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.
In business, that means delegation. And it pays to be good at it: According to recent research from Gallup, “founders who have and use high delegator talent can generate better business growth and venture success than leaders who get lost in the day-to-day minutiae of managing a business.”
In fact, the 2014 Gallup survey examined the business performance of 143 CEOs of the 500 fastest-growing companies in America and found that CEOs considered to have high delegation talent posted an average three-year growth rate 112 per cent higher than CEOs with low talent for delegation.
It’s not easy, but it is necessary. We’re showing you a few ways to make delegation as painless as possible.
Choosing What Tasks to Delegate
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 functions for delegation.
Delegate to 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. 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.
Communication is Key
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. Business advisors often suggest delegating 100 per cent 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.
Invest Upfront in Teaching and Training
There’s a one-word reason most parents and business owners often do chores themselves instead of teaching their employees or kids to do it: 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” in which 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.
Learn to 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.
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 in progress reports to 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, i.e. “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!”
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 to help team members feel their efforts are appreciated and rewarded.
About the Author: Heather Hudson is an accomplished freelance writer and journalist based in Toronto. She writes for a number of publishing, corporate and agency clients who depend on her to deliver high-quality, on-brand content and journalism with a fresh perspective. Learn more about her work at heatherhudson.ca.