How to Delegate Wisely

The nature of the task you're delegating, as well as the skills needed to complete that task, determines who you should choose for the delegation. Get-It-Done Guy explains how to choose the right person for the job every time.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #340

The secret to getting grand, bold, stupendous things done is through delegation. Together, groups of people can accomplish in weeks or months what would take one person years of work, and even then, only if you had 6 arms, 14 eyes, and super strength.

Europa is the operations manager for Bernice's chain of Green Growing Things plant stores. Wwo stores going like gangbusters, Audrey 2s moving off the shelves almost on their own, shopping trends to project, and inventory to keep, Europa has her hands more than full.

So she's less-than-thrilled when the advertising manager for Plants Quarterly calls. They have one ad spot left and if Green Growing Things wants representation, they need an ad, pronto. As much as she enjoys being a control freak, Europa has no choice but to start delegating.


Her first delegation is to tell Melvin that she needs him to write an ad, now! Melvin is the IT and inventory geek, but since the website is currently under control, it's up to him to write scintillating ad copy. His first ad is...well...it's an ad.

Want a plant? Come to Green Growing Things and buy one. If you don't want a plant, come buy one anyway and maybe you'll change your mind.

Somehow it just doesn't grab me. Europa assures me, however, that Melvin will grow into the position. Sure, the same way politicians grow into people who care lovingly for the welfare of the country and its citizens. Ahem.

Now that Melvin is writing ads, there's no one working on inventory management. Bags of seeds are everywhere. Roses are strewn about, petunias are falling from the rafters, and the fertilizer...we won't even talk about the fertilizer. Someone needs to bring order to this chaos!

I tell that to Europa and she proclaims "Delegation works! Just delegate the inventory to intern MG." So I tell MG, "Get the inventory under control, please." Being something of an over-achiever, he comes back in 3 hours and the store is spotless. "Gotta go - busy week. I'm learning Arabic, studying for my EMT exam, taking a full course load, and writing front page stories for major metropolitan newspapers. Plus I have a debate tournament and next week I'm traveling. See you the week after next!" MG says and happily skips out of the store.

Match the Delegatee to the Task

Delegating to Melvin seems to be a bad idea. He doesn't have the skill set and is writing bad ad copy. While the MG delegation couldn't be more amazing. He either had the skill set or he developed it instantly, finished in 3 hours, and now he's off to his next tasks.

But all is not as it seems.

When you're going to delegate, you need to take two different timeframes into account. First is urgency: How soon do you need this person to be up-to-speed? Second is impact: How far-reaching in time or space will the consequences of their actions be?

Urgent, low-impact tasks can be completed by someone who is relatively untested but who can get the job done in the moment. Since the task doesn't have far-reaching consequences, if they screw up, the damage will be localized. Melvin's ad-writing falls into this category. At a thriving plant store, an ineffective ad won't do any damage, it just won't produce a spike in sales.

When the tasks are clerical and don't require specialized knowledge, this is work you might delegate to a temp. If one of your valued employees needs to be put in their place and shown who's boss, you can delegate urgent, low-impact tasks to them, and explain, "I was going to hire a temp to do this, but then I remembered we had you."

Urgent, high-impact tasks need someone with a proven track record who can hit the ground running. (That means start producing results the moment they start, not trip while jogging and face-planting on the sidewalk.) This is when it can make sense to hire a consultant. Negotiate a contract where you pay for results, not time, so the consultant has every incentive to know their stuff before walking in, or get up to speed at their own expense. Since the task is high-impact, you need it done right immediately.

Straightening up the inventory is urgent and the impact will be felt for weeks or months to come. MG straightened the inventory and then vanished for two weeks. Being a young intern, he put things on shelves, but I don't see any documentation of where things are. He met the short-term need, but in his youthful zeal, he didn't have the perspective to meet the long-term need. Giving him this responsibility was short-term smart, but long-term poor judgment.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.