The ultimate guide to delegation

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Effective delegation is fundamental to the success of any business. And yet, it continues to prompt discussions about what, why and how to delegate work. The issue is, many businesses see the need to delegate as a problem rather than an opportunity for growth. As a result, they make it about dereliction (reducing their workload, turning down opportunities etc) rather than thinking about how to delegate.

Delegation is a fantastic way to improve productivity and efficiency throughout your entire company – you just need to start by learning what to delegate and what not to delegate. After that, you can focus on producing better results whilst experiencing less stress! So here is everything you need to know about how to delegate effectively.

Do you need to start delegating?

As a business owner, you wear many hats. Not only are you responsible for managing your team, finances and business strategies (to name but a few), you also have your own clients to handle. It’s a balancing act – and one with extremely high stakes. As a result, you end up overwhelmed, working the longest and the hardest, just to stay afloat. Not only is this detrimental to you but also to the growth of your business. So, be honest with yourself:

  • Are you constantly working flat out?
  • Who is the one who opens up the office each morning? Is it you?
  • Are you the last to leave every night?
  • Do you continually worry about your workload?
  • Do you ever ask yourself, why am I the one?

If any of these questions ring true with you, it’s time you learnt how to delegate work – one person can’t shoulder an entire company (despite their best efforts).

How can I get my team to be more productive?

Start by realising that being the one is not a good thing. It might feel good to be the expert, but you are in charge – you own the business, you take all the risks! If you don’t leave yourself the headspace to think about the bigger picture, there’s a possibility your team won’t have a future at all. And if that isn’t a reason to start learning how to delegate work, what is? To maximise the productivity of your team, you have to do two things:

1. Think about what you're in charge of

You are in charge of delegating, motivating, setting direction, praising and developing skills. It might not be what you think you signed up for, but when you employ people, that’s what you get. You might be hoping that somebody will make your life easier, do the bits you don’t like and allow you to carry on producing accounts, and chatting to customers – but it’s not like that!

Like it or not, you now have a team with expectations. They expect you to be a leader, not a worker (whatever they might say).

So which is worse – being the one that works all the hours, or the one that sets direction, focuses their efforts and improves productivity?

If it’s the former, start looking at everything you’re currently doing and work out what to delegate and what not to delegate so that you can be more productive. It’s about your habits and changing habits is hard, so take it one step at a time. Once you become more productive (as a leader, not a worker), then your team will too!

2. Help your team be more productive

Now that you’ve freed up some of your time, you can start putting it to use by helping your team maximise their productivity. To do this, you need to:

  1. Reward your staff. Rewards are NOT just about money. When did you last spend time with them (individually), congratulating them on a job well done?
  2. Look at the WAY they’re working (not just the results) and reward them for that. Sometimes you have to take a step back from focusing on results and, instead, focus on HOW you achieve them. Adopting a method-based approach requires bravery and persistence, but do it well, and you will start to notice greater productivity and, in turn, better results.
  3. Delegate as much as you can….and then a bit more. Give yourself the time to do the tasks only you can do. Your team don’t expect (or want) you to be better at their jobs. They want you to be better at your job!
  4. Focus on the future and involve your team in your vision. Talk to them about it. How are things looking for the future? What goals do you have in mind? What will ensure they (continue to) enjoy working for you?

How NOT to delegate

Successful delegation means that each team member has a set of unique responsibilities, which they are in charge of completing. Hopefully (although you may not want to hear this), they will even go on to find a better way of doing it than you!

If you have delegated well, your team should be more motivated, energised and productive. And as a result, you can use some of the extra time you have gained to work on building and growing your business.

So, if delegation can benefit the whole company, why is it so hard to do it well? The truth is, most people don’t know how to delegate effectively (if they know how to delegate work at all), and so they fall into the HOW trap.

What is the HOW trap?

The HOW trap is when we fall into the habit of telling people how to do the job we just passed onto them. (Surprise, this is not how to delegate work.)

It often happens with highly skilled professionals – they believe their way is the right way, so their team should do it (exactly) as they have. But dictating HOW somebody should do a task usually means they don’t engage with it. Why? Because they don’t feel the assignment is their own. If all they are doing is following your instructions, you aren’t relinquishing control, and they aren’t taking ownership of the job. Refusing to let your team take FULL ownership over your past responsibilities is a classic example of how not to delegate.

If you want your employee to own their role, they have to decide how to get the task done. Your role is to explain what needs to be done and outline the desired outcome – it isn’t to dictate how they should achieve this goal. So start focusing on WHAT rather than HOW. ‘What’ is a leadership word – it’s about direction, rationale and purpose.

4 tips on how NOT to delegate

  1. Tell them exactly how to do the task. Again, this is not delegating. If you have done this, you have mistaken delegation for passing on jobs. Managing each task won’t save you any time.
  2. Don’t explain its importance. If your team member doesn’t understand the significance of their role, they won’t realise how instrumental it is to the business or how much trust you have placed in them.
  3. Keep control by checking up in minute detail every day. Delegation requires you to trust and let go of all responsibility. The trouble is, business owners don’t like to feel they have lost control, so they micromanage instead. Not only does this waste the owner’s time, but it also demotivates your team (and that’s the best-case scenario).
  4. Don’t empower them, just tell them to get on with it. If you’ve just told your team member to get on with their job, you can’t moan when a task isn’t done the way you wanted (especially if you neglected to give them more direction). Instead, think about how you can empower your team to take control, use their initiative and help you decide what to delegate and what not to delegate.

How to delegate work effectively

Delegating does so much for your business! Not only does it free up your time so you can focus on the high-value tasks, but it also improves your team (which makes the firm stronger and more efficient).

Yes, once you learn how to delegate work effectively, your staff members can improve their skills, gain confidence in their abilities, and even become more productive. In turn, they become more invested in the company’s success simply because you’ve given them authority. And as a result, your business can produce better results, successfully reach targets and ultimately grow.

But how exactly do you achieve all that? Start by following these 4 tips to help delegate more efficiently:

  1. Beware of the big trap! Giving support is NOT the same as doing it yourself. You may need to answer questions, show other people that you have faith in the person etc. – but don’t let them delegate the task back up to you. Be very wary of slipping into the trap of doing it for them. Instead, guide them through doing it themselves.
  2. Be inclusive. Where possible, include people in the delegation process. Empower them to decide when to take on further responsibilities and choose what to delegate and what not to delegate.
  3. You might not know best! Your approach is not the only or even the best way (even if it’s served you well for many years). Allow the person to control the methods and processes as this helps to grow confidence and trust.
  4. Build motivation and commitment. Discuss how the business’s success will affect the individual. Whether this is through financial rewards, career opportunities, recognition – whatever motivates them (yes, you may need to listen to them first!). Be wary though, don’t promise things that: a) are not in your control, and b) that you have no intention of delivering.
Best questions to ask in a Performance Review

Remember to hold each team member accountable

Once you’ve delegated a task, you can’t then wash your hands of it – you need to keep the people newly responsible for these tasks accountable. If you don’t, they probably won’t get done. And if you can’t trust that work gets done, what’s the point in delegating in the first place? To avoid any unnecessary back and forth, micromanaging or time-wasting, here is how to hold your team members accountable:

  1. Set Expectations: (preferably jointly!) Before you can hold somebody accountable, you both need to know what they are accountable for. Save time clarifying or arguing over responsibilities by setting clear, agreeable expectations and goals to begin with.
  2. Invite Commitment: Your team needs to commit to achieving those expectations! They are more likely to do this when they understand how the goals will benefit them personally. It’s also beneficial to outline how achieving these targets will help move the organisation forward.
  3. Measure Progress: There needs to be some measure of how well one is doing. Whichever metric you agree upon, use it to evaluate performances and results. That way, you can assess how the person is doing fairly and transparently.
  4. Provide Feedback: Feedback is critical – this needs to cover both good and bad points. The aim is to learn, solve issues and perhaps generate agreed follow-up actions. Again, this is another example of transparency.
  5. Link to consequences: What will happen if the work doesn’t get done? You have to assume there are organisational consequences – otherwise, it can’t be that important! In my experience, this step is significant when understanding the weight of the responsibility but otherwise isn’t widely beneficial.
  6. Evaluate: How effective was the process? Be consistent and systematic. Review how the process has been handled. You cannot hold somebody accountable if you don’t evaluate!

Tips for holding a good accountability discussion

To overview – don’t procrastinate. Have the discussion and remember it’s about both good and bad. The objective is to learn and improve. Think through exactly what is and isn’t true before the conversation, and do so rationally – not emotionally.

Of course, holding someone accountable does not have to be a difficult conversation – they may have completed the task or be working well on it. As a business coach, I hold clients to account in every meeting, and (usually) it isn’t a difficult conversation. Just remind them of their promises to themselves (and you) and ask them how they are getting on.

Start delegating the right way

The aim when delegating is to maximise productivity and efficiency – that is why it is so important to know how to delegate work effectively. When it comes down to what to delegate and what not to delegate, reserve the tasks only you can do for yourself – everything else can be divided amongst the team. As a result, not only will you have more time to focus on the future of your firm, but your team will also learn new skills, gain confidence and feel more motivated.

So, in closing, try to remember these three things: your way of doing things isn’t the only way. Your team should always understand the significance of their roles. And employees that are held accountable and rewarded for their efforts produce better results.

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