Delegation 101: How Entrepreneurs Can Boost Employee Productivity
If you’ve started a business, you know you have to wear multiple hats. In fact, you do a number of jobs you never imagined yourself doing.
Let’s say you start a dog-grooming business. You probably thought you'd spend your days grooming dogs. However, you also have to be an accountant and a marketer. You have to keep track of appointments and inventory while following up with clients and vendors. The next thing you know, you’re spending most of your time on these tasks instead of your original vision.
While that’s part of being a business owner, it’s not what you signed up for. You should be spending your time doing what you love, as well as on activities that generate income, not tasks someone else could do. That’s where delegation comes into play.
Delegating is simply transferring a responsibility to someone else. The dog groomer, for instance, could delegate tasks like tracking inventory and scheduling appointments to an employee. That enables her to groom more dogs, which means more money flowing into her business.
Delegating, unfortunately, is not easy. Like any other management skill, it needs to be developed over time. Done correctly, productivity and sales will rise across the entire business. With that in mind, here’s how small business owners can get started with delegation.
Let it go.
This is arguably the most challenging part of delegating. After all, it’s your business -- you want things done a certain way. You may even believe you’re Superman or Wonder Woman and capable of doing everything on your own. That’s just not feasible, and you’ll quickly burn out. It also sounds like a toxic environment where micromanagement and lack of trust run rampant.
I know letting go is easier said than done, but it’s the first step toward delegation. You can do this by taking baby steps. Assign a small task to an employee to see what he can do. It could be something as simple as returning a phone call or doing research on a competitor. Now that you know you can trust him, you can gradually assign him more challenging tasks.
Not sure which tasks to delegate? Establish a priority system. Create at least four categories based on the degree of difficulty each task demands. The most skilled category should be kept by you, but the tasks in the lower-skill categories can be delegated.
Analyze your needs.
You don’t want to delegate everything. That’s why you need to start tracking your time. You can do this with a manual time log or an app like Timely or RescueTime. By getting a clearer view of how you’re spending your time, you can identify what to delegate and to whom.
Back to our dog groomer: If she discovers she spends a quarter of her time on accounting and bookkeeping, which she dreads, she could assign that to an employee who likes crunching numbers. This lightens the workload for the owner while giving the employee a new responsibility she enjoys.
Of course, a key component to delegating is knowing you’re surrounded by people who have the skills or knowledge to successfully complete the work you assign them. You don’t want to assign your bookkeeping or invoicing duties to someone who isn’t strong in math just so you don’t have to do it. That’s setting both of you up for failure.
During the hiring process, assess experience, potential and background. Don’t forget to ask for references and samples of candidates' previous work. This will give you a stronger sense of their strengths and weaknesses. Most importantly, make sure you can trust them -- ask questions to gauge how they'd handle different situations.
Also, take a look at your current team. If you don’t think there’s anyone detail-oriented enough to manage your bookkeeping, that’s a skill you want to pay close attention to when hiring.
This probably isn’t something you often think about, but take the time to identity the information, knowledge and processes that keep your business running smoothly. Then, write a clear summary of your systems and processes. This way, anyone can view these process documents and pick up where you left off.
Think though the delegation process.
Ramon Ray, a bestselling author, speaker, entrepreneur and influencer, has an excellent take on delegation: “If you want task delegation to work right, you must be clear on the outcome, and then delegate to the right person who is best suited for the task.”
Before delegating tasks to others, spend time thinking through the delegation process. This includes knowing exactly what you want to delegate. Be as specific as possible -- vague instructions will only invite failure. Ensure you're delegating tasks to the right people. Take into consideration their strengths and weaknesses. This builds trust immediately because you know the employee can successfully complete the work without you hovering.
Make sure the employee has everything needed to complete the task. Provide him with everything from instructions to login information so he can jump right in. And, of course, assign reasonable deadlines. Be clear about the outcome needed, as well as your expectations.
Use technology to your advantage.
Thanks to technology like project management software, you can see who’s working on a particular task and how he's progressing. This prevents you from forgetting who’s responsible for certain tasks or wasting an employee's time by scheduling a progress meeting.
You can also use technology to share, schedule or provide online training opportunities to strengthen your team’s skill set.
Most importantly, you can use channels like email, Slack or teleconferences to frequently communicate, share information or collaborate.
Encouraging ownership is one of the best ways to make your employees more motivated and productive. When you assign a task to someone, give him complete control of the assignment. This means letting him decide how he’ll finish a task or solve a problem. It also involves building trust by being respectful and transparent, listening and making sure each team member succeeds.
Furthermore, you can encourage ownership through delegation by properly training your employees, guiding them instead of commanding them and making sure they know how their work contributes to the big picture. Following up with feedback helps these employees grow and shortens the time needed to get them to expert-level work.
Develop feedback loops.
Speaking of feedback, when an employee has done well, let him know. Offer genuine praise, and give him a shout-out in the next newsletter or meeting. If he had trouble, offer some constructive criticism so he can get it right next time.
You also want to give your employees the opportunity to share their thoughts on what you’ve done. Did you provide them with enough information and resources? Did you assign the right tasks to the right people? Asking for their insights can help you delegate more effectively in the future.
If you want to spend more time doing what you love, you have to get comfortable with delegating. By thinking through what others can do -- and what it takes to ensure they do it well -- you can spend more time on your business's whole reason for existing.