Let someone else do it - learning to delegate

20071102

Almost every business owner has too much to do and not enough time to do it in. And the situation seems to get worse as the business grows. But there is a solution - get your employees to take some of the weight off your shoulders by learning how to delegate effectively.


Delegation is one of the hardest things to learn because it involves relinquishing control over certain parts of the business to other people. In effect, you're letting go of the reins and giving someone else the job of driving the cart.

But as a business grows delegation becomes essential. It's the only way you can free yourself up to concentrate on doing the jobs where you add most value to the business as well as finding time to work ON the business rather than IN it by doing the planning necessary to grow.

A manager who tries to do everything alone is a candidate for high blood pressure and frazzled nerves. With their energy and concentration dissipated across a dozen jobs only they can do "properly", they also run the risk of producing inferior work and losing customers.

According to Gerard Blair, author of Starting To Manage: The Essential Skills, delegation is "primarily about entrusting your authority to others. When you delegate, you give someone authority to act and react to situations without constantly referring back to you".

To illustrate his point he sketched the example of a cleaner instructed to empty bins every Tuesday and Friday. If the bins overflowed on Wednesday, too bad - you would have to wait until Friday for them to be emptied again since that was the instruction.

If, however, you had told the cleaner to empty the bins as often as necessary to maintain health and cleanliness in the area, you would have delegated authority to the cleaner to decide when the bins needed emptying.

Delegation involves more than just assigning someone a job - it means empowering them to use their intelligence and make decisions about how and when the job should be done. Some managers feel they will lose control of their business if they allow anyone else to make decisions. But, as Blair notes, this need not be the case.
If you train your employees to apply the same criteria you would yourself (by example and full explanation) they will be exercising your control on your behalf. And since they will witness many more situations over which control may be exercised (you can't be in several places at once), that control is exercised more diversely and rapidly than you could exercise it yourself.
The sort of jobs you might delegate includes those which you can easily teach or explain to others, and any job in which an employee has more experience or knowledge than you.

Don't make the mistake of delegating only the boring or routine jobs. If they must be done, distribute them as evenly as possible while spreading the more interesting jobs generously as well by matching specific projects to specific employees with the capability of doing them. This way your employees will remain keen and motivated.

Employees will naturally be more enthusiastic about a responsibility or task if it's something they love to do or want to learn more about. Once you have delegated a task, really leave it to the person you have chosen to do it. Peering over their shoulder and making constant suggestions or criticisms will only intimidate them and negate the discretionary power you supposedly delegated to them. Let them know they can approach you, or someone you designate with the appropriate experience and knowledge, any time they have problems and then let them get on with the job.

That doesn't mean you relinquish all responsibility and control. As a manager you are responsible for the final outcome so you need to set up a formal reporting mechanism, preferably based on some relevant key performance indicators (number of items produced, number of substandard items turned out, etc.) that allows you to stay in contact with how things are going.

While delegation may sound scary, properly implemented and with the understanding that short term errors will result in long term gains, it will take off some of the pressure and provide you with more time to get the important things done.

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