Delegate effectively: Tips to help hand off tasks to subordinates

Last updated on May 12th, 2022 at 01:46 am

“If I want it done right, I’d better do it myself.”


“If I gave my people more to do, they’d resent it.”


“By the time I explain what I want done, I’ll have it done myself.”

Do any of these sound familiar? If they do, it’s probably because many managers struggle with delegating effectively. They worry that they will lose control, serious mistakes will be made, deadlines will be missed or subordinate resentment will build.
The following tips will not only help you get more done in less time by utilizing and developing the talents of your subordinates, but they will also allow you to maintain the degree of control appropriate to the situation.
Explain why you are delegating the assignment. Adults perform tasks more readily when they understand the reason for completing them. Tell them how this assignment fits into the big picture and why it’s important. In addition, if there is a particular reason for choosing this employee, by all means, let him or her know. To simplify the management of the tasks you assigned to your team, you can try this out and experience the benefits of a task management software.

For example, “Our department has been chosen to pilot the new office automation system. The results of this project will help the company decide the direction it will take in the future. I’ve chosen you to help me with this project because of your firsthand knowledge of the clerical tasks in this department.”
Define assignment
Clearly define the assignment. Many times an assignment is delivered quickly or in vague terms. Only after an employee has worked hard and handed in the project does the manager realize that it wasn’t what was wanted after all.
Think through the task and jot down your specific expectations, possible approaches, deadline, resources and the key people with whom the employee should communicate. Answer all the who, what, where, when and how much questions.
Determine the level of authority your subordinate will have and communicate it to those involved. Send a memo or announce it at a staff meeting. Don’t forget to inform any people outside your department who may be affected.
Factors like the importance of a project and the employee’s experience or judgment will determine the amount of control to give him over the outcome of a project.
For instance, you may want an inexperienced employee to report all the facts to you so you can make the final decision. To a more seasoned employee or for a complex assignment, you might say, “Let me know the alternative actions – including pros and cons of each – and recommend one.” Or you may ask experienced employees to simply let you know what they chose to do after the task has been completed.
Allow your subordinate to ask questions and make recommendations. A hit-and-run approach may buy time at the front end, but cost you time and money in the long run. It’s important for both of you to confirm and clarify the details.
Provide outline
Provide her with a brief outline of the specifics. Never assume that all the details will be understood and remembered. Jotting down your thoughts in advance will help you think through the assignment and provide a guide to your subordinate.
Tell the employee how he or she will be evaluated. This is often overlooked by managers but can make a tremendous difference in the way an employee will tackle a project. This will determine where the employee will concentrate his or her energy.
For example, if an employee knows she will be evaluated on how well the other employees accept a new procedure they have been asked to implement, you can be sure the proper care will be taken to gain that acceptance.
Always ask the employees to summarize what you have asked them to do. Never assume they fully understand until you hear their interpretation of what they have agreed to do.
If the task is complex or will take a while to complete, build in checkpoints along the way. Set up brief meetings for your subordinate to update you on his progress. Avoid over-control or snatching the assignment back. Schedule your checkpoints so that you’ll know of any trouble in plenty of time to help him do something about it.
If your subordinate is doing a task that is unfamiliar to her, reassure her that you don’t expect perfection at first. This will make it easier to report any mistakes to you immediately rather than trying to hide them from you.
Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee-based executive coach, organizational and leadership development strategist. Email your question to Joan at and visit to search an archive of more than 1,500 of her articles. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 354-9500

Sign up for BizTimes Daily Alerts

Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

No posts to display