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Delegation: managing the impossible?

Written by: Vet Times Jobs
Published on: 14 May 2024


Image © Vitalii Vodolazskyi / Adobe Stock

Managing staff and a business is an art, and requires time and skill to perfect. It is not something we are all born with – rather, it is something we have to learn. Get it wrong and you can expect turbulent waters, but get it right, and the world will love you.

So many aspects to managing a business exist – so many that we could fill a library section with no trouble at all. That said, one element – delegation and the managing of your time – is not only key, but also essential, unless you wish to be a 24/7 employee.

Initial steps

You need to learn to prioritise ruthlessly without trying to do everything. Instead, try to do what is most important. Ask yourself, “What will happen if I don’t do this?”. If the answer is, “Nothing will happen,” then you can afford not to do it.

Handle each piece of paper or email once. Decide quickly whether it needs action now, reading now but no action, reading some time or not reading at all. Then, put it in the right place: in the middle of your desk, in your files or in the bin. Divide your tasks into “must do now”, “must do this week” and “nice to do”. Make a list, and ensure that all the “must do now” tasks are done before the others. Then, try to get ahead by doing the ones that have a week left to go. Only then, do the “nice” things. If you have a particular kind of task you do not like, you should do it first. Avoid the temptation to leave it until it’s too late.

Learn to say no. Give your reasons, but learn to tell people if it is impossible to do what they want. Do not allow yourself to take on too much.

Get a proper organiser – whether it’s a smartphone, a Filofax (remember them?) or some other app or system – and use it. The best types do not just have a diary, but have a to-do list for each day. One great advantage of an iPhone or app-based organisers is that they carry over to-do tasks from day-to-day, automatically, until you finish them.

Do not work stupid hours. A common reaction to too much work is to put in long hours. However, most of us have a physical limit to how much we can do.

Beyond that limit, the law of diminishing returns means that we get less work done for each extra hour we work. A 12-hour day is probably the limit for most people. While you are working, keep your concentration fresh by taking a rest, or changing the type of work you are doing, every hour or so.

Delegation defined

Delegation is defined as the process of distributing and entrusting work to another person. You need to learn to delegate effectively.

You might find that much of your work can be done by people who work for you. And if it involves things they are doing every day (for example, stock control and ordering), they might do that work better and more quickly than you could – especially if the task is more relevant to their priorities, skills or interests.

Regardless, delegating done well will help you – and others – get work done while giving others an opportunity to get involved in interesting jobs. It can also help others develop their own skills and strengths.

But, effective delegation is difficult for many. They do not like to give up responsibility and they want to maintain a level of involvement with what staff are doing. However, if you keep trying to do your colleagues’ work, you will demotivate them and have no time for your own work.

As to why some find it difficult to know what and how to delegate, it is often because they consider it easier to do the job themselves than explain to others what is needed. Or, it is because they want to keep the interesting work for themselves, sympathise with the workload of others, do not know who else can do the work, or want to maintain their overall importance.

Steps to delegate effectively

Before you can delegate work, the job itself needs to be understood in terms of what it involves, how important it is, and what could happen if the process goes wrong.

Not every task can be delegated, but those that can are those that will be regularly repeated, can be applied to a colleague’s interests, or which align to a colleague’s own career aims.

As noted, some find it hard to let go; they like control. For them, the solution is to take small steps by delegating minor tasks, seeing the success that others bring to the workplace, and then moving on to give larger jobs for them to complete.

But, before delegating, it helps to understand the talents colleagues have and their abilities to develop new skills. A simple meeting with pointed questions will clarify what you need to know.

When handing work to a colleague, that person needs to be briefed so as to stand the best chance of succeeding. This means you need to offer guidance on deadlines, what they need to complete the task well, what is expected of them and what the completed task should look like – all while giving them appropriate documentation and pointers.

Allied to this, you need to give individuals taking on the work suitable training rather than just throwing them into the deep end. Training takes time, and so needs to be considered an investment. Just as individuals should be given the tools to grow food rather than the food itself, so team members need to be shown how to develop their own skills to learn how to problem solve.

Another part of the delegation process is understanding that two-way communication is essential. While colleagues should feel able to ask questions and for more information, you need to be able to give feedback on the effort and results related to the task. Also, praise and credit for the work should be given where it is due.

Finally, while trust is important, sight should not be lost of the fact of who is ultimately responsible for the work: you. As a result, delegated work does need to be verified for accuracy, but in time, as confidence builds, so the need to constantly verify will subside.


Delegation is both an art and an acquired skill. Done well, all will benefit – employer, manager and colleagues.  But, success depends on setting up individuals to succeed while also engendering a level of trust. Learning to step back will increase productivity and job satisfaction all round.

Being a manager is a tricky and often thankless task, so this article explores how managers can effectively prioritise and distribute workload among colleagues.