Looking for tips on how to delegate better? We've got best practices that'll save you time, energy—and make your team happier and more fulfilled.
Being an entrepreneur is a lot like parenting. In the beginning, you work long hours, make big decisions and give them everything you have to help them grow and succeed. But at some point, both your baby and your business need to become more independent—or you risk stunting their growth. Figuring out how to delegate is a natural next step.
Delegating is not easy, but it is necessary. Let’s walk through some ways to make delegation as painless—and profitable—as possible.
1. Choose the Right Tasks
Entrepreneurs who’ve built a business on their own often have a hard time trusting others with their baby. And when you look at it that way, it does seem like a risky thing to do. That’s why it’s important to delegate the tasks that take up your time, but not your CEO brainpower.
Start by logging everything you do in a week and then consider which tasks don’t require your level of skill and expertise. Administrative duties like filing and basic accounting functions are ripe for delegation.
Factors that go into your delegation decision-making include:
- Is the task something you’re not great at? Or something that’s extremely time-consuming?
- What is the project’s deadline?
- What would happen if the project isn’t completed on time?
- Is there time to redo the job if it’s not done right the first time?
- Is an “adequate” result good enough?
- How much would failure affect other parts of the business? Your relationship with customers?
You might also find that tasks emerge that could be eliminated instead of delegated. If you’re not sure, ask yourself what would happen if:
- A given task wasn’t done?
- That task was done less regularly?
- You were to combine said task with a similar one?
2. Try the 70% Rule
Recognizing that most entrepreneurs have a hard time letting go, Jim Schleckser, author of Great CEOs Are Lazy recommends starting with the 70% rule. If a team member can perform the task at least 70% as well as you can, it’s a prime candidate for delegation. This means putting away perfectionism.
The 70% figure is also a good benchmark for identifying tasks that are ideal for delegating. You probably want 100% for mapping out the five-year business plan, but filing last year’s sales reports is probably OK.
3. Pick the Right People
The right person for the right job is crucial to successful delegation. If you need to hire someone to take on accounting or administrative tasks, you’ll look for people who have those skill sets. But if you’re looking internally among your small staff, you’ll need to ask yourself whether the employee has relevant skills, the right disposition and the capacity to take on extra work.
A good rule to keep in mind is to match the delegated task with the people who are closest to the work. For example, making follow-up calls to customers is a perfect job for someone on the sales team. It’s a great opportunity for them to snag another sale and deepen their relationship with the customer.
Consider your staff members’ personal career goals and how their role within your company might evolve if they’re given more responsibility and a chance to prove themselves in a new way. Delegating a small task outside of their obvious strengths might give them a shot of confidence and valuable new skills that could benefit both them and your business.
4. Communicate Effectively
When you’re asking a staff member to take on new responsibilities, it’s smart to open the conversation by expressing your confidence in their ability to successfully complete the work. You also want to contextualize it for them by showing how this new task they’re being asked to do fits into the big picture. If it affects other team members, explain how. Show them how their work matters in the grand scheme of things.
Business advisers often suggest delegating 100%of the responsibility for a task, not just pieces of a project. This will help the employee become more competent and confident. As you outline the scope of work you’d like them to complete, be sure to include:
- A full description of the task/project along with specific instructions, especially if it must be completed a certain way
- A timeline, including milestones
- Scheduled check-ins to ensure the employee gets support for bigger projects or tasks—and so you’re sure everything is proceeding as planned
- Who they can reach out to for help
For complex projects, it’s helpful to put the delegated tasks in writing so there is a reference point for both you and the employee. Better yet, have the employee write a simple report outlining their understanding of their responsibility. You’ll quickly spot any gaps in communication.
5. Invest in Teaching and Training
There’s a one-word reason most parents and business owners often do chores themselves: time. There are certain tasks you can do in a fraction of the time it takes to show someone else how to do it and support them as they get the hang of it. But teaching time is a valuable investment that pays off down the road.
A classic training tenet is, “I do, we do, you do.” They watch you perform a task, you do it together and then they do it on their own. As tedious as it might seem, effective teaching often results in better business results. An empowered employee gives you the gift of more time to attend to more important matters, and the skills and space they need to be more independent and efficient.
6. Trust Your Team
Many inexperienced leaders have a difficult time delegating and walking away. They check in frequently, correct minor errors and take care to ensure the employee is doing it their way instead of coming up with their own techniques. More successful managers empower their employees and step away from projects or tasks altogether to let their employees handle it their way.
If you’ve chosen the right person to do the job, communicated your expectations clearly and have a process for occasional check-ins, trust that they’ll get the work done. Employees who feel respected and trusted often rise to challenges they didn’t even know they were capable of, gaining new insights and skills.
7. Practice Peace of Mind with Verification
Yes, you’re committed to trusting your team and avoiding the micromanaging trap. But that doesn’t mean you can’t step in from time to time to verify that things are moving along as planned.
If you haven’t built progress reports into the delegation process, you might send a quick and friendly email a couple of days before a deadline to verify that the employee is prepared, and inquire if they have any questions.
Be sure to capture a respectful and encouraging tone. For example, “Tony, I see that the deadline for shipping XYZ is Thursday. Is everything on track? I know it’s your first time handling this process, so please let me know if you have any questions. Thanks for taking this on!”
8. Create a Regular Feedback Loop
Whether an employee is struggling with or thriving under their new responsibility, it’s important to build feedback into the delegation process—yours and theirs. Give them a chance to make a few mistakes and find their own rhythm and offer constructive feedback. Maybe they didn’t have all the information they needed or there was a lapse in communication that made the task difficult to complete. Get their take on what they felt was a challenge.
On the other hand, if they’ve handled the task like a champion, you’ll know your delegation process works and that you have a candidate who can take on new and more challenging opportunities. Don’t forget to share successes with the whole team. Publicly recognizing great work helps team members feel their efforts are appreciated and rewarded.
9. Understand That Delegation Helps You Develop New Skills Too
Delegating to others frees up your time and helps your team develop new skills—and it’s a professional development opportunity for you. Whether you like it or not, when you have staff, you’re a manager. Maybe you didn’t sign up for that role when you started your small business, but you’ve grown into it. Own it and be the best manager you can be!
Your new job as a manager is to develop more than just your product or service. You’re now in the business of developing people. Part of this work is learning how to do things like create performance benchmarks and performance reviews. Standardizing work and motivating staff are important ways to ensure efficiency, productivity and a high morale.
You may consider delegating tasks to buy you the time to take some professional development courses so you can be an inspiring and effective leader.
Learning how to delegate is a process that requires patience, courage and persistence. If you find the right match between tasks and team members, and give them the tools and encouragement they need, you’ll be well on your way to running a well-oiled machine. One that you’re steering, not propelling yourself.
This post was updated in June, 2020.