Passing to People – Delegation

If delegation is not working for you, you aren’t doing it well.

We are always delegating. We don’t deliver our mail; we expect the internet or a postal service to do this for us. Few of us milk our own cows, we expect dairy farmers to get our morning “moo-juices” flowing. Even fewer of us build our own cars. We prefer to pick from designs already manufactured and ready to roll. We are always using some elements of delegation in our survival system. We are fairly skilled at delegating within a collective.

Most of us are not so good at delegating on the smaller economy of scale – within our own business. There are a multitude of reasons why we don’t. We might avoid passing jobs on for reasons that include:

  • Not knowing what we can or should give away;
  • Not having enough support or knowing who to delegate to;
  • Not having enough faith in delegation to trust that things will be done to specifications;
  • Not wanting to give up the experience or the credit for the work when it is completed;
  • Fearing that unless you do it all, it will fail.
  • Not including the people we delegate to in the planning of the work projects the will be asked to do.

Rest assured that when it comes to delegation, if you do it right, you still have more control than you’d think. Delegation is a means to growth, improved effectiveness, increased efficiency and a host of other virtues. Nevertheless, you always have the ultimate control and responsibility. If delegation is not working for you, you aren’t doing it well.

We generally start to think about delegation, which is a two-way interaction, when we are knee deep in planning, which for the entrepreneur is often a one person activity. When the people we delegate to are not part of the planning they miss about 75% of the picture they’ll need to deliver on our expectations.

Here’s the best recipe we could find in outlining how expert delegation can occur.

First, use these three questions to guide your delegation actions. If the activity is a NO for all three questions, you can delegate it. We’ve adapted them from John Maxwell’s book, developing the Leader Within:

  1. What is required of me? In other words, ask yourself if this particular piece of work requires your personality, skills, talents, and involvement.
  2. What gives me the greatest return? You are here to make a difference and to make money. Spend time on activities that affect your profit margin with high returns.
  3. What is most rewarding? Sometimes we need to do things because we need a boost; we need to feel like we could raise our arm in the air and scream, “Yes!” All everyone to get a taste of this type of energy from the work they are doing.

Second, cement in your mind that delegation is a two-way conversation. It involves strong communication skills and regard for the people we pass to. Borrowing from the book To Do, Doing, Done by G. Lynne Snead and Joyce Wycoff, here are important criteria to effectively hand off work:

  • Make sure the person you give the task to has both the authority and the materials and skills to complete the job. If they need to make purchases, be sure they can do so. If they need a specialized piece of information or knowledge, make sure they are capable.
  • Include these people in the planning stages of the work that will be passed to them. When we help plan out what will be done, we have greater clarity on the expectations and desired outcomes of the work we’ll be doing.
  • Share the responsibility of the final results with the person you are delegating to. Allow the person to see up front how they will be given praise or be recognized for the final result. Allow them to see how the benefits of the completed work fit into your overall goal.
  • Make agreements with the delegated party. Agree to support them as needed. Ask them to agree upon regular status checkups and to agree together on due dates.

Third, follow the process through. Follow-up often with those you delegate to. Allow respect to guide your check ins. Follow-up according to an agreed upon check-in schedule. AVOID what has been called the “dump and run” version of delegation. Without doing the actual work, do everything in your power to support the people you delegate to. Praise them for work accomplished on time and according to specifications. Clarify and explore the “how come” when things don’t work out and co-create solutions with those you wisely pick to hand off to.

Even when a task has been handed off, you still share responsibility for the work meeting expectations.


Successful Delegation


Delegation often resembles an act of dump-n-run when what we are aiming for is an empowered handoff packed with clarity.

Here are a few things I have had to learn in order to experience the latter:

1) Ask more, tell less during the pass off. Questions open the other person’s mind and heart up. Open minds and open hearts are like sponges capable of sucking up information, details and the “why” behind the “what”  during  delegation. When expectations are absorbed in this fashion the outcomes are typically strong.

2) Negotiate. More times than not, it makes sense to negotiate two different aspects of the expectations.

  • First determine the sort of urgency this project requires. If it is an “urgent” a.s.a.p. sort of item, clarify it as such. Here is one way to do this: “This project is a stop, drop, and do it sort of priority for us because _______(fill in the blank). What would we have to change in our schedules to get this finished by the end of day tomorrow?” At this point listen and negotiate a reasonable win/win in terms of the adjustments needed to meet the deadline. These terms may include you offering some sort of support such as: “Since this is our top action item, I’ll remain accessible by text and phone. I’ll constantly watch my phone until we meet tomorrow to check this off as complete.” Should you make such an agreement, keep your word and remain available.


  • Next, it is often wise to negotiate an iterative means of accomplishing the delegated item. By iterative, you agree on and scope expectations around a first draft sort of deliverable. This strategy gets you started but does not intend to deliver a fully completed project right from the start. By working in waves, you allow for check-points and valuable discussions as you move from a 1.0 version of the project to a fully finished version. In this fashion, the delegated work unfolds in a creatively guided process and you don’t place undue pressure on anyone. You don’t have to hand off a huge amount of information right up front AND the employee doesn’t have to grapple with excessive details up front.

Hopefully next time you have something to delegate, these few tips supply you with valuable information.

Now that you’ve read this article, you might want to watch the demo clip on how these actually look in a real-time scenario.