Top 10 Tips for Delegation – How to Keep the Monkeys Off Your Back

Delegation is one of the barriers to growth that we must overcome or risk being swept away by ever increasing demands on our time; diverting our focus away from leading and growing our businesses. Often, we do things out of habit or because we think we should be doing them. If we ask ourselves, “Why are we doing this? What is this achieving and what would happen if we stopped doing this?” we can see their true value to the business.

This can mean handing over tasks that you enjoy doing as well as ones that you don’t. It also requires an investment of time and trust to delegate work but it’s necessary if you want to grow your business.

Your self-talk will resist the change: “By the time I explain it to them, I would have been quicker doing it myself.”

And then there’s the one for the perfectionists out there like myself, “They won’t be able to do the work as well as me and might make mistakes.” Any of this sound familiar?

Top 10 tips on delegation:

I was inspired to write these tips after seeing execution and strategy expert Jim Alampi speak at a recent Vistage event in Edinburgh. He brought such clarity to overcoming the issues that many have with delegating well (if you get a chance to see him- do!).

So, here are my top 10 tips heavily influenced by Jim's wise words.


    Operations Manuals can be a useful tools to highlight process improvements and set out clear lines of responsibility. This information can be used to help you to decide which tasks should be retained, stopped, automated or delegated. It can also be used to create process maps that can be taken ‘off the shelf’ and passed onto the person that you are delegating work to.

    Yes, it’s hard to let go of control and trust someone else to carry out tasks that you’ve been used to doing yourself. But it’s also an opportunity to free up your time to spend on growing and leading your business and an opportunity for your managers to learn and grow their skills, knowledge, drive and determination; especially if you choose to mentor them rather than manage them.

    Clear communication and concise instructions are essential to ensure that expectations are met and tasks are completed on time to a high standard. People aren’t mind-readers. Don’t assume that they know what you know. When you give instructions, tailor them to their perspective rather than from your own. Always ask them to re-cap what you’ve asked them to do to eliminate any misunderstanding from the outset.

    Once you’ve delegated work. Initially, to reduce the risk you will need to maintain control until you are satisfied that they can proceed on their own. It’s your responsibility to ensure that they have clear instructions and understand your risk tolerance so that they know what to feedback to you and at what point you need that information. You don’t want to waste their time and yours by being updated on minutiae when all you really need is feedback on high-level key performance indicators.

    The person that you have delegated work to must ‘own’ the responsibility to provide feedback to you. The frequency and amount of feedback required to monitor progress towards a goal depends upon the person’s experience level and proven ability to handle the task.

    Leadership and strategy expert and best-selling author, Jim Alampi’s report on delegation contains lots of useful advice on this subject.

    When a goal is reached successfully, publically recognise that person for what they have done and drill down into the reasons behind that success so that it can be duplicated. On the other hand, if they didn’t get it right, give them the opportunity to review what went wrong and learn from their mistakes. We’re all human.

    Focusing too much on the negative and not the positive can have a damaging impact on performance and morale. You can actually achieve 5% more productivity from your teams and your business just by shifting your focus onto the positive.

    So what happens if you want to delegate a task but are unable to do so as you don’t have access to the skills, resources or equipment required? Assuming that you can’t justify the cost of employing someone else, consider hiring a self-employed contractor to carry out the work such as a Virtual Assistant. They work remotely using their own office space and equipment and provide efficient, flexible and cost-effective support as and when you need it. My new e-book about how to delegate and grow your business covers this in more detail.

    I could write a whole blog post on this subject. There are many tools out there to ease the onslaught of emails that arrive in our inboxes every day. In terms of delegation, I always apply the four Ds to my inbox – Do, Delete, Defer or Delegate. Simple but effective and a process used by many business leaders.

    Jim Alampi recommends that you stop being an ‘answer man/ woman’ and refuse to allow managers to delegate work upwards to you (put monkeys on your back). Their job is to deal with issues, evaluate possible solutions and recommend actions - the boss shouldn’t be providing all of the answers. Jim suggests that you encourage them to grow and be accountable by replying with, “I don’t know, what do you think?”

    Business continuity is often forgotten in the hustle bustle of running a business; especially in SMEs. If, for whatever reason, you were unable to work, who would cover for you? Are there contingency plans in place? Do you have a robust knowledge transfer system? If not, then process mapping and delegating is a good place to start. It will strengthen your business as well as giving you peace of mind that you could take time off and not have to worry about what was going on in the office.

It’s our job as a business leaders to grow our employees and our businesses by delegating. By doing rather than delegating, the next level of managers will never grow or be prepared for greater responsibility. With practice and determination you can succeed at becoming skilled in the art of delegation and in turn increase your value to the business.

What challenges have you faced with delegating work? Have you got more tips to add to this list?

More from Vistage:

The 5 Dyfunctions of a Team- Jim Alampi

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