The Art of Effective Delegation in Retail [And Why It’s Important]

The Art of Effective Delegation in Retail [And Why It’s Important]

“Only 30% of managers think they can delegate well … and only one in three is considered a good delegator by his or her subordinates. This means only 1 in 10 managers really know how to empower subordinates – John Hunt, London Business School Professor and Financial Times columnist

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One of the biggest opportunity areas that I have been able to see consistently in my eons in retail is in developing effective delegation techniques in emerging leaders in the business. Delegation is an extremely valuable competency to possess as it effects three critical areas of effective leadership, efficiency, team member development and organizational sustainability. Doug Fleener, author of The Profitable Retailer: 56 Surprisingly Simple and Effective Lessons to Boost Your Sales and Profits, says that for obvious reasons, new retail managers tend to delegate less than more experienced peers. “New managers are still trying to learn the role,” he says. “But once these new managers become comfortable, they need to delegate to free themselves up to focus on sales and staff development.”

Efficiency: Delegation improves efficiency when it allows work to be transferred to people whose skills are a better match for the work. As a leader, you are in charge of planning and strategizing the next steps for your team and your focus needs to be on high-value and time critical tasks. When your team members are able to carry out most of the routine activities required of your team, it will allow you the time and effort needed to plan for your team’s next move.

Development: As a team leader, you possess important skills and abilities that you can pass on to your team members creating career capital for them. The best way of doing this is to guide them in the new skills and then delegate tasks to them so that they may use those new skills. Delegating is a great way of encouraging your team members to develop themselves and for you to develop coaching and mentoring skills.  Delegating increases the morale, confidence, and productivity of your employees.

Organizational sustainability: Life is uncertain and a sudden accident, illness, family emergency, or promotion can strike at any time. And…let’s assume you want to go on vacation at some point. Delegation ensures that your team can get along without you if they need to.

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As Dr. Tim Elmore points out, there are four very obvious stages to “delegation” when we fail to educate emerging leaders in the value of this competency to prepare them to take on additional responsibility:

  • STAGE #1: DOING (I believe if it is going to be done right, I must do it myself.)
  • STAGE #2: DUMPING (Soon, I burn out, so I begin dumping work on others.)
  • STAGE #3: DELEGATING (I realize people leave if I dump, so I prepare and delegate.)
  • STAGE #4: DEVELOPING (I ultimately see delegating is a means to develop people.)

Once seen as job security [“If I don’t train my staff they can’t get rid of me”], failure to delegate effectively is now tantamount to retail career suicide.  When we think of leadership we think of lots of competencies, resiliency, courage, communication – we don’t often remember to include “delegation”. The ability to effectively delegate is a quality far quieter than most others, and yet one of the most crucial to successful leadership. Delegation through communication and sharing context is one of the keys to achieving your team’s goals AND the organization’s goals and expectations. A leader who insists on maintaining all control and authority is insecure and actually fails to even meet the definition of a “leader”. A leader is an executive, someone who effectively maximizes time, resources, and people. A leader does not do everything himself, rather they marshal all of these elements on the pathway to success.

Tips To Master The Art of Effective Delegation

  • Have a plan.  Think about your employees’ level of development and how much responsibility they’re ready for.  Delegate work to them to proactively and continually develop their competencies.  Understand your employee’s strengths and opportunity areas so you can delegate the right tasks to the right team members;
  • Define objectives and standards.  Effective delegation requires clear articulation and ample context of the objectives for the task being delegated and the standard expectations for the work.  Ideally, a leader will go beyond describing objectives and standards for each task and will convey a broader vision of what he or she is attempting to accomplish over the long run.  With a clear sense of what is to be accomplished, employees are better able to be creative and resourceful to identify ways to complete the tasks delegated to them.  Employees with a keen sense of their manager’s vision are even more empowered to innovate and strive for realization of that vision;
  • Specify the range of discretion.  Employees need to know what resources they can reference to accomplish the tasks that are delegated to them and the level of initiative that is expected of them.  Can they assign portions of their tasks to their peers or other employees not in their line of authority?  This is the type of question that should be addressed when delegating.  It is also important to describe the level of initiative you expect the employee to take in terms of problem solving en route to task completion.  Encourage employees to do one of the following when they encounter unexpected problems:
    1.  “Ask me for guidance.”
    2.  “Recommend a solution, then we can discuss.”
    3.  “Be bold and courageous and make the decision, and then let me know the decision you have made.”
  • Involve your employees in the delegation process.  Discuss what you’re needs are with your team  Ask them what types of tasks they would be comfortable taking responsibility for.  Share the task detail with them and determine whether they understand and can achieve the objectives.  People tend to be more committed to decisions when they have participated in the decision-making processes.  That commitment will be invaluable since you will be relying on them to be at least somewhat resourceful and to take initiative;
  • Clarify performance consequences.  Make sure that your team members understand the importance of the work that you have delegated to them and how successful performance helps you, your customers, etc. Give them the meaning & purpose behind the task and how it fits into the bigger picture. In addition, ensure that they understand and value the rewards associated with their successful performance.  Rewards can include your appreciation, public accolades, additional responsibility,  increased visibility, enhanced promotion potential, etc.;
  • Inform others that delegation has occurred.  Particularly when delegation involves granting rights to allocate and utilize additional resources, other employees need to know that you have delegated authority to a specific person for a specific project/assignment.  If you tell one of your employee that she can enlist the help of peers, you better share that with their peers.  Everyone affected by a project must be informed that the project has been delegated;
  • When problems arise, insist that the team member recommends solutions.  Avoid upward delegation – what that means is, having your team member(s) turn to you to when obstacles arise while performing the tasks that they are responsible for.  One of the ways to avoid upward delegation is to foster a culture of solutions. Encourage your team to deliver solutions to challenges when they need your support.  Even if their solutions aren’t the exact fix for the obstacle, setting the expectation that they generate solutions encourages your team members to think like resourceful, empowered, and innovative problem solvers;
  • Evaluate progress and results, and provide feedback.  Unless you have formed a very high level of trust with your empowered employee, it is wise to plan consistent progress checks on the tasks you have assigned to them.  Employees are only empowered to the extent that they are given discretion as to how they will complete tasks.  Evaluate results, encourage strategic risk-taking, and support creativity.  Compare the results achieved to the standards for the tasks, and provide feedback.  Recognize and appreciate their efforts and contributions frequently;
  • Continue to delegate.  Work should be delegated to the lowest organizational level that has the competence to successfully perform it (encourage even your store level part-timers to take on additional responsibility).  Over time, consistently delegating an ever-increasing level of discretion and authority to employees creates an environment in which they will develop their skills and elevate their knowledge of the business/  So, a continual commitment to delegating tasks empowers and enhances the competence of the people who support you.  Even when you have enough time to do the tasks yourself, delegate them.  Delegating only when you are too busy to do things yourself does not show your employees that you trust and respect them or that you are committed to their development and growth.

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Great Advice from Jeremy Kingsley On Delegation

  • Go past your preconceptions. Don’t lock in ideas about team members based on their job title, age, or other factors. Instead look objectively — with help if you need it—to identify whose strengths match up best with the task at hand.
  • Be clear about expectations and timelines. Make it clear that when you delegate, you’re setting people up to be successful. Make expectations challenging but reasonable, and make sure they’re understood.
  • Make sure good communication patterns are in place. Do people feel free to come to you with questions and issues? Do you respond to problems with blame and anger, or focus on finding a solution? Especially when things go wrong — and at some point they almost certainly will — excellent communication can keep a project on track.
  • Resist the temptation to micromanage. As leaders, we tend to value control — and that makes it especially hard to let go of something important. But micromanagement is counterproductive. To get the most from delegation, set up a reporting structure and make it clear you’re available to help, then step back.

Delegation doesn’t mean abdication or having people to assign blame to. Ultimate team success requires that everyone participates in the functions that drive the productivity and profitability of the business — when and where it is needed. Teams that embrace delegation and free their leaders up to focus on the high-value tasks [strategy, planning, development, etc.] that drive success are empowered and high-functioning. Retail leadership requires people to wear a lot of hats and work in a fast-paced environment, to achieve anything close to what you are capable of and the greatness you hope for daily, you must involve, enlist and engage others in your vision of the future!


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail. Published writer. Frequent Podcast Guest. Speaker. Twenty year [oy vey!] retailer. I am passionate about leadership development and workplace culture. 646 246 1380 | [No Sales Contact, please} But it you want to call just to say hello or have a question - that's awesome!

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