You can limit the amount of authority you're giving until you get used to delegating and are comfortable with the quality and consistency of an employee's work. The more experienced and reliable the employee, the more freedom you can give. The more critical the task, the more cautious you need to be.
It's also important to ask the employee what level of authority they would like to have. You should both agree on what level is most appropriate so that the job is done effectively with minimal involvement from you.
Here are six scenarios for employees who are given a task:
Wait to be told what to do. This is the least empowering because it doesn't allow initiative on the part of the employee. Although this is delegating, it doesn't help you reach your goal of expanding your employee's abilities.
Ask what to do. You might say, “Look into X and tell me about the various alternatives, and then I'll decide on the right solution.” This lets the employee have some control, but they don't get to make a decision. It's better than nothing and will save you some time but it isn't really taking them where you want them to go.
Recommend, then take action after I give you the go ahead. No action is allowed, but if the recommendation is sound, you can instruct the employee to move forward and praise him or her for coming up with a good solution. The more successful employees are at developing solid solutions, the more comfortable you'll be with handing over more responsibility.
Act, then immediately report results. If you have confidence in an employee's skills, you can give permission to take some action before he or she reports on results.
Take action and report only routinely. At this point, you feel the employee is on board, understands what has to be done, and has the judgment to make the right decisions. He or she has control over timing and content of the tasks assigned. Reporting occurs routinely at regular meetings. This level of delegation is the most empowering and will make your employee feel satisfied, energized, and motivated.
Decide what action needs to be taken and act upon it. This level of delegation is for members of your top management team who are proven over time. When you reach this level, your life as you knew it has changed and improved; you're spending your time on the most critical and exciting parts of the business.
By deciding the level of responsibility you want to give, up front, you reduce the stress that comes from wondering and worrying about the results. It will also take away your urge to micromanage — which no smart-thinking employee likes at all. So you decide — what level of delegation do you want to use?
—Victoria Downing is president of Remodelers Advantage, Laurel, Md. 301.490.5620.