You can’t (and shouldn’t) do it all: Strategies for effective delegation

It seems like there’s nothing Richard Branson can’t do. The Virgin Group founder, whose enterprise includes over 60 businesses, has ventured into various industries, from wellness to space travel.

His best advice for entrepreneurs and leaders? Learn to delegate.

Said the serial entrepreneur:

“If I hadn’t learned to delegate, most Virgin companies [wouldn’t exist] today.”

Delegation isn’t just good for leaders, either — it benefits the entire organization by fostering collaboration and a healthy workflow. In fact, a 2015 Gallup study of CEOs on the “Inc. 5000” list found that companies run by executives who effectively delegate grow faster, generate more revenue, and create more jobs.

It benefits individual employees, too: recent research published in Frontiers in Psychology found that delegating power to an individual can lead to psychological empowerment — that is, intrinsic motivation stemming from a sense of control and involvement in your work.

The researchers explained:

“[P]sychological empowerment is essential to organizational effectiveness: it is positively associated with innovation, happiness, production, motivation, loyalty, effective problem solving and coordination between functions.”

What’s more, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, more teams are working remotely than ever, making effective delegation a crucial skill.

With that in mind, I’ve compiled a few strategies for mastering the art of delegation.

1. Find the right person for the job

The beautiful thing about teamwork is that you don’t need to be an expert on everything. If you’ve hired the right people, you can trust that most things can be accomplished as well as, if not better, by someone else on your team. And that’s a good thing.

Like running a restaurant — it helps to know your way around the kitchen, but the chef is ultimately responsible for executing the menu items.

Keep in mind: delegating isn’t always about finding the most qualified person. Sometimes, it’s better to find someone who might learn from the experience.

Writing for Harvard Business Review, Deborah Grayson Riegel says that successful delegators ask the following questions:

Who needs to develop these skills? Who has capacity? Who has shown interest? Who is ready for a challenge? Who would see this as a reward?

By enabling them to grow and advance, delegating keeps employees happy and engaged.

2. Explain the results and step out of the way

In a TED Talk entitled: “What it takes to be a great leader,” Roselinde Torres says that today’s leaders must be willing to abandon practices that have made them successful in the past.

“There’s an expression: Go along to get along. But if you follow this advice, chances are as a leader, you’re going to keep doing what’s familiar and comfortable. Great leaders dare to be different. They don’t just talk about risk-taking, they actually do it.”

Trying to do it all might feel comfortable — that way, you don’t have to worry about someone else’s mistakes — but in order to be great, you have to trust your people with more responsibility, even if it means risking failure.

True delegating means not micromanaging either. Instead, explain the results you wish to see and give people the autonomy to figure out how to get there. I’m often surprised by the innovative approaches our employees discover on their own — things that I never could have dreamt up myself.

3. Take advantage of tech

Nothing drives me crazier than sifting through emails to track down the status of a team project. Instead of wasting time in my inbox, I use a few different apps to keep our workflows organized. That way I can re-dedicate time to things like providing thoughtful feedback or having more meaningful chats in-person — dare I say, over lunch or a coffee outside of the office.

So, which tools can you use to manage your delegating?

Apps like Asana (“prioritize and set due dates using the included calendar so that everyone can see what needs to be done and when”) and Trello (“if you’re a fan of making lists, then this tool is for you”) have great reviews. Or, if you’re visually-oriented, Monday.com is an option, too.

At JotForm, our teams often use Google Docs and Sheets, where you can assign action items directly in the document while you collaborate on a project.

We also use JotForm’s mobile app to stay aligned on any projects involving forms. For example, if one of our teams attends a conference and wants to collect leads using the same form: the project manager can assign them a single form and each person can collect information on their own smartphone or tablet. Later, teammates only have access to their own submissions, so no one gets confused about who spoke with whom.

4. Establish checkpoints for feedback

While it’s important to give your people autonomy, it’s equally crucial to swoop in when they need you. Grayson Riegel writes that successful delegators, “establish checkpoints, milestones, and junctures for feedback so that they neither micromanage nor under-lead.”

Having an open-door policy is the first step, so that employees can come to you with questions anytime. But also communicate to employees points at which you’ll touch base. It’s a good idea to match specific tasks with dates, at least for the first few checkpoints, and add more as you advance. That way, you can track your progress toward the project’s completion and manage expectations of everyone involved — clients, partner organizations, etc.

It’s all about surrounding yourself with great people and trusting them to do good work while you focus on higher-level issues. With these strategies, hopefully, you can become a master delegator and maximize your business’ potential.

Aytekin Tank is the Founder and CEO of JotForm. A developer by trade but a storyteller by heart, he writes about his journey as an entrepreneur and shares advice for other startups. He loves to hear from JotForm users. You can reach Aytekin from AytekinTank@JotForm.com

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