For some, delegating is easy, perhaps too easy. For others who are perfectionists, letting go of even the most trivial task is next to impossible. If you fall into this second category, you probably don’t like behind-the-scenes references to being a “control freak” or a “micro-manager.”
London Business School professor John Hunt notes that only 30 percent of managers believe they can delegate well, and of those, only one in three is considered a good delegator by his subordinates. This means that only one in ten managers really know how to empower others.
The challenge is delegating the right things and not delegating the wrong things. If you don’t get it right, you’re busy, but working on the wrong things. Almost all entrepreneurs need to improve their skills in this area, so I did some research on the basics. Jan Yager, in her classic book “Work Less, Do More,” has outlined eight key steps to the effective delegation that I support:
Choose which tasks you are willing to delegate. You should spend your time on the most business-critical tasks and the tasks that only you can do. Delegate what you can’t do and what doesn’t interest you. For example, non-computer types should consider outsourcing their social media, website, and SEO activities.
- Choose the best person to delegate to. Listen and watch. Learn the traits, values, and characteristics of those who will perform well when you delegate to them. That means giving the job to people who deliver, not people who are less busy. This requires hiring people with the right skills, not the least expensive or friends and family.
- Trust those you delegate to. It always starts with trust. Along with trust, you also have to give the people you delegate the possibility of doing a job their way. Of course, the work must be done well, but your way or the road is not the right way.
- Give clear assignments and instructions. The key is to strike the right balance between explaining so much detail that it insults the listener and not explaining enough that someone gets what is expected. Think back to when you were learning, when you were a neophyte.
- Set a defined task completion date and tracking system. Set a specific deadline at the beginning, with milestones. This way you can check progress before the final deadline, without confusing questions like “How are you?”
- Give public and written credit. This is the simplest step, but one of the most difficult for many people to learn. It will inspire loyalty, provide real satisfaction for the work done, and become the basis for mentoring and performance reviews.
- Delegate responsibility and authority, not just the task. Managers who fail to delegate responsibilities other than specific tasks eventually find themselves reporting to subordinates and doing some of the work, and not vice versa.
- Avoid reverse delegation. Some team members try to turn a task back to the manager if they don’t feel comfortable or try to shirk responsibility. Do not accept it except in extreme cases. Ultimately, each member of the team needs to learn or leave.
Almost everyone who has grown their startup from a one-person entity to a going concern with many employees has had trouble letting go of any task. On the other hand, executives who come from a large company to a startup tend to delegate too much, which translates into high costs and a lack of control.
Finally, every entrepreneur needs to put aside the fear of delegating. If you do it right, as described above, each task is likely to be done better than it could be. The one thing you can’t delegate is the “ball stops here” role. That can only be done by the person in charge, and it better always be you.