Heather Baker details her top tips on the best ways to delegate

Chatting to a company director recently, he pointed out that many of his colleagues have no idea how to delegate to their PAs or other executives. When I first had my own Assistant, I was rather at a loss initially as I had never been advised of the best ways to delegate. So here are a few points which may help :

Choose the best person for the task, not necessarily the most willing

You may not have a choice but, if you do, don’t be tempted to take the easy way out by avoiding the always reluctant person.

Ensure relevant training

There is no point in asking someone to do a Powerpoint presentation, for example, if they haven’t had proper training; it will take them a lot longer and cause unnecessary stress.

Don’t apologise for delegating, unless it is a really onerous task

Being very passive when you delegate will irritate some people and you will lose credibility. Continually saying “sorry” whenever you pass on tasks demeans your role. If it truly is an unpleasant task then it would be good to apologise for the task (not the delegation).

Say “please” and “thank you”

Such small words which evoke so much appreciation.

Make sure the person knows the deadline

It is vital to keep the person informed of cut-off times and dates. If you have any concerns about their reliability, give a slightly earlier deadline.

Be aware of risks and build in controls

As above, give earlier deadlines and ensure you are aware of any potential challenges. Check with the person you are delegating to whether they too have any concerns.

Give enough notice

Wherever possible, plan ahead and give people plenty of notice of what you may want them to do. Encourage people to check with you what your requirements are for that day so they can anticipate any extra workload. It is, however, a normal part of business that things happen at the last minute. It is imperative that everyone is aware that sometimes there may not be a lot of time to complete a task.

Outline the objective of the task

Rather than explaining the method to someone, give them the objective of the task. People have different working styles and your way of doing something may not be the best way for another person. Understanding the objective also enables the person to prioritise and feel engaged in the business.

It may be more appropriate to delegate authority rather than individual tasks

If you continually ask someone to do a photocopy of documents, it can become very tiresome – for both of you. Why not give the person responsibility for photocopying? This will enable that person to organise their own workload giving them more autonomy, and it is a form of training. Rather than constantly asking them to arrange meetings, give them responsibility for the diary management.

Encourage questions

Don’t just “dump” work on someone’s desk unless you are sure they will know how to deal with it. Make them feel comfortable that they can clarify issues with you; this will save much time, worry, embarrassment and possibly costs.

Give constructive feedback

If mistakes have been made, ensure the person understands why, to avoid recurrences. Be positive with the feedback, not critical. Discuss how to improve, not why it went wrong and how it is their fault. Positive feedback should also include why things went well. Give praise publicly and criticism privately.

Provide support, but don’t “hover”

Be available but don’t stand over someone checking what they are doing; you will only slow down the process and cause conflict.

Be assertive

Never passive and never aggressive (see my article in the May 2014 issue of this magazine).

The challenge with delegation is that, although someone else is doing the work, you retain overall responsibility and many people find it difficult to trust others for that very reason.

If somebody does the job better than you, be delighted. You have trained them well! Take a deep breath and let go ­– you and your organisation will benefit enormously.

After over 20 years as an Assistant, Heather Baker established Baker Thompson Associates in January 2000 to fulfil the need for specialised PA/EA/administrative training. She now travels the world working with Assistants to inspire them to find ways to ... (Read More)

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