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Business 101: Effective delegation

Delegation. It sounds simple and most of us assume we have a good understanding of what it means, but it's probably one of the most misunderstood terms used in business.


Delegation. It sounds simple and most of us assume we have a good understanding of what it means, but it’s probably one of the most misunderstood terms used in business.

Let’s look at two examples to further delve into the world of managing effective delegation:

These two couldn’t be more different and that’s obvious to all of us. In the first instance where we asked our delegate, Mr. Hayman (aka “Hey, man…), to take out the trash, we aren’t faced with any of the issues that we would likely be considering by delegating more important projects:

Technically, asking him to take out the trash is delegation, but it falls more under the heading of “asking a guy to do something.”

However, asking Mr. Hayman to manage next month’s sales meeting is much more involved and offers us the chance to break down the delegation of the responsibility for running our upcoming sale, clearly a critical project.

Delegation is essential to management. Why?


What should we delegate?

When should we delegate?

Why do we avoid delegation?

These simple steps will help you delegate effectively:



1. Pinpoint and scope the project. Goals, timelines, desired results.

2. Clearly define the limits and duration of the responsibility you are delegating. “Hayman, I want you to run the sale from beginning to end: Staffing, pricing, layout, opening and closing the store, customer problems, merchandise flow, clean-up and a final de-brief. Once the sale is over, you will return to your regular duties.”

3. Choose a delegate. This is an essential decision.Choose based upon the urgency and risk tolerance of the project. Lower risk tasks can be accomplished by less-skilled staff and are good opportunities for growth. “What if this is not done perfectly?” “Will I be okay?” Critical projects with little room for error should go to the best person you have.

4. Make the assignment.


5. Monitor progress. Again, you cannot delegate your ultimate responsibility. The quintessential management delusion: “That knucklehead really fouled this up. I had no idea what was going on.” Sound familiar? If you had no idea that “knucklehead” was not performing as hoped or expected, the fault lies squarely at your feet…no way around that one. To assure that becomes a less likely outcome:

6. Perform a final review. Skipping this step is common. In the midst of a frenetic schedule, it becomes too easy to think we don’t have time. Without a wrap-up of the results of the project, Hayman will have no idea if he did well, he won’t develop and, while you may have gotten the job done, you missed out on the most important benefit. Without a review and critique of his project, Hayman will assume you don’t know or care what’s going on in your business.

When delegation fails or falters


Avoid dependency


Delegate upward

Unless you are the owner or CEO, likely you have someone above you and when a major decision is faced or when a project takes an unexpected turn, you will need to push a decision “upstairs.” Don’t hesitate to do this.


As a gentle reminder, the quickest way to lose the confidence of your superiors, those you would be delegating upward to, is to over-delegate upward simply because you want decisions you can and should be making yourself validated as the correct ones. Remember, authority was delegated to you so those above you could take a few breadcrumbs off their own plate. Let common sense and your own good judgment be the guiding forces here.

Years ago, we were offered this simple but powerful lesson from one of our mentors: “Somebody here needs to start acting like an owner!” This challenge has never left us and has been a guiding principle ever since.

Now, we don’t want our staff running amok and signing a lease on a new store without us or selling our business to Rudy down the street, but the real equity in our companies is human: creativity, commitment and confidence.

Taking the time to learn and use these simple and intuitive steps to effective delegation will build strength and security in our teams, allowing us to grow and prosper.


This article is part of a new Business 101 Training series for store management and owners, produced by SNEWS® and authored by Geoff O’Keeffe and Michael Hodgson. Geoff O’Keeffe has held retail senior management positions at Granite Stairway Mountaineering, Adventure 16, Patagonia and PlanetOutdoors.com, as well as having served as president of Lowe Alpine Systems USA and Mountainsmith. He is currently the president of Slumberjack, and lives in the mountains above Boulder, Colo., where he is a fourth-generation resident. SNEWS® co-owner and president Michael Hodgson, in a former life, was a manager for five years with Adventure 16 and the general manager overseeing a team of buyers and store managers for three years at Western Mountaineering. In those roles, he learned the immense value of skilled, well-trained, and very nimble teams to achieve business success.