One of the most common frustrations for small business owners is a lack of time for strategic work. How can I ever grow my business when I'm in the weeds, working IN it all day long? It can seem like structure is the solution. The truth is, even with solid systems and boundaries in place, you can’t truly let go of the tactical work in your business until you start to delegate.
Delegating is an essential part of the journey to ultimately free yourself from your business’s reliance on you. It not only gives you the time and space you need to work on your business, but it builds a relationship between you and your team based on mutual accountability and trust.
How do you overcome an inability to delegate?
If you’ve never delegated, you need to learn how to do it. This practice can be incredibly hard to implement simply because of your habit of doing everything yourself. But if you ever want to create a business that can thrive without you there, you need to learn what work is not yours to do and how to entrust that work to the most appropriate members of your team.
But delegation doesn’t just mean passing something to an employee and walking away. That’s called abdication—and it’s risky. To successfully delegate, you have to stay accountable for making sure the employee or team who performs the task has what they need to achieve the right results—and ultimately follows through.
What are the six steps for delegating?
1. Identify the tasks or projects you want to delegate
As the owner of your business, your main role is to perform the strategic work of building that business. That presents a good barometer for what work to keep and what to delegate: Does this task or function contribute to the strategic development of my business? If the answer is no, that’s work you want to hand off to someone else. Don't ever delegate the overall result of your position or results that you’ve agreed to do yourself.
2. Decide which member(s) of your team should do the work
A better way to say this is: Decide which position should do the work. Because when you’re considering a task or desired result, you should think in terms of which role—not which individual—should own it. That way, you’ll avoid the tendency to delegate to the same capable person or group of people repeatedly. Doing this not only overloads those trusted employees, but also sends a message to other employees that you don’t trust them to take on anything else.
Every member of your team should have a contract that makes the roles and responsibilities of their work crystal clear, and should make your process of delegating easier.
3. Document the delegation and set a due date
Write down the delegated task and be as detailed as possible. Be sure to include the non-negotiable details in the delegation:
Your desired result
Standards that must be met
Specific due date and time
By communicating your expectations (as opposed to simply handing off a task and telling someone to get it done), you remove confusion and the risk of having your expectations misinterpreted. It also helps your team know what's expected of them, so they can function more independently.
4. Meet with your delegatee to discuss the work and expected results
Part of skillfully delegating is communicating in person. It helps build the foundation for accountability and trust between you and your employees that’s critical to making this work.
When you meet:
- Discuss the task or project goal and how it relates to your company or departmental goals.
- Cover the due date and standards.
- Explain why you delegated this task to them and how it relates to their other work accountabilities.
- Discuss what might be difficult or challenging for them and answer all their questions.
- Decide how you want to mutually handle check-ins.
5. Work with your employee to create an agreement
You can’t count on—nor manage—anything your people don’t agree to do. With no agreement, there’s no commitment, and no commitment will most likely bring the wrong result—if it brings a result at all.
Go into the conversation with a clear idea of reasons why your employee might say no—or want to say no—to the task. Maybe they feel too stretched with their other responsibilities. Maybe they don’t feel they have the training or ability to do the work. The agreement you reach together gives your people the chance to discuss concerns and gives you the chance to adjust the agreement and your expectations.
6. Check in regularly and communicate
Remember, you’re not simply getting rid of tactical work, never to hear about it again. By delegating, you’re still accountable for the success of the task or business result. So honor the check-in agreement you made in your meeting. If you mutually agreed upon a deadline of noon on Friday to complete the task, don’t wait until noon on Friday to find out whether it’s complete. Schedule a check-in time, such as the end of the day on Wednesday, and put it on your calendar. This is called management by regulation, and it can make all the difference in ensuring that delegated tasks achieve successful results.
Establish how you'll delegate work moving forward
If you’ve been working alongside your team and owning much of the tactical work, moving toward delegation can be hard for both you and your employees. You’ll need to exercise a lot of willpower to say no to things you’ve always said yes to, even if it would be easier to just do the thing yourself. You’ll need to build more trust in your team and be willing to let go of things you used to closely manage. And your team will need to get used to your new strategic role in the business. They may resist it at first: They’ll ask questions and may even joke about how strange it’ll be for you to depart from what you’ve always been doing.
So, give your people a vision for how business operations will look going forward. Hold a company-wide meeting or meet one on one to communicate the change: Cover how you plan to delegate and, afterward, how you plan to manage tasks that you’ve passed off.
Most importantly, let them know that this is a new standard that you’re setting, one that’s going to help everyone contribute to growing the business in the most effective way possible.
No matter the type of work you do or the industry you're in, delegation can be a difficult skill to learn, but as a leader, it’s essential to take on that role. By delegating, you’re giving your team the chance to succeed and take ownership of the results, all while granting yourself the time you need to do the entrepreneurial work that your business demands.
If you struggle to delegate and aren’t quite sure where to start, we’re here to help.