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Definition: The assignment to others of the authority for particular functions, tasks and decisions

It's easy to talk about delegation, but it's not so easy to do. And it's a critical decision, mainly because some tasks should be handled only by you but others, which take up your valuable time, can easily be handled by someone else.

What shouldn't you delegate? There's no rule of thumb; let your instincts guide you. You probably wouldn't want to delegate deiding what products your company will offer next year, but you might decide to delegate conducting a customer survey regarding improvements they'd like to see in your products. Either way, a building block for effective delegation is knowing what tasks are yours and yours alone.

The next step is to determine the results you want to achieve. That doesn't mean telling employees to make some phone calls about past-due invoices. That's too vague. Be specific. A more defined goal might be to get customers with past-due bills to agree to a set payment schedule. Knowing the results you want is your job, not the job of employees to whom you delegate.

Next you must decide which person is right for the task. A salesperson might not be the right person to make collection calls, but perhaps your bookkeeper is. Either way, match skills and personality to the task--that will maximize productivity.

The next step is to decide what controls and checkpoints you'll put on the person to whom you're delegating. How often will the person report back to you? Under what circumstances should he or she shout for help? Be very specific about these details because that will make delegation work smoothly, both for you and your employees.

Next, motivate the person to whom you're delegating. If you're handing off important work, you want your subordinate to be fired up to get results. If the employee is there to learn, present the task as a development opportunity. If visibility is important to the employee, present it that way.

The last step is accountability. A common mistake among bosses is expecting the employee to fail--and readily taking the task back to handle yourself. Don't! That's a quick way to undermine employee effectiveness and guarantee employees will never develop in the ways you need them to if your business is to reach its potential.

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