Delegation – a practical guide for social entrepreneurs


This guide from Simon Denny is aimed at those social entrepreneurs that don’t have enough minutes in the day, are always rushed, and want to develop their staff. Managers that start to use the four stage 'how to delegate formula' will save time and improve performance. 

What is delegation?

Getting things done through others is an essential part of management. The higher up the management hierarchy a manager gets the more time they will have to spend managing and delegating, and the less time they will spend 'doing'.
Why delegate?
Delegation is not easy - it requires courage, patience and skill. It is one of the most important aspects of any manager's job, but there are many reasons why managers should delegate, including:
Effective delegation increases morale as your colleagues know that they are being developed to their full potential.
Quite selfishly, to delegate and watch your colleagues develop is perhaps the most satisfying experience you can have as a manager.
If you have delegated effectively you will have time on your hands to look at other areas of your social enterprise, such as planning and thinking about your future development.
Delegating responsibilities increases your available time to carry out important work. You save time because you have less to do and more time in which to do it.
Delegation also develops your team which, in turn, increases the effectiveness of your operation and improves your chances of achieving enterprise goals. In fact delegation is the process on which the work of a whole organisation depends, whatever its size.
Symptoms of under-delegation 
Nobody ever says delegation should not be used. All managers want to delegate, but despite the usefulness of delegation, some suffer from a failure to delegate. A few reasons are:
  • Lethargy or laziness - delegation does take time and effort, sometimes this proves too much and the manager carries on doing things for him or herself. It’s the ‘I can’t be bothered to delegate’ syndrome and it’s more common than most of us know!
  • Concern for prestige - sometimes a manager may see the amount and/or type of work he/she achieves as an indication of status and will be loathe to delegate tasks and the status associated with them. This is the ‘too important a task for them’ syndrome where managers confuse tasks with position. The manager’s job is to manage!
  • Fear of being superseded - often a manager will worry illogically and irrationally about being overtaken by colleagues. One way of avoiding this is perceived as becoming indispensable. This can result in gross under-delegation. This syndrome is easy to spot as the manager is normally a ragged, irritable husk while their colleagues are bored – watch them leave the organisation!
  • Lack of confidence in subordinates - This is probably the most common reason for under-delegating. However if this is the problem it can usually be remedied by remembering that it is the manager's responsibility to develop his or her staff. A lack of confidence in your subordinates would suggest you are unable to manage them effectively.
You can probably think of more reasons why a manager may under-delegate. Most of them are linked with fear. Unless this is remedied, it can become a downward spiral, with the manager becoming overworked and stressed and subordinates becoming bored and frustrated.
Symptoms of over-delegation 
Under-delegation leaves colleagues bored and frustrated, but there is always a chance that they will be able to find themselves something productive to do. However, over-delegation often leaves people with no alternative but to say, "I've had enough" and to leave their overworked jobs. There are many reasons why managers over-delegate. These include:
  • Inadequate knowledge/experience - many managers are promoted on past performance rather than future potential. The lack of knowledge/experience may be technical or managerial, but one solution is to give the tasks away to others. The danger is that the over-delegators find ‘willing horses’ that they then flog to death!
  • Laziness - laziness can be the root of under-delegation but it can also cause massive over-delegation, with the manager trying to avoid responsibility.
  • Lack of motivation - If a manager is in a position they are unhappy with, he/she may feel demotivated and therefore reluctant to do their job. They may therefore, pass all their work on to their colleagues.
  • Fear - This may be fear of the boss, fear of some or all colleagues or subordinates, of fear of the job itself. These fears may be real or imagined but may result in over-delegation.
How to delegate – the four stage formula
So, you have decided that you don’t want to under or over-delegate, and you want to be a good social entrepreneur, developing your colleagues and achieving great results. What should you do to delegate effectively? How do you do it?
It is essential to remember that delegating effectively is a two-way process, involving both the manager who wishes to delegate and the colleague to whom the task is to be delegated. The good news is that there is a simple ‘drill’, a four stage formula to follow when you have a conversation to delegate a task. All the evidence is that managers who are good at delegating use this formula, whether they realise it or not.  Whether you are delegating verbally or in writing (many of us will use email with our colleagues to delegate tasks), you will be more effective if you follow the stages: 
1. Briefing: Be clear about the objective of the task. Detail the task and specify the expected outcomes. Check that the individual you are delegating to understands the task and has the necessary authority to complete it. 
2. Allocation: Make sure that your colleague understands the responsibility they have for the completion of the task. This does not mean abdicating responsibility!
3. Motivation: Encourage your subordinate to do a good job, recognise their contribution, and make sure the relevant support is available. Provide additional training or coaching where needed.
4. Consultation: Maintain two-way communication between yourself and your colleague, and make sure that they can voice their suggestions.
All four stages should be used even when delegating the smallest of tasks.




  • Objective
  • Detail
  • Expected result
  • Authority given

Complete a 500 word report on the implementation of system X by the end of next month (give specific date). Consider the pro's and con's for this organisation, bearing in mind our experience of using this type of system.

Come up with a recommendation for future use.
You may contact all users of System X and call in the company who installed it for us.


  • Responsibility

The whole task is yours and once you have made the recommendations the report will go to the head of the department and we will discuss how to implement them.


  • Recognition
  • Support

I have selected for you this task as it is high priority and I believe you have the ability to do a good job. It is not something you have done before, and you will develop useful new skills.
If you have any queries or any problems, please come and talk them through.


  • Suggestions
  • Communication
  • Process

Let me know your own thoughts as to how you want to do this and any ideas you have.
Let's meet next Monday at 0900hrs to discuss how it’s going and perhaps every Monday from then on?


It's easy to see how using this formula sets the terms of reference. It also – crucially – makes official a process of on-going review and consultation, thus reducing the likelihood of the task going wrong. Like so much of management, the four stage formula will appear to many to be a blinding glimpse of the obvious. That's because it is. But how many of our managers use this formula when they delegate and do we really use it ourselves, all the time?