As author and leadership coach John Baldoni puts it: “If you want to work 160 hours a week, don’t delegate.” Since time is a business owner’s most valuable resource, effective delegation is a necessity. For leaders, the definition of delegation is deciding what work is your top priority. With this being said, the rest of the tasks you can’t do with excellence must be handed over to a team member who can perform them best. This process increases your productivity, growth, impact, and personal freedom as an entrepreneur.
Research shows delegation is key to growing companies and generating more profit. For instance, Gallup found that the 143 high delegator CEOs on the Inc. 500 list had a 112 percent higher growth rate. In addition to this, they also produced “33 percent greater revenue.”
So, if it’s proven delegation is great for business, why do so few leaders know how to delegate?
What Stops Most Entrepreneurs from Delegating Tasks
- Lack of trust and confidence
- Limiting beliefs such as, “If I don’t do this task, it won’t get done” or “I can do it more efficiently and effectively”
- Problems with control and handing authority over to others
- Fear of being unneeded
- Concern over putting too much work on an employee’s plate
How to Work Through Delegation Roadblocks
It’s important to note that effective delegation is different from directing or coaching employees on how to do their work. Rather than telling someone how to achieve the established goals, delegating provides more freedom in how the person decides to accomplish the goal. As General George Patton put it: “Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.”
Yet, this requires a high level of trust and confidence. When an increase in productivity, products, and freedom are on the line, uncertainty stops most leaders from delegating tasks. However, executives who place a heavy focus on multiplying leaders within the organization create trust and belief between themselves and their team members. Fears subside because a team culture of excellence has already been established.
Here’s how to create the trust needed for effective delegation:
1. Choose the Right Hires for the Company
Developing trust and confidence really begins during the hiring process. Before deciding to add new team members, it’s important to be strategic about who you hire. Filling a position quickly without thinking about how it could affect the business long-term is why many organizations lose hundreds of thousands of dollars every year. For instance, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that bad hires cost companies around 30 percent of the employee’s first-year earnings.
This is why it’s important to pay attention to the overall impact of adding a particular person to your team. Without doing this, delegation and its benefits cannot become a reality. As the father of modern advertising David Ogilvy said, “Hire people who are better than you are, then leave them to get on with it . . . Look for people who will aim for the remarkable, who will not settle for the routine.”
When doing this, ask yourself:
- What void do they fill?
- Are they displaying essential leadership skills?
- What job can they do that you can’t do, aren’t good at or need to hand off to someone else?
- How will they increase productivity and profits?
- What purpose do they serve?
- Are they the right person for the job?
- What about being the right person for the team?
- How do they bring a diverse perspective to the group?
- Do their strengths and weaknesses complement other team members’?
- How does working in their green zone free up my time and also benefit the business?
- What responsibilities could potentially be delegated to this person?
2. Teach Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
Start developing leaders at all levels by teaching employees—no matter their position—how to think critically and develop solutions to problems. Set team members up for success by providing a simple process for problem solving.
When an issue occurs:
- First, have them review the initial goal and strategy. Ask them to look for what’s preventing the goal from being accomplished (bottlenecks).
- Next, help them identify the root of the problem using the 5 Whys method. Have them ask why an issue occurred five times until they understand the fundamental issue.
- After this, show them how to conduct research on the core problem using primary and secondary sources.
- Then, develop a list of well-formulated solutions together based on what was found.
- Before deciding on a fix, walk the employee through a quick decision making process. Show them how to reverse engineer potential outcomes.
- After a decision is made, teach them how to put the solution into motion.
- Finally, have them monitor the outcomes of the new plan.
3. Empower Your Team to Make Decisions
Before delegating and handing over complete authority for new tasks, teach employees how to make good decisions that accomplish established goals. Organically teach team members how to do this by working through the process below.
- Providing 2-3 self-developed solutions.
- Presenting these choices to the employee.
- Explaining which one you’re choosing and why.
- Having the employee select 2-3 solutions.
- Getting them to present them to you.
- Asking them why they chose this option.
- Giving approval for implementation
- Letting them work through a decision on their own.
- Allowing the freedom to implement it without your approval.
- Receiving a report back on how they took care of a problem.
- Repeating the process as needed.
4. Explain “No” or “Not Yet”
Great team players are doers. Through ideas and pitches, they’re always looking for ways to make significant contributions to the company. Yet leaders know the organization can only focus on work that fulfills the business’s just cause. CEOs who handle “no” or “not yet” with grace combat the potential for an employee to feel unheard or rejected. In doing so, they combat decreased morale and engagement.
Continue building confidence, even when the answer is “no” by:
- Earnestly listening to what the employee has to say.
- Taking a moment to first thank and acknowledge them for thinking outside the box.
- Explaining the “why” behind your answer. For example, CEOs have a different perspective on how to achieve the high-level vision of the organization since that is their primary focus.
- Being transparent about the role the employee plays in achieving the company’s collective vision.
- Encouraging the spirit of those who are hungry to serve to the best of their abilities.
- Recognizing their talents and strengths and placing them in charge of tasks and jobs that suit their unique gifts.
4 Steps for Putting Delegation into Action
Once roadblocks are eliminated and the trust required for delegation is established, the process of increasing your time, freedom, and profits alongside your team can begin. Begin handing over tasks by following the simple process below.
1. Decide What Tasks Need to be Delegated
The first step in effective delegation is deciding what tasks others can take ownership of. As a leader, the best way of doing this is by practicing value-driven time management. The “Green Zone, Red Zone” method listed below helps entrepreneurs figure out exactly where their focus should be at work and the areas where team members or contractors can take over.
Find Your Green Zone
Your green zone outlines high-value work that you thrive in. These responsibilities evoke feelings of passion and purpose and help you make the most of every day. For example, this work connects your talents with work that serves the company in ways that no one else can. If a business owner’s green zone is relationship-building, this could look like spending time developing strong partnerships with clients or multiplying more leaders by providing mentorship opportunities.
Get Rid of Tasks in Your Red Zone
In contrast, your red zone defines the areas that are low-value tasks. For example, managing payroll each month is in an entrepreneur’s red zone because this isn’t an area a business owner is most valuable to their company.
Start maximizing your time and value by:
- Writing down any work you dislike or need to say “no” to in order to move into your green zone.
- Identifying what needs to be delegated by making a list of responsibilities that don’t play to your strengths or maximize your time.
- Creating an itemized list of what jobs and responsibilities should be delegated out to others based on the information above.
2. Select the Person Who is the Best Fit for the Job
As mentioned above, making diverse key hires with varying strengths gives leaders options. Most startup owners are used to wearing all the hats when they first open their company, but as a business grows, so should its level of excellence. When delegating, put the right person in the right job—someone who can do it better than anyone else on the team.
Before assigning a task to someone:
- Think about each individual team member’s unique gifts.
- Reverse engineer the outcome of assigning this job to the top three candidates who could take over this responsibility.
- Who is likely to be the most successful and why?
- What does their current workload look like? Do they have time for the job?
- If not, take a look at their current role and consider tweaks to the work they’re doing. For instance, create space for this added responsibility by taking one or more red zone duties off their plate. Minor changes to the work each team member does helps create a more productive, cohesive team.
3. Set Clear Objectives of Success
Once a leader determines the right person for the task, it’s time to have a delegation conversation with the selected employee. Steven Sinofsky, former President of the Windows Division at Microsoft, explains: “When you delegate work to a member of the team, your job is to clearly frame success and describe the objectives.”
Before speaking with an employee, sit down and determine exact measures of success for the task at hand. This can be done by creating clearly defined KPIs or outlining what the overarching goal is, and then having the employee create their own three to five OKRs. Either way, a person needs to know how their performance will be measured.
Setting goals and performance markers are important because it defines what a job well done looks like. Additionally, goal-setting motivates people to fulfill clearly defined objectives. For example, a Harvard Business study found people with unwritten goals are 10 times more successful than those who don’t have goals. The three percent who do have written goals are even more successful—outperforming those with unwritten goals by three times.
After determining the measure of success, meet with the employee to discuss the delegation of the task. Listen to any of their concerns and be open to answering any questions they might have. Additionally, let the employee know how you plan to support them as they take on this new responsibility.
4. Influence Ownership
Delegating a task won’t produce the desired outcomes unless an employee wants to be accountable for the task. One of the key differences between leaders and managers is leaders use influence to get people to fulfill the company’s mission, while managers use authority. When delegating, create buy-in so employees change their mindset around receiving additional responsibilities. Instead of framing it as “more work,” provide “more opportunities” to help employees grow as leaders. Use the strategies below for additional ways on how to influence ownership.
Recognize and Build Up Employees’ Individual Talents
Begin the process of growing new hires as leaders on their first day with the company. Pinpoint their strengths and let them know how they can use their unique gifts to collectively change the world for the better. In addition to this, consistently mentor growth in these areas. As a result, it’ll come as no surprise when a team member is asked to step up in areas where their talents are evident.
Communicate Appreciation and Provide Value
When delegating new responsibilities, build up a person’s confidence by explaining why they were chosen for the job. In addition to this, communicate how valuable they are to the organization, and how this new job signifies their growth with the company. Discuss also how they will be rewarded and acknowledged for success in these added duties. For example, map out milestones, and let employees know what they can look forward to as they work hard in achieving their goals.
Give Team Members the Authority to Do Their Jobs
As the founder of Life.Church Craig Groeschel says, “When you delegate authority, you create leaders.” Simply put, invest in leaders at all levels by teaching your team how to be leaders. This builds trust and lets executives give people authority over their work. Not doing so is an inefficient business model. The point of delegating is increasing productivity and growth. For this reason, empower your team, show your belief in them, and give them responsibilities they feel proud to own. Doing so will build a stronger, trusting team culture in your workplace. It also helps develop scalable systems that don’t solely rely on one person—you—to keep the business flowing and growing.