Learn to Let Go

The art of delegation with Caroline Cooper.

Cartoon image of lady multitasking
Photo: Getty Images

Do you ever find yourself doing something that you feel isn’t the best use of your time, that someone else in your team ought to be doing?
I’m not just referring to doing routine administrative or mundane tasks. There’s many a time that the things you do to respond to customers’ needs and expectations could also be done just as well (or even better) by others.

When you own the business, or have high stakes in it, it can sometimes be difficult to let others get on with things. I often hear managers and owners talk about how hands on they like to be and it is understandable. A good leader should be prepared to muck in and roll their sleeves up when absolutely necessary, but this should be the exception rather than the norm.

Another worry is when you have an excellent relationship with a customer; it’s easy to feel guilty or obliged to that customer to look after them yourself, to give them a personal service. And you’re potentially worried they won’t feel as valued if you delegate some aspects of the customer relationship to your team. But in doing so you could actually be diluting your efforts and giving a poorer customer experience. What happens when you’re on holiday, tied up with other projects, or when two or more customers all need you at the same time?

You can’t do everything! You need to put your trust in others and delegate some of that responsibility. But what if you’re not confident anyone in the team is up to it?

There’s a difference between delegation and abdication. If you were teaching your child to swim you wouldn’t just dump them in at the deep end and let them get on with it. You’d show them, coach them, support them until they were ready to go it alone. And even then you’d be watching at the poolside until you could see they were safe. The skill is knowing when to let go, and put your trust in someone else to get on with things, leaving you to focus on the more strategic aspects of the business.

Focus on the benefits
If you struggle to let go, focus on what’s to be gained. A key benefit of delegation is freeing up your time for future oriented, strategic tasks. In addition, consider these benefits:
■ More efficient use of your budget; it costs less for team members rather than you to perform the same task
■ Your business attracts top performers who seek out and enjoy challenges; conversely discourages poor performers who don’t want to be challenged
■ Work won’t come to a halt when you’re away from the business
■ Promotes teamwork and generates new ideas. As others get involved in more tasks, they have a better understanding of the overall business, and how things can be improved.

Ah, but… I hear some say. There are always many barriers to the idea of delegating. But when you get it right, it can make the world of difference.
Seven Step Plan

1. What tasks?

Make a shopping list of all the things you do, and all the things that will need doing when you reopen. Admit you can’t do everything. There’s a saying “Only do what only you can do”. So, decide what tasks don’t fall into that category and what you could let go of.

If the job and the decision-making involved is sufficiently routine, delegate it if one of your team can do it better, quicker, more cheaply, or if it will help to develop them.

Consider which tasks need to be completed on a regular basis (rather than as a one off), or at least if the process is something that can be repeated over time. This ensures that the time invested will pay off, and that the person who takes on the task has an opportunity to practise and perfect it.

It’s far better to delegate a whole task rather than bits in isolation. This makes it much easier for you to hand over responsibility as well as being more satisfying for the individual.

You can’t delegate everything at once, so consider which would give you or your team the greatest return e.g. best development opportunity, save the most time, best improvement in standards etc.

2. Decide who is best suited

When selecting a person for the task it may not necessarily be the one with the best skills or the most time. There may be good reason for delegating to a less than perfect candidate to develop their skills in areas where they are weak, or where they have shown an interest as part of their career progression. What they lack in experience and skill, they may more than make up for in potential and motivation.

Take your time; if you have been under delegating – or you are dealing with less experienced employees – transfer responsibility gradually.

3. Why it’s needed

Set a clear and simple objective for the task, and why you think that your team member is the best person for the task. It should build confidence, develop and stretch, not break the person or be considered an ‘offload’. Discuss the assignment and, importantly, how the task fits into the big picture, why it’s important for the business.

4. What, not how

Provide guidance but, unless there are safety or legal implications, you may not need to spell out ‘how to’ do the task. Give your team member all the necessary facts, possible approaches, expected results, but allow them the opportunity to take ownership. Remember, they may have a better way of doing it.

5. Where and when

Establish controls: budget, deadline, when and how review will take place. Bear in mind the standards you expect from somebody completing the task the first time may be different to those you might expect if you were doing it personally. Check for understanding of what’s expected, and if there are any questions.

6. Let them get on with it

Delegate, then trust your team member(s) to get on with it. Make yourself available, particularly at critical times, but let them decide whether, and whenever, they need your help and guidance.

Publicise that the task has been delegated – recognition is all part of the motivational mix and the challenge to succeed.

7. Evaluate and feedback

Encourage self-evaluation; if you’ve briefed someone well they should be able to work out for themselves how they’ve done, and in many cases they are harder on themselves than you are.

Remember, you are not looking for perfection and you cannot expect them to complete the task in the same time or to the same standard as you might do yourself.

Ask yourself, has the task been to done in order to achieve its objective? Recognise what’s gone well and give praise for a job well done, then discuss what could be done to improve or make it even better next time around.

Limit feedback to something manageable – two to three key points; remember the purpose of feedback is to build on performance and improve, so it needs to be motivational. Identify any lessons you’ve learned about delegating too!

Longer term

Handing over responsibility for a task is often a gradual process. Once someone has completed the task for the first time, continue to monitor progress so you can be confident at a later date that you can trust them to take full ownership.

Practise makes perfect

Build confidence over time; you can’t expect someone to be introduced to something on Thursday afternoon and perform it perfectly for the first time on Friday morning when you’re not even there to offer support. Introduce new areas of responsibility gradually so people have an opportunity to refine and perfect as they go as well as building confidence (theirs and yours) in their ability.

Nip it in the bud

Keep an eye on progress. It may take a while for people to get the hang of it and if they find a way that feels more natural for them and still gets the same result then that’s fine. But, if there is a best way, and they are struggling with adapting their approach, step in and give them guidance before they embed any bad habits.

Prepare for the unexpected

There will always be things that don’t go according to plan. The last thing you want when this happens is for your team member to panic! Let them know what can go wrong and how to handle such situations so they’ll be confident to deal with them smoothly.


The sooner you can give individuals ownership over a task the quicker they’ll develop a sense of pride and ownership. Trust your team to make decisions to do what’s best in a given situation. If they truly understand the objectives of the task it shouldn’t be too difficult for them to work out the best way to achieve it.

Break the habit

If people have been used to you making decisions and maintaining control, it may seem uncomfortable to have things passed to them. Back off gradually, rather than just throwing them in at the deep end. This gives both you and them peace of mind.

You’ll still get asked for guidance and for decisions. When this happens, rather than simply answering or showing them what to do, bounce it back to them and ask for their views. It may feel uncomfortable to begin with, but you’ll both soon get used to it.


Establish systems and your way of doing things, so there’s consistency irrespective of who carries out that task. This doesn’t mean you don’t allow some creativity and flexibility amongst the team, but just having simple checklists can make the world of difference so nothing gets missed or forgotten that can impact others’ experience.

So next time you hear yourself saying: “It takes too much time to explain, it’s quicker to do it myself,” think of any time you spend getting people up to speed on tasks as an investment.


Recognise these excuses?

“My customer trusts me and expects to deal with me”
They expect to always deal with you because that’s what you’ve always given them. If they are never given the chance to speak to your team that will never change. Set expectations early on with your customers so they know who is the best person to speak to when. Introduce your customers to your team so they know who they’re dealing with and build trust (and their expectations) early on.

“It takes too much time to explain, I can do it quicker”
In the short-term yes, but in the longer term if you delegate you are saving time to attend to more important things to add value for your customer. Having simple systems in place for routine queries means you might only have to invest the time once.

“They aren’t yet capable”
And never will be unless you start incorporating delegation and trust into your people development plans.

“They won’t do it as well as me”
Maybe, but are you being too much of a perfectionist? Does the task need such a degree of excellence? If not, maybe someone can deal with the task adequately in less time so the customer isn’t kept waiting.

“I enjoy these tasks – losing them would make my job less interesting”
In the longer term improvement in staff morale and performance will make your job easier and just as enjoyable. Conversely simply discarding and offloading work you don’t want to do is an easy way to demotivate people!

“If someone else does it I’ll lose control and respect”
You’ll lose more control and more respect by not devoting enough time to managing the whole business effectively because you are too wrapped up in the detail.

“They aren’t yet qualified, authorised or licenced to do that”
Everyone has to start somewhere so get them involved and leave time for you to approve or endorse their efforts before it gets signed off. None of us would ever pass our driving test if we weren’t able to actually get out on the road and drive; it just needs plenty of practise and handholding along the way until ready.

If any of this feels familiar, maybe you’re missing out on opportunities to delegate more, develop your team and free up more of your valuable time.


About the Author

Caroline is the founder of Naturally Loyal, and has over 30 years’ training and development experience in hospitality. Recognising that managers in hospitality often get promoted into positions without much training, her key focus is on developing newly promoted and junior managers to lead and engage their teams effectively. Download her free ‘A-Z of Managing People’ at www.naturallyloyal.com/oaba2z

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