September 21, 2014

How to Let Go and Delegate a Task

Say it with me now: It’s OK to delegate. It’s OK to delegate. It’s OK to delegate.

Now if only doing it was as easy as saying it.

When you’re a small business owner who prides yourself on doing everything on your own, delegation is hard. Your business is your baby and your blood; it seems unnatural to trust someone else to take over your responsibilities, even if that person is a long-time employee, business partner or, perhaps even worse, a family member. I mean, surely, there’s no way they could do a task better or more thoroughly than you could, right?

As your business begins to grow, it’s inevitable that you’ll have to become comfortable with delegating tasks. It’s impossible to think that you’ll be able to continue to do everything in your business and still grow at the pace you want to. Below are 6 steps to help you successfully delegate. This can be a touchy area, so if you have your own best practices, feel free to share them.

1. Identify the task.

What is it that you want to delegate? It may be a repetitive task that takes up too much time, something you don’t enjoy that another employee would (i.e. payroll, customer service, etc.), or another task that causes you to work in your business instead of on it. Or maybe there’s something you feel is holding your business back? Take some time to define the task you’re looking to delegate as clearly as possible – where does it begin, where does it end, what does it entail, etc. – so that you can better assign authority for it to someone else.

2. Assign the task.

Take a look at your team, analyzing their strengths, weaknesses and interests to determine who would be best suited to take over the delegated task. Has someone on your team already expressed interest in learning a new field or doing more? If so, this is the time to let them step up. If not, then you may have to hire someone new to fill the job. When assigning the task, be clear about what the person can or cannot do. Is their job to do the task, or just to set it up to make it easier for you to do? If they’re responsible for it, how much autonomy do they have? Can they make management decisions or do they have to run those by you first? (If it’s the latter, ask yourself if you’re delegating or creating double the workload.) The more control the person has over their task, the more invested they’ll be in seeing it gets done correctly. Be as specific as you can when assigning and breaking out the task so that the person taking over knows exactly what is and is not within their control.

3. Train the employee.

You can’t simply assign someone a task and then walk away. You’re going to have to do some training to help them adjust to their new role, especially if you hired someone new. Just because you delegated responsibility to someone else doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for making sure it’s done properly. Take time to go over everything they need to know, let them shadow you for a bit, and point them to resources where they can learn more on their own. Prepare yourself to face the fact that this new person probably won’t do things exactly the way that you would. We’re all different and therefore have our own way of approaching situations. This is OK as long as the end result is the same. If you force “your way” of doing things on an employee, you’ll not only discourage them from learning, but they may end up resenting the task altogether. Judge by results, not process.

4. Let go.

This is where the delegation process often starts to break down. You identify the task, assign the task…and then you keep yourself in the task, constantly wanting to be updated, wanting to control how things go, and adding your two cents to “help” the person along. Unfortunately, all you’re really doing is undermining the process and their chance at success. The more you try and insert yourself to make sure things are being done “your way,” the less ownership the person will feel over the task and the weaker their performance will be. If you don’t let go, you’re not delegating. You’re just doubling the work.

5. Track progress.

Just like with any business procedure, you should have a way to track progress and determine success. Periodically check in with new person (perhaps bi-weekly) to make sure they’re staying on task and objectives are being met. If they’re not, they may need additional training or more time shadowing someone else. Maybe the job needs to be re-tailored. These check-ins should be focused on evaluating progress, answering questions and making sure everyone is headed in the right direction. They’re not to nitpick about how things are being done (i.e., your way).

6. Give credit.

One of the key ways people find job satisfaction is getting credit and being rewarded for the good work that they do. Make sure you give recognition when appropriate and let the person know they’re doing a good job with their newly delegated task. This is their role now and you want them to continue to feel that.

While the concept of losing control and relying on trust can be scary, delegating responsibilities can help you grow your business and nurture happier employees. By delegating you’ll have more time to focus on bigger agenda items, help employees acquire new skills and foster a better working environment.

12 Comments ▼

Lisa Barone


Lisa Barone Lisa Barone is Vice President of Strategy at Overit, an Albany Web design and development firm where she serves on the senior staff overseeing the company’s marketing consulting, social media, and content divisions.

12 Reactions

  1. Going deeper on the trust issue, sometimes you have to be humble enough to realize that “your way” was not very efficient/effective and this new person may actually find a better way of accomplishing the objective. If you get the right person (and have clearly set out the goal and the constraints) they will naturally find the best way possible to accomplish the goal.

  2. Excellent guidelines for delegating responsibility. Letting go is hard to do but you’ve done a good job marking detours around the pitfalls. And, as one of your readers commented, you may find that the person to whom you delegated comes up with a better way of doing things. That, too, will be hard to accept just like it was when your son/daughter turned out to be better at something than you were. Take pride in everyone’s growth and delegation will be easier.

  3. Lisa,

    I think it is just hard to let go of our baby (our businesses). Any of us that have run businesses know that we start getting bogged down in invoices, paperwork and all the other junk that fills the day because we feel we have to. Delegation is one of those things that is a hard habit to do for some of us.

  4. Yes, it is OK to delegate. But how do you delegate stuff if you are a microbusiness without extra staff? ;)

  5. This is a great article and I agree wholeheartedly that as a small-business owner, it can be difficult to relinquish control of even the most menial tasks! However this article focuses more on taking on an employee to whom one would delegate on a regular basis. I recently wrote an article about the art of delegation, including the benefits of hiring a virtual assistant. I think that on different levels of commitment, (i.e. long term versus irregular delegation) our articles compliment each other, so I would direct you to read my article: http://bit.ly/artofdel. – Hazel

  6. Thanks a lot Lisa for this post,
    It contains some useful tips that are workable for beginner managers like me. It is really true – you need to let your tasks go – you should provide your people with enough autonomy and not to suppress them with your ruling will. It seems a modern, democratic and effective way of management. Though, I had a problem with point #5 (Track Progress) – I experienced a hard time when tried to keep tracking over a number of allocated assignments, and also to keep our projects consistently updated… but then we discovered that collaborative project software is a real cure for this situation (there are no more notebooks and tons of paper reports!). I think such technology is an indispensable part of modern management.… Cheers!

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