The what and how of delegation

As an owner of a growing business, one of the greatest challenges can be delegating. Afterall you started the business, you know how best to do things and you want everyone to do the things the way you do, right?

I know your pain and I meet people every day who are struggling with the same issues. Through my experience, I can fully appreciate the concerns and reluctance to delegate and it took me years to be able to do it well and I would say that I still could have been better at it. However, I did learn a few tips along the way and these are the things that made it easier for me and the people who worked for me.

You need more time, you are struggling to get everything done and you know you need help so what do you do? Whether you decide to employ some extra people or outsource some work you are still going to be giving up an element of your control. And that is a scary thought!

You start thinking; ‘Do I really want to take the time to explain this to someone else?’ ‘Or would it just be faster to do it myself?’ ‘It’s so complicated will they be able to pick it up?’ ‘I love doing social media posts and engagement won’t I will miss it if I give it up?’

To one extent or another we all have these feelings and the reason, you feel like this is primarily that it often involves giving a colleague or outsourced contractor the right to make decisions that are officially tied to your business and for which you are ultimately responsible. It matters to you but you also know that you need to find a balance between working in the business (and the 18 hour days) and working strategically on the business and looking at ways to grow and improve.

I have come up with a few tips on what to delegate and how to delegate. Both are equally important and it is worth reading to the end to make sure you don’t miss any good stuff 😊

My first recommendation is that you take some time to think about the tasks you have and how they sit in the overall processes of your business. No task should be given away lightly and you should always have a clear picture of what you are expecting to be achieved when you do and communicate this to the person you’re delegating the task to.

The What

  • Tasks you aren’t good at – Recognise that sometimes other people are better at things than you are and allow them to take those tasks from you. If something does not fit your, let’s say, own speciality, maybe it is the perfect task another person. Ask yourself if you are the right person to be doing this task? Or would someone else be better?
  • Simple tasks that are so small they seem simple and easy but they add up. They may only take a few minutes but they end up taking you away from other work or from the workflow you are in or even more strategic work. For example, registering for a meeting or event, adding it to your calendar, on their own each of these things may not take much time, but taken together, they all add up. These tasks make you feel productive but often you have just used up time.
  • Boring tasks that used to be fun but now drain your very lifeblood – these should go ASAP assuming they are not a legal requirement. Nothing demotivates you more than these sorts of tasks.
  • Learning tasks – that can add value to the skill set of the individual. You may feel you are the expert in using your highly complex spreadsheet but having someone else in the business with the same skills can be a huge asset and they may even pick it up more quickly. People love to learn and you’ll be amazed at what other people can achieve when given the opportunity to learn.
  • Repetitive tasks that are relatively simple probably are not the best use of your time. Very straightforward tasks can (and should) be handled by anyone but you. Running regular processes or updates, month-end calculations or sending out mailings for example. As an alternative to delegating you may want to look at automating these tasks.
  • Time draining tasks – we all know the ones where you end spending half your day just trying to remember how to do them. This is a productivity killer so the sooner you delegate these the better. Often, we don’t delegate tasks like this because we don’t want to share the pain of them, but if you choose wisely you may find that your pain is someone else’s ‘happy place’.
  • Regularly scheduled tasks that trigger a set of procedures are always good to delegate as long as you explain the whole process to the person so they can fully appreciate the outcomes required.
  • Tasks that others enjoy doing – know your people well and find tasks that they will enjoy and have fun doing. These won’t come up all the time but every so often can really help their motivation.

Remember that you don’t have to get involved in everything and things can be done just as well and often better by other people. Sometimes they might take a little longer in the beginning or need more support but at least you are no longer performing the whole task and with good training and coaching they will get there.

It may feel like it is easier to do things yourself but ultimately if your business is growing without delegating you will rapidly become overwhelmed and ineffective and so will might business.

The How

Once you have decided what to delegate you must make sure you are communicating clearly what you expect and what needs to be done.

Are you clear that the person you are delegating to has the following;

  • An understanding of the task – Don’t be afraid to spend two or three minutes asking questions of an employee’s understanding of the task.
  • Knowledge of why the work or task is important – giving a full understanding of how the task fits into the bigger picture will help performance. Where possible make it a whole task not part of a task.
  • The required skills to finish the job satisfactorily – Be clear on what your expectations are and that they feel they have the skills to meet those expectations.
  • The tools and resources needed – Ask them to detail what they need to assess if they need additional resources.
  • The support for dealing with any challenges – Agree on how they will communicate if they have a problem and how you will support that.
  • The desire to want to do it – Matching the task to the individual is really important here and assessing the person’s willingness to do the task (rather than just please you or be seen to be helpful).

Effective delegation is not just offloading basic tasks and menial work, it is about matching the demands of the task with the skills, experience and workload of the person you have chosen to take over. This is can be an area where outsourced consultants can really excel as they will be clear on what it is they can do for you and you will effectively contract that work. However, they may not be willing to grow the role and you may find as your business grows the contract is no longer fit for purpose. Employees are more likely to be looking for opportunities to develop and grow within the business and so actually also benefit themselves. Whichever option you find works best for you it is essential that you build a strong relationship and communicate clearly and regularly as required.

Great leaders use delegation as a way of developing colleagues, by making different decisions about what to delegate, who to delegate to, and how to handoff the delegated work.

Over a long period of time, effective delegation should give the leader more time for other matters and boost the competency and capability of their individual team members.

For me, delegation is an ongoing focus but the more I delegated the more time it ultimately afforded me to spend on strategic elements and the development of my teams. It’s not easy but if you keep working at it, it will be worth it.

Mhairi Richardson
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Mhairi Richardson

Mhairi specialises in coaching teams to help them achieve more and improve their wellbeing. Her focus is on building trust within the team and a combination of coaching, mentoring and facilitation and she can tailor the program to the needs of your business. She enjoys working with newly formed teams, established team or teams who just feel they should be achieving more. Mhairi is also a coach with a strong SME background, a focus on the detail, a high level of emotional intelligence and a strong desire to develop talent and grow high performing teams.