Most entrepreneurs subscribe to the philosophy: "If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself." This mantra, accepted by many small-business owners as fact, is only half true. If you want something done right once and you have no other time commitments, then the fastest way, in fact, is to do it yourself. However, if you want something done right repeatedly, day-in and day-out, all day long, and you don't have the time to do 10 full-time jobs all at once, you can't do it yourself.
Here is how you do it:
1. Document the process. Every kind of work in a business follows a process. There's a process for the best way to answer the phone. There's a process for shipping products.
In most small businesses, the knowledge about how to do everything is stuck inside the entrepreneur's head. In situations where employees lack knowledge, the employees will either guess what is supposed to be done or constantly pepper you with questions that take longer to answer than just taking action yourself.
To solve this dilemma, document the step-by-step procedures for how to complete a commonly performed task in your business. There are three ways to do this:
- Write a procedural manual describing how to perform a task.
- Create a checklist describing the steps -- assuming your employees already have the skills to do each step but often forget or skip steps.
- Make a video using your smartphone as you perform the task, explaining aloud what you are doing and why you are doing it.
The next time you assign an employee a particular task, just give her the manual, the checklist or video tutorial.
2. Document decision-making guidelines. In most small businesses, employees will ask you, "What do you want to do?" As an entrepreneur, you make decisions big and small all day long. To grow a business without driving yourself crazy, you can't delegate only the tasks to others. You have to delegate decisions to others as well. The key to getting others to make good decisions is to provide them with the implicit decision-making guidelines you personally use.
When an employee asks you, "What do you want to do about this situation?" without even realizing it, you run that decision through a set of decision-making criteria. If you want to extricate yourself from these decisions, write down the decision-making criteria you usually implicitly use and give the list to others.
For example, in my company, my staff uses three criteria to make any customer service-related decision that isn't already documented in our procedures:
- Does the decision protect our reputation?
- Does the decision favor the customer?
- Does the decision cost less than $500 to implement?
If the answer is yes across the board, staff members can make a customer service decision for themselves without having to ask me first. If the decision will cost more than $500 but less than $1,000, they can still make the decision without me, but they are expected to notify me after the fact. If the cost is more than $1,000, they need to ask me first.
So far, they have made the same decision I would have made 98 percent of the time. Best of all, there have been virtually no meetings, phone calls or emails to discuss these decisions.
3. Create a schedule. To ensure the right things get done in the right way at the right time, you need to follow this final step: creating a schedule. Create a list of daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly tasks that need to be done for each role in your company. For more complex tasks, reference where staff can find the procedure manual, checklist or video tutorial that explains how to do the task.
Follow these three steps and tasks will be completed, decisions will get made and things will be done on-time with only minimal involvement from you.