Jacob Kaplan-Moss


What’s delegation?

Most managers know that delegation is part of their job, but the vast majority of management texts are incredibly non-specific about what delegation means. So today I’m beginning a series on delegation to try to fill this gap. I’ll cover the principles and theories that guide how I think about delegation, ending with a concrete example: how to delegate meeting attendance.

To kick things off: what does delegation mean?

Delegation is when a manager assigns some of the work they’re personally responsible for to someone on their team. I say “personally” to differentiate delegation from task assignment: if there’s work that your team, collectively, is responsible for, assigning that task to someone on your team isn’t delegation.

Delegation has two purposes. Taking some work off the manager’s shoulders is one of them, but the other is helping the person to whom the work is delegated “step up” in some way. This might be providing an opportunity to train up and get ready to move into management themselves; it might be helping them get more visibility to support a future promotion case; and so forth. If you’re only using delegation as a way of making your job easier, you’re missing the point. It’s not just about assigning work; there’s something in it for the direct, too.

Finally, for delegation to work most effectively, you need to also delegate any power and authority that comes along with that work. In otherwise, when you delegate work, that person isn’t doing work for you; they’re doing work as you. It’s much less effective to assign some of your responsibility, without also assigning some of the decision-making authority that comes with that responsibility. We’ll talk more about this principle in future parts of the series.