In every organization, work is delegated. Whether it comes from the CEO, the Vice President of Operations, or a Front Line Manager, organizations are filled with people performing work that has been delegated to them in one way or another. If we think about how a manager delegates work to a direct report, there are two aspects. The first involves setting the context and boundaries that the work must be done within, and the second involves delegating specific work through delegation of specific objectives. The challenge is in learning how to delegate work effectively without overburdening your direct reports.

Setting Context

Effective managers must set context for their direct reports. This includes giving them the information they need to use their best judgment to make decisions that are consistent with advancing the strategy of the organization. Context has many different elements and can be defined by any number of things. One key element is a position description, which gives the direct report an overall view of the purpose and the duties of their job. A well-crafted position description will also give some detail on delegated accountabilities and authorities and even in the best cases cross-functional accountabilities and authorities.

Other elements for providing context include organizational policies, procedures and environmental conditions, to name a few. These are all important variables both managers and direct reports need to take into account when making decisions. Other context might include organizational strategy, major initiatives, even game-changing decisions that are made at higher levels in the organization, which can affect work that is accomplished at lower levels in the organization. As part of setting context, managers help direct reports understand not only how to do their work, but also, to recognize the relative importance of the various things they have to do to make informed decisions when they set priorities.

Delegating Objectives

The second way managers delegate work is through specific objectives. In many cases, these are project-oriented tasks or change goals that have been delegated because they are part of the organization’s strategy. In most cases, the change objectives that an organization has underway are not documented in the formal position description. Most position descriptions are simply not that detailed, nor should they be as change objectives by their very nature mature as the strategic plan is being implemented.

When delegating work, managers need to be well aware that these extra tasks or change objectives are above and beyond all the other duties that the direct report manager is doing. Direct reports have the context, they know their job and they’re doing work and reporting appropriately to the manger with respect to that work. When a manager delegates additional objectives to a direct report, she/he must work closely with them to help them understand the priorities and how this particular objective relates to all of the other competing work that has already been delegated.

How do we delegate work without overburdening our direct reports? Both managers and direct reports need to be aware of the overall requirements of the core accountabilities of that role and how any additional delegation of objectives shifts work across the competing priorities. The duties of a position already typically take up 100% of the direct report’s available resources (time being one of those most important!). When an additional objective is delegated, you as the manager must realize that this will require time and effort beyond the already delegated duties. It is therefore part of your job as the manager to work with your direct report to reset priorities. Leaving it to the direct report to “figure it out” is an abdication of managerial accountability. Working through the shifting priorities with your direct report helps to ensure that at the end of the day, everyone feels satisfied with what they have been able to accomplish.