Delegation

Delegation is a learned technique. In order to effectively delegate a task there are a number of steps that must be taken. Stephen Covey refers to the delegation process as, “Creating Win-Win Stewardship Agreements”[1] First the task must be clearly defined—specify the desired results. It is vital that the desired results are results, not methods. Often times the task looks different in the eyes of the two parties. In order to accomplish a meeting of the minds you must define the task in terms of results. The result is what is critical and is what must be clearly defined. The definition must include measurement—how will be determine if the results have been achieved? The person must not only understand how the result is being measured, they must also understand and agree as to how the result is being measured. Once the desired result is agreed upon, the parties then agree upon how the result should be achieved—the steps that must be taken and guidelines must be set. Within those guidelines is the level of authority that the person has. There are six levels of authority—(1) wait until told; (2) ask; (3) Recommend; (4) Act and report immediately; (5) Act and report periodically; and (6) Act on own.[2] This defines the level of authority that has been delegated. These levels change as you gain or lose trust in the person.

The third, fourth and fifth steps identified by Covey are to identify the available resources (human, technical, financial, etc., define accountability (essential to the integrity of the delegation), and to determine the consequences—what happens if the result is or is not achieved both to the individual and the organization. Lastly, the parties must agree upon a feedback system. The person must be providing enough feedback to provide you with a comfort level of knowing that they are on track to achieve the result. The feedback can be formal (such as a report) or it may be informal (such as sticking his head in your office twice a day to let you know where he stands) but regardless it must be complied with. It is the feedback element that is most commonly ignored.

Effective delegation relieves the owner’s obligations and develops employees. “A leader is not appointed because he knows everything and can make every decision. He is appointed to bring together the knowledge that is available and then create the prerequisites for the work to be done. He creates the systems that enable him to delegate responsibility for day-to-day operations.”[3]


[1] First Things First, Stephen Covey, Simon & Schuster 1994. If you are to read one of Covey’s books, 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, is the book to read. In First Things First, Covey covers some of the same ground but gets much more technical in his analysis.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Moments of Truth, Jan Carlzon, HarperPerennial 1989