When a small business is born, an entrepreneur is typically pulled and stretched in every direction, depending on on what the company needs. “Chief cook and bottle washer” comes to mind. You are responsible for everything.
As your business grows and you have the need and resources to hire more staff, letting go of certain responsibilities, assigning them to others and then managing those assignments becomes a critical skill you need to learn – and it comes naturally to very few. But as your business grows, delegating is a necessity. Approaching it correctly may be harder than you think but critical to even greater success.
Knowing what to delegate is as important as how, to truly get the most out of your staff. Here are some tips for delegating more effectively:
Remind yourself that every minute you spend doing a task that could be delegated is a minute you don’t get to invest in projects that are uniquely suited to you as the business’s owner and strategic director.
If you don’t learn how to delegate fast and often, you’ll never realize your full potential.
Make a list of your highest-priority tasks that you currently perform in your business. Next to them, write down the names of others inside or outside your business (yes, subcontracting to a third party is a form of delegation) to whom you could assign and delegate those tasks completed satisfactorily
If you can’t summon anyone else’s name for this list, make it longer and don’t kid yourself: If you conclude that you are the only one who can do things you’ve either hired wrong; are lying to yourself; or are likely treating delegation more like abdication and investing little of yourself in the transfer of accountability. This will doom it for failure.
Take the time, lots of it if necessary, to fully explain the responsibilities to your delegates (staffers or outside subcontractors).
This is key.
Let them know why the work is important to the business. Let them know what can happen and who will be affected if the work is not completed on time, on budget and with the highest-quality possible.
Let them know some of the tricks of the trade you used to be successful as the previous owner of this responsibility. Let them know what resources are available for them to use, including yourself. Teach them the deadlines and objectives expected.
Let them know you are there for questions and support and, for goodness sake, share a story or two of how you made mistakes doing the task and overcame them. There is nothing less valuable than an employee who is scared to death to make a mistake because of the tone you create from the top. Making mistakes is how you learned, I am willing to bet; you must afford others, within reason, the same luxury.
Discourage abuse of permissions. I have found that, just like some bosses can be micromanagers, some staffers can be permissionaholics. They are addicted to getting you to OK everything before they do it.
Some level of this can be expected with a new hire or for a new responsibility, but it should not drag on. Staffers tend to do this subconsciously to avoid accountability down the road if something goes wrong (“You said it was OK/signed off on this.”).
Nip this in the bud with a careful conversation about the fact that you are delegating these responsibilities precisely so you don’t have to be the decision-maker any longer. New decision-makers aren’t valuable if they aren’t willing to make decisions; they’ll only become glorified administrators.
Follow up. You don’t want to become a micromanager, but you do want to follow up. Do this regularly, but randomly, as opposed to during a recurring meeting.
You will learn a lot about employees by how they respond to a request for an update when they least expect it, rather than when they see it as an agenda item a week ahead.
When following up, always reconfirm deadlines and ask for the bad news as well as the good. You want to hear both – and, as far as the bad news goes, the sooner the better.
The bottom line is that just because you started a business doesn’t mean you’re an expert in delegation. Use these tips to remind yourself of the importance of delegating effectively and how even delegation has a process that you can follow to maximize its effectiveness.
Chris Griffiths is the Toronto-based director of fine tune consulting, a boutique management consulting practice. Over the past 20 years, he has started or acquired and exited seven businesses.
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