Become a Delegation Pro – Four Practical Steps

Are you finding that there just aren’t enough hours in the day? Do you get the feeling you're treading water rather than building your business and doing the work that excites you? There are warning signs that it’s time to delegate and some simple steps to get you started.

Fail to Delegate. Fail your Business

One of the toughest things for any small business owner to do is it to loosen the reins. When you start a small business you’re the chief innovator, chief marketer, chief salesperson, chief receptionist and chief accountant but if you want to grow your business then things have to change.

For me this was in 2009 when we suddenly grew from a handful of customers to a few hundred. I hired a small team to help out, but really struggled to properly hand over the work. I was stuck in the mindset of “it will be quicker if I just do this one thing now, rather than put in the time to show someone else how to do it”.

But of course it is never just one thing. It is one thing times a hundred other things every day of the working week!

So how do you stop being all things to all people? Learn to delegate.

“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

You’ll notice I said learn to delegate – that was deliberate. Being the super-human that I am, I just assumed delegation was an innate skill I was born with. I assumed everyone else just knew what was going on in my head and I’d just have to say “can you do this thing” and somehow, magically, everything would be done properly and on time and I could just move onto the next task and never have to worry about that thing again.

Wrong. So wrong. 

Effective, productive delegation is a skill that must be acquired. It takes so much more time than you’d think to properly design systems and processes to not only ensure work is being delegated, but also completed to a suitable quality.

Unfortunately, from my experience and from talking with our customers, we seem to only ever decide to delegate right at the last minute, “heck, I am never going to get through all these things today, I know, I’ll be super smart and delegate them all away!”.

Hah! If only it worked like that – it never does.

You know it’s time to delegate when…

  • You get the feeling that every day is about treading water rather than building your business or actually doing the work that gets you excited.
  • Right now, I am spending the first 3 hours of my day replying to email or declining the ~10 vendors who each day want to sell me something, when all I want to be doing is designing our next feature or walking through a new release. Obviously I’m going to have to work out how to delegate email ☺
  • You find yourself telling everyone who will listen that “there just aren’t enough hours in the day” or declining weekend fun because you think a few extra hours of work on a Sunday afternoon will get you ahead (they won’t for long, its just a bandaid)
  • You’ve had the exact same 20 items on your daily task list for the past month (and when you look at them, you get that sinking feeling knowing they’re still likely to be on the list next week too)
  • You know you’re neglecting the critical parts of your business. The really, really important stuff like collecting outstanding accounts or sending out that email campaign that you know always brings you in new sales.

Successful Business Owners Required.
Earn $12/hr (wow!)

I’m guessing you didn’t start your business with dreams of putting in a 50-hour week and pulling down $12/hr.

But guess what. If you are continuously doing tasks, that almost anybody else on the planet could be doing, then effectively you are saying your time is only worth $12/hr.

Or to flip this another way. If you’re a consultant who charges your hours out at $150/hr, but still does the book-keeping because it only takes a couple of hours a week, then you are costing your business at least $300 week in lost billables. Think about this for a second, you are costing your business money by not delegating!

My younger brother used to think like this. Mike runs a successful, one-man, web design business and was umming and ahhing about hiring an outsourced developer to help with the day-to-day grunt work.

“But I could just do this work myself and save the money” was what he kept telling me.

It wasn’t until I pulled a crisp $10 note from my wallet and asked him to spend an hour adding an image to this blog that he suddenly twigged that yes, clearly his time was worth more than $10/hr.

Put simply, when looking at the financial benefit of delegating you have to look at both the cost of additional people and the loss in your productivity if you don’t do it.

Make sure you keep on, keeping on delegating.

Delegation takes time and doesn’t happen overnight, so with every new position, you need to start sooner rather than later.

If you are familiar with agile or waterfall development, then you’ll appreciate the similarities to growing a business. Nothing ever happens in a nice clean, linear growth pattern. Like a waterfall, the type and volume of work ebbs and flows and continuously cascades over and on top of itself.

The best way to identify whether you need to delegate or even create an entirely new role in your company is to constantly work through these three simple questions:

  1. Am I the best person to be doing this thing?
  2. If not, then who else could be doing this thing?
  3. If someone else was doing this thing, then what could I be doing instead to grow my business?

As you fall into the routine of second-guessing your work, collect and dump the results into an Evernote notebook. By the end of the week you’ll have a long lists of tasks ready to delegate onto someone else, someone better than you.

Now comes the hard part – 4 Steps to Successful Delegating

Making the time available to properly document and then train up a person is the real challenge. It’s too easy to fall back on the mindset of “I don’t have the time to organize this work right now, its only going to take 10 minutes anyhow so I may as well just do it myself”

But as we’ve already demonstrated, this line of thinking is a total false economy. What’s more, it is also like a drug. Do it once and it becomes easier to do it again. Keep telling yourself this lie, and before you know it, you have a 20-a-day “do it now and it is done” habit to try and kick.

I’m not going to be all business-author naive on you here and flatly tell you that you must take-time-to-make-time in order to delegate. I’m a realist, we all have businesses to run and in reality the work of planning to delegate has to find space in amongst the work you continue to do but you want to delegate.

So here are four very simple methods to actually get some documentation and systems in place with minimal effort and time.

1 ) Screen casting is your friend.

You are doing this work anyhow, so why not record yourself doing the work and run some commentary – you’ll end up with a handy video to pass onto your team. The bonus here is that not only did you get the actual work done, but you created the documentation at the same time so you now have a permanent record that your hire can refer to rather than repeatedly asking questions.

The best tool for this is by far Jing from Techsmith.

2 ) Explain it back to me

Rather than just assigning someone a task and waiting on them to send you back the completed work, have them take an intermediate step of explaining back to you the work they will be doing. Ask them to tell you, in their own words, how they will tackle the work and what the expected outcome is. Aside from catching any misunderstandings right up front, this has the added benefit of clearly setting expectations around delivery times and quality of work.

3 ) Checkpoints, Milestones and Questions

Successful delegation requires a balance of saying “no” to the urges of micro-managing, yet at the same time never walking away completely.

  • Set aside a period of time each day (or week) when you will be available to answer questions. Ask your hire to store all their questions up for this one session, but remember to let them know that of course you are still available if there’s anything urgent. This will provide structure and stop questions trickling in all day every day.
  • Identify checkpoints from the outset to help you avoid the temptation of constantly looking over shoulders
  • Remember to delegate the whole task. By not handing it over 100% you put everyone in a no-man’s land – no one knows who is responsible for doing what and by when. 

4 ) Feedback

Once a task is complete and work submitted, it is all too easy to immediately move onto the next super-urgent task; only giving an obligatory nod to the work that was done.

The danger with this however is that you’re sending the message that “hey – this work wasn’t important enough for me to spend any time taking a look at”. No one wants to think their work isn’t valued!

You need to review the work properly. At the start review every single submission in detail and then over time reduce either the detail or review every second or third submission in detail.

When you do spot an error or issue, resist the urge to simply correct it yourself. Take the time to talk through the error with the person who made it so they can understand what you require and avoid making the same mistake next time. If you simply do the correction for them, then you will be wasting the time you saved by delegating in the first place.

Oh and remember, be a human and not a robot. Give praise and public acknowledgement where it is due

Give us your best delegation tip…best comment wins a prize.

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