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How ineffective delegation wastes time and hampers productivity

Securing a vendor or consultant is a clear example of how delegation works (or doesn't) in the real world.

5 min read


How ineffective delegation wastes time and hampers productivity

Pixabay image/SmartBrief illustration

Delegation is supposed to leverage an executive’s precious time. However, ineffective delegation wastes time and resources, lowers morale and contributes to confusion.

This article showcases a practical example of how ineffective delegation wastes time and how leaders can use delegation to leverage time and speed up decision-making.

Delegation wastes time when the employee with the delegated task is unclear about his or her objective. The employee is tasked with doing research to find a vendor or consultant, but instead tries to find the fix instead of just doing research.

For context, let me share this situation from a consultant’s point of view so you can clearly see how unplanned delegation wastes time that could be invested more productively. Here’s a common phone conversation between an employee researching consultants.

  • Employee: We’re looking for a workshop on leadership. How much do you charge?
  • Consultant: Thank you for calling. The first step in our process is to talk with the decision-maker to understand your decision making process and what business objectives you are trying to achieve.
  • Employee:  We are going to have a workshop because we have some poor leadership among our supervisors. What would you charge?
  • Consultant: I can’t tell you that without learning more about your objectives. Why don’t we hop on a phone with your boss so that I can make a firm recommendation and find out if what I can offer is the right fit? Can you help me get on your bosses’ schedule?
  • Employee: No, I can’t do that. I’m just supposed to find out your price and make a recommendation. We don’t have any budget right now and, after all, we are a nonprofit.

The number one reason for wasted time is a lack of clarity. In this case, the employee isn’t clear on her objective and she takes ownership of the fees, becoming a barrier to accessing the decision-maker’s calendar. The employee makes executive decisions instead of researching.

How to use delegation to leverage time

1. Define the problem, not the fix. Don’t assume you understand what the fix is for the problem. Instead, define the problem as you understand it so you can guide your researcher to look for expertise versus products and services. In short, look for expertise first, product and service second. (If you know it’s a plumbing problem, look first for a plumber before researching pipes and plungers.)  

2. Create a decision-making process. Explain the process to your researcher/employee so they pull together a list of resources before any phone calls are made.

3. Organize the information. Have your employee make a spreadsheet of research websites, articles and other links of interest and other pertinent information so you can see the thought process. Limit the search to half a dozen and put a time limit on the research to be turned in.  

4. Clarify your parameters. For example, do you want your vendor, consultant or contractor to have certain certifications? Should they live in the metropolitan area? Is it necessary that they specific industry experience? Is it OK if they hire contractors, or should they be a company with employees? This clarity helps to narrow the research to maximize time.

5. Check the gathered resources. Did your researcher understand your direction? If not, redefine what you are searching for and let the employee have a second stab at gathering information. Explain why their selection is out of bounds and further clarify your parameters. 

6. Don’t delegate financial decisions. Do not allow your employee to enter into negotiations about pricing, fees or costs for specialized services. Your employee can’t possibility understand a “good deal” from a bad deal (and neither will you) until value is discussed.

7. Delegate schedule-setting. Once you have narrowed your selections, give the employee the authority to schedule time on the calendar for an initial phone call with the next-level decision maker, explaining that this is the first stage of the decision-making process. 

Conclusion: Delegation can leverage your time or waste your time. Any vendor or consultant that offers real value wants to understand the decision-making process and must talk to the decision-maker before talking product, services, and pricing. Very often the best value a consultant or vendor can give is to help you clarify the problem and make valid recommendations for next steps.

There are certain decisions that can only be made by an executive or an executive team. Don’t try to delegate executive decisions that can only be fulfilled by executive decision-makers.  


Marlene Chism is a consultant, international speaker and the author of “Stop Workplace Drama” (Wiley 2011), “No-Drama Leadership” (Bibliomotion 2015) and “7 Ways to Stop Drama in Your Healthcare Practice” (Greenbranch 2018).  Download “The Bottom Line: How Executive Conversations Drive Results.” Connect with Chism via LinkedInFacebook and Twitter and at

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