5 Levels of Effective Delegation

Delegation is one of the most important skills for managers to learn and apply. When you delegate tasks to employees, you greatly increase your ability to deliver the results your business depends on to grow and thrive.

Delegation is a skill that is needed no matter what size your business is, as if you are able to delegate effectively it gives you the time to focus on the business strategies.

As Stanford Business School professor Jeffrey Pfeffer put it, “Your most important task as a leader is to teach people how to think and ask the right questions so that the world doesn’t go to hell if you take a day off.” And who doesn’t want to take off a day or two every once in a while?

Here are the five levels of delegation–master them, and you (and your people) will be far more effective.

Level 1 Delegation: Assess and Report

For most new or inexperienced employees, the place to begin delegation is at Level 1. If the employee excels and is ready to jump to a higher level right away–great. But if not, then the employee will be in the right place to learn new skills and steadily gain confidence. The heart of Level 1 delegation is the collection of information and assessment of an opportunity, issue, or problem. For example, you could ask employees to assess a looming business issue, culminating in the preparation of a report. It’s up to you to decide if reports should be verbal or in writing. When delegating a task at Level 1:

  • Set expectations with your employee.
  • Clearly define the task.
  • Explain your employee’s role as well as your own, and
  • Discuss deadlines and check-in points

Once reports have been submitted, review them and then decide on any additional actions. Explain your thought process to employees–this will be an investment towards moving them to the decision-making levels.

Level 2 Delegation: Recommend

Once employees successfully demonstrate their skill at Level 1 delegation tasks, move them up to the next level–making recommendations. While employees are still responsible for Level 1 work, they will be expected to also develop possible solutions and recommend–and justify–the best one. Review possible solutions, test the quality of the recommendation, and then make the decision on how to implement it. As with Level 1, you should let employees know what you have decided and how you came to those decisions.

Level 3 Delegation: Develop Action Plan

Remember–the levels of delegation are progressive. By the time employees reach Level 3, they should have successfully mastered the skills required in Levels 1 & 2. Level 3 delegation includes the general recommendations made in Level 2, while adding the development of a specific action plan to implement the recommended solution. When delegating at this level:

  • Clearly define the task
  • Explain their expected role as well as your own, and
  • Discuss deadlines and check-in points.

It’s up to you to define your expectations for the form and substance of the report. Once the plan has been submitted, review it, approve it, and oversee the implementation of the plan. As with the other levels, you should let employees know what you have decided and how you came to that decision. Since the plan will likely involve them in executing the plan, you might consider also delegating some of the implementation tasks–at the appropriate level, of course.

Level 4 Delegation: Make the Decision

At Level 4, you hand over responsibility for decision making to your employee. Before moving employees up to Level 4, you need to be completely satisfied with their results at Level 3. If employees progress to this level too quickly or are not fully up to speed, you may find yourself micromanaging their work, which undermines your good work in delegation. When delegating at this level:

  • Make sure employees understand that they are still responsible for Level 3 work, but that you trust them to make the decision.
  • Make sure they know that they know you are available to coach and support them, but you expect them to act independently.
  • Monitor progress regularly by asking for regular check-ins, reviewing the status of the projects, and warning employees when you sense problems, and
  • Be ready to reward great results.

You should also start thinking about how to use the time you have freed up by successfully delegating a task!

Level 5 Delegation: Full Delegation

Full delegation means just that: It’s time to turn the task over to your employees completely. Before you delegate at Level 5, however, employee decision-making must be consistently sound. When you are ready to completely delegate at this level:

  • Make sure employees understand that you trust them to decide, act and follow-through.
  • Tell them to report back to you with exceptions and unique problems, but otherwise, it’s their task and they are fully accountable for its successful completion, and
  • Be ready to reward great results, including a promotion to employees who reach Level 5 with multiple tasks.

Employees will sometimes make mistakes, and that’s okay, but help your employees learn from them. For those individuals who just don’t cut it, decide if they can make contributions at lower levels, or what other actions you can take.