8 Steps to Problem-Free Delegation – a Case Study

When I first became a new supervisor, I held my cards so close to the vest that my poor employee, Joe, had no idea what was going on. I didn’t trust him enough to share the work, so Joe had no choice but to sit in his cube and stare at the wall. After a few months, I developed the reputation of being a bottleneck—assignments arrived in my office and never came out. No one in the department was happy with this situation. I was so stressed that my hair was standing on end, my colleagues were annoyed because they had to go around me to get things done, and Joe felt useless and demotivated.

I eventually figured out that properly leveraging Joe’s contribution did not mean wasting his time with “safe” tasks, such as raiding the mailroom, or giving him ultra-specific instructions on how to do the smallest assignment. Rather, I had to invest time in helping him branch out, so that he could become a self-sufficient member of our team. Here in eight easy steps is the delegation process I used to make it happen:

Step 1: Plan a task to delegate based on your employee’s unique combination of attributes

Example: “Joe is really organized and a great multi-tasker. He did a stellar job helping me with the Widget World booth last month, and I know he’s interested in attending a trade show on the West Coast. I think I’ll put him in charge of managing our booth at the Widget Symposium. I can see Joe moving into a show management role as early as next year, and I feel that this project would be an excellent jumping-off point.”

Step 2: Clearly state your expectations

Example (to Joe): “I’d like for you to manage our booth at the Widget Symposium in California in October. As you know from working with me on the Widget World booth last month, we have an approved procedure for coordinating the components and staffing of the booth. However, I would love to see what creative ideas you can come up with for our corporate demo and our visitor giveaways. You’ll need to be on-site October 4–8, and I expect planning for the booth to take approximately half of your time in the month leading up to the show.”

Step 3: Explain the big picture behind the task

Example (to Joe): “The VP of Corporate Communications considers the Widget Symposium one of the top five annual events for generating company visibility. I hope the project will give you valuable experience working with senior executives and managing vendor relationships. As you move into full-time show management, these skills will be critical.”

Step 4: Ask for your employee’s feedback on the best way to proceed

Example (to Joe): “What do you think about managing this booth by yourself? How do you want to approach reviewing the show’s marketing strategy and then getting everyone together for a preliminary planning meeting?”

Step 5: Suggest helpful resources, being careful not to micromanage

Example (to Joe): “You should definitely take another look at the booth planning procedure document we followed for Widget World last month. I will also email you a list of all the internal staff and vendors we worked with on last year’s Widget Symposium.”

Step 6: Set follow-up dates and plan future actions

Example (to Joe): “I know the details of planning a booth can be overwhelming. To keep the project manageable, why don’t you draft an action plan? We can meet on Monday afternoon to go over it.”

Step 7: Monitor progress, demonstrating confidence

Example (to Joe): “The action plan looks great, Joe. You’re doing a terrific job so far and I know the marketing people are impressed with you. Can we meet twice a week until the show, so I can answer any questions you have?”

Step 8: Evaluate success and constructive feedback

Example (to Joe): “The booth’s execution was flawless and the Chapstick giveaways yielded at least 100 more leads than usual. The VP of Corporate Communications thought you’d been doing this for years! I know all of the last-minute changes were challenging, but your organization and flexibility allowed us to pull it off. Next time, I’d just suggest coordinating an on-site booth staff meeting so you can make sure everyone has their schedules in advance.”













Alexandra Levit

Alexandra Levit’s goal is to help people find meaningful jobs - quickly and simply - and to succeed beyond measure once they get there. Follow her @alevit.

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