A woman at a laptop

Let’s admit it: Delegating is tough. Because it requires transferring some of your work to someone else and trusting they’ll do it well and on time, yet you remain accountable. Understandably, that would make anyone reluctant to delegate and justify it by thinking:

  • My team can’t do the job as well as I can…
  • It’s faster for me to do the work myself…
  • Other people aren’t as committed to do a great job as I am…
  • If someone else can do my work, I seem replaceable…
  • I like doing this type of work…
  • My team’s already overworked; it’s unfair to ask them to do more…

Although these reasons may seem valid, a little logical questioning often reveals they’re just excuses—excuses that could be holding us back.

That’s because part of our job requires focusing on big picture tasks, so we can help move the company forward. But we can’t do that unless we delegate more.

The irony is, most of us probably don’t delegate enough because we were never taught how.

Delegating is more than just handing someone a task. And it’s definitely not dumping work on them. The six tips below provide guidance to do it right. You’ll learn how to delegate so effectively that the work gets done well, your team becomes more skilled, and you’ll have more time to focus on larger tasks.

6 ways to delegate for better results

  1. Build a relationship first

Always establish a relationship before assigning the work. You need to trust the person before you can feel confident they’ll do the work well. This is especially important if you didn’t hire the person you’re delegating to, or don’t know the person well. If the person works remotely, use Google Hangouts, Skype, or other programs for video chat meetings. You can learn more about them and connect faster when you see their face, read their body language, and hear inflections in their voice.

  1. Assign the right task to the right person

When delegating to freelancers, you vet them for the right skills and experience, assign the task and deadline, then wait for deliverables. In contrast, delegating to full-time employees involves a different level of freedom around how the task is completed. Usually, you give more freedom when the employee is experienced and reliable. You give less freedom when the task is critical, or when the result will affect your job or reputation.

Bonus tip: If a person needs more authority to accomplish the task, tell whoever else needs to know that you have delegated this responsibility, so other staff members can provide the appropriate support.

  1. Clarify the commitment

A huge part of your success depends on how clearly you explain the task. Note that being clear and specific doesn’t mean micromanaging. This is especially true with freelancers who carry the skills and experience to work independently. If something has to be done in a particular way, communicate that. Otherwise, let the person figure it out. They may come up with new solutions that’ll surprise you. For clarity upfront, be sure to:

  • Give the project context by sharing how it plays into the company’s larger goals
  • Specify deadlines, milestones, and deliverables
  • Let them know what the job looks like when it’s done well
  • Confirm their commitment and understanding before the project starts
  1. Use collaboration technology

Whether you’re delegating to one person or multiple people, don’t rely only on email to stay connected. Online collaboration technology can help everyone stay organized, collaborate openly, and communicate more easily. Choose products that are accessible and easy to learn. Popular options include:

  • GitHub: For sharing and storing code
  • Google Docs: For sharing and live editing of documents
  • Basecamp: For sharing, discussing, and tracking projects
  • Slack: For communicating with teams
  1. Hold weekly meetings

This tip applies differently to freelancers. Because they work independently, just let them know you’re available when needed to answer questions. For employees, weekly meetings are important. If you can’t meet live, set up weekly calls (preferably as a video chat) to answer questions, review what’s been accomplished, and discuss what needs to get done. Communicate feedback regularly one-on-one, so employees feel trusted, valued, and included. When working with remote employees, weekly video calls are an especially important way to stay connected and keep everyone on task.

  1. Be available

Although you’re delegating the task, be sure team members know you’re available and encourage them to ask questions. It’s always better to answer questions as they come up, rather than be surprised later when a deadline isn’t met or a project goes off track.

Levels of delegation

If you’ve ever delegated before, you probably realized it isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Alan Chapman, founder of the business advice site Businessballs, identified 10 levels of delegation. He focused on employees, with each level progressively offering a higher level of freedom, coaching, and worker development.

For easier reference, the chart below modified his findings to seven levels of delegation for employees and freelancers. Typically, levels one through five apply to employees. Levels six and seven apply to freelancers because they already have the expertise, which enables them to do everything from start to finish without any management.

Infographic describing seven levels of delegation

Granting freedom while staying involved

Each time you delegate to your employees, they receive an opportunity to develop critical thinking skills that improve their ability to resolve their own situations. Although you may not want to be too hands-off, learning often comes from making mistakes and figuring out how to correct them.

Human resource professionals advise a balance between staying involved enough to evaluate your employees’ performance and development. And letting go enough for employees to lead the way.

Delegating to freelancers requires a different type of balance. Although the six tips for delegating still apply, contractors should remain independent. This means you can check in occasionally, but you shouldn’t manage, coach, or mentor.

Another benefit of delegating more is it may help you retain valuable workers like Millennials. Statistically, Millennials leave positions within three years in search of greater challenges and growth. But you may encourage them to work with you longer as they continue growing from the new tasks you delegate.