity for advancement.  Some employees actually prefer to have ‘duties’ rather than to make decisions, especially when it comes to making choices that are critical to success.

Plainly put, delegation is required in order to prevent a leader from becoming exhausted with doing everything.  A leader who accepts and acts on this fact will maximize their time and resources by allowing followers to perform tasks he or she should not be doing.

“The moment a leader realizes how much he needs other people is the very moment he can begin abandoning himself to their strengths

 – Max De Pree

 Why Should We Delegate?

For starters, think of all the things you could get done if you let someone else did them. Granted, they will need training and will probably never do it exactly the way YOU would, however that is one of the necessary traits in order to be a leader.  Knowing when to relinquish some power or control will actually give you more power.

We’ve all been in work environments that may feature two extreme scenarios.  The first is the Control Freak… the boss who doesn’t want your ideas or who has the attitude that things are ‘My Way or the Highway.’  This type of boss is known as a micro-manager. This creates resentment in the workplace and leads to unhappy employees, because no matter how hard they try, the control freak micro-manager is discontent with the tasks performed.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have the opposite personality with the Dish-Off Delegator.  This type of supervisor dishes off everything, including their own responsibilities.  They may appear lazy or lacking abilities, but one thing is certain. The overworked employees lack respect for this type of management because they have too many tasks and get in trouble if they are not all completed in a timely fashion.  Both extremes lead to resentment in the workplace.  There should be a balance of what – and when – is delegated and those tasks should be outlined in the employee’s lineup of responsibilities, not as a “dish-off’ of someone else’s work.

As a leader, delegation allows you to:

  • Multiply yourself: Ever wish you had more than two hands?  Or “two of you?” Delegate by training certain people to perform duties that meet your expectations.
  • Create a motivated group:  Giving others small tasks make people feel part of a team. The team environment becomes a tight-knit unit that is able to perform duties to maximize time, enhance customer service and streamline the workflow process.
  • Develop people:  Becoming known as a people developer means that you are teaching them and giving them valuable knowledge, skills and information that will empower them to be able to become self-sufficient.
  • Master stress & time management:  Those who try to take on too much often feel burned out and spend less time with their families or relaxing. If all you do is work, work, work… it may be time to seek help.
  • Create opportunities for yourself and others:  Why hoard all of your talents and knowledge?  By investing your time and relinquishing skills to subordinates you can help them grow and help the company or organization grow, as well.  Having more staff that is less reliant on you means you will be able to take on more clients, which can lead to greater profitability.  It also allows your staff something to strive for as they reach less levels of dependency and become more motivated for promotions and raises.

 “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

Why Don’t We Delegate?

Even though we’ve gone over a couple of the extremes with the Control Freak and the Dish-Off Delegator, there are a few psychological points to consider as to why the superior often choose not to delegate.  However, the underlying reason is a fear of letting go of too much control.  Some leaders want to keep the power to themselves, fearing that by showing or telling the staff members too much it may eventually try to take their own positions or do the job better than the leader is able to do.

This is often a disastrous scenario and one that can lead to a decline in the care of the patient, who we are ultimately responsible for.  Some leaders choose not to delegate because they just don’t know where to begin.  Uncertainty of how to offload the workload is one reason that some supervisors don’t delegate.

Others choose not to because they are unsure of whom to give the work to. If they feel that the staff members are too inadequate or incompetent, these leaders may choose not to offer any additional tasks.  Some feel that it’s just “easier to do the job myself” than to waste time instructing others in how to do it to meet their expectations.  Those high expectations are yet another reason, as many leaders feel they are the only ones who can do the job to meet the customer’s satisfaction.

A third group fall into the category of having no time whatsoever to delegate because training often takes too much time.  Constantly busy managers are a prime example of those who fit into this stereotype.  They are pulled in many directions, therefore they lack the time needed to devote to proper training.  Everyone suffers by this attitude, the employees, customers and the leader.  If that person is not there, everything falls apart because no one knows how to complete the tasks needed for the organization to be part of a streamlined process.

7 Steps to Effective Delegation

Once you realize the need for delegation as part of a fluid workplace, what now?  First and foremost, the leader must recognize the need for delegation and commit to taking the time and effort to teach others to perform certain duties that will make the process run smoothly.  Start by:

1)   Create a plan: First determine those tasks that could be given to others. What things could be given away and what things should be done yourself?  How will you implement this process so that everybody has a thorough understanding of their duties?

2)   Responsibility = Results:  Once people realize and learn their said tasks, it gives people something to strive for and enables them to become self-sufficient. It also gives them new direction and purpose, which can create better results and care for the patients.

3)   Choose the Right Person:  If you see specific characteristics in an individual that makes you think they are capable of handling new tasks, then choose that person to delegate related tasks.  For example, you may wish to delegate organizational tasks to someone who is very detail oriented and thorough; whereas you may distribute errands and busywork to another employee who appears restless.  Match certain tasks with the personalities of those individuals for best results.

4)   Authority:  Even though you want to seem likeable to your employees, you must first become respected by them.  You can’t always be their “friend” without being their boss first.  Make sure as you dish out the tasks, you are there to double-check their work and either reward or reprimand as needed. This will put you in the light as their superior and one that staff members look up to for advice and counsel.

5)   Checkpoints:  Creating milestones gives measures to gauge success. When employees meet or surpass your set of expectations, it could be a good time to add more responsibilities or give that person a promotion.  Checkpoints give the staff a chance to prove their abilities to you, as their leader.

6)   Motivating Environment:  There is something to be said for happiness in the workplace.  Reward those who go above and beyond your expectations.  Recognition is a key to creating an atmosphere of teamwork.  Beyond just a simple pat on the back, you may wish to create tangible rewards, such as bonuses, trophies or gift cards that your employees can work to earn and that will foster an ambitious work atmosphere.

7)   Accountability:  Make people accountable for certain tasks. If they fail to do them, you can reassign them to the right people who are more capable of handling the tasks you choose to delegate.  Accountability also spurns people to take action, rather than to leave the work for someone else.  You can do this by using a chart that people have to check off certain duties, or by reporting them with an email to you by a specific deadline, etc.

If you’re new to the art of delegation and are someone used to “doing everything yourself”, you must realize that you are holding back your own success.  Some fear that by letting go of control over most of the responsibilities they may be viewed as weak or incapable, rather than the opposite.  People often respect the one who delegates, as long as they pull their own weight.  What I mean by this is that if the supervisor just commands orders to everyone and then heads out for the golf course, this is not setting a good example to the staff members and they may feel as if they are doing all the work while the management is out enjoying life.

The true art of delegating is being able to take on more work but to give the work you should not be performing to someone else who is perfectly capable of doing their tasks.  It’s like having octopus arms.  In Part II of our Delegation Series, we’ll go over the 5 Levels of Delegation and What You Can do to Implement Delegation.