Meathead Inc. – Delegate This!

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Delegate This!

The situation is a typical one. The tyrannical boss has an important pro forma report due to his superiors by 8AM the following day, however, he also has a 6PM tee time at his corporation’s country club, where he can spend company money sipping $15 cocktails and working on his short game. Instead of canceling his golf outing, he finds the nearest young accountant and gives him the responsibility of completing the report with the threat that if it isn’t both complete and accurate, his job may be on the line. The underling, who depends on his job to pay for his rent and student loans, begrudgingly accepts the assignment, cancels whatever plans he might have, and works until 4AM to complete the report. The next day, when the time comes for the boss to present to his superiors the following day, one of two scenarios plays out: if the report is good, he takes all the credit without mention of the young accountant…if the report is bad, he proceeds to throw the young man under the bus and bellows that “you can’t find good help these days.”

This isn’t what we call good delegation. This, quite simply, is called being a bastard. However, these types of circumstances happen all the time and are precisely why delegation continues to be such a complicated issue for business owners and employees to understand…let alone properly practice.

The business world is full of bad delegators across all industries, who behave and delegate precisely like the prick mentioned above. It's incredibly unfortunate because proper delegation is one of the most important keys to success in any organization and it is a relatively simple process that somehow got stereotyped as “dumping work on employees.” Many managers/owners, because of this stereotype, attempt to do everything on their own rather than maximizing their resources through careful delegation. When this approach is taken, sanity, security and success is greatly compromised. When done properly, it maximizes the potential of the business and allows owners/managers, as well as their employees to experience far greater and more consistent results.

Face it, as an owner/manager, you simply cannot do everything yourself. The business world is far too complex for you to be an expert on everything and there's also the reality of having only 24 hours in a day to get stuff done. You must rely on others to be successful…period! This article is meant to serve as a brief overview on the science of delegation and it's based on my several years of leadership experience, which is filled with many successes and a crap load of failures in both large and small organizations. I hope that it helps you demystify what truly is a very basic, yet very important, aspect of operating a successful company.

Why do we delegate?

Delegation serves three primary functions:

  1. It frees up our schedule to focus on the more critical aspects of our business. Every business has its critical elements that must be accomplished in order for it to be successful. Strategy, money management, marketing, investments, partnerships, etc. are all things that require significant attention by the leaders of an organization – any organization. These things cannot be overlooked OR  pushed aside for any reason simply because the very survival of the business depends on them. That's why it's a tragedy when a supervisor/owner ends up seeing a big portion of their time eaten up by those smaller things that are often trivial when compared to the big picture. Putting stamps on envelopes is not even close to being as important as meeting with a vendor who could help you expand your business. This gets even more disastrous if you actually hired someone to do this for you, but you feel that you must do it in order for the task to be done right (but more on that later). It always pains me to see people who work 60-plus hours a week doing the little things that could easily be delegated. In the end, the big stuff gets sacrificed and the business ultimately suffers.
  2. It is a compensatory tactic that allows us to transcend personal/professional weaknesses. In order to be a good delegator, you must know what you suck at. Your own personal and/or professional weaknesses don't have to be the downfall of your organization. This requires you to be extremely honest with yourself, admit that you have weaknesses and then seek out those individuals who can help your business overcome them. For example, my strengths are people management and business culture. I know how to grow a results-based company that values people and provides great customer service; however, my financial skills are average at best. Therefore, I always seek to hire individuals who have exceptional financial skills to delegate these tasks so the business won't suffer because of my weakness. Do I, for one instant, give up my decision-making authority to these individuals? Not for a moment. I'm still responsible for the quality of their work and the results of the company as a whole; however, what I do gain is superior organizational competency that will lead to better decisions and greater efficiencies.
  3. It improves the overall execution of an organization through shared responsibility and ownership by its employees. I've seen many, many supervisors/owners flounder because they failed to harness the capabilities of their staff to their highest potential. In the end, if you, as the boss, are doing the work of your employees because you don’t have any confidence that they can do their jobs correctly, you don’t have a delegation problem. You have an accountability problem. But more than that, you're denying yourself the results that you could and should be getting. Good employees want to be challenged, they want responsibility, and they want to be trusted. Delegation, when done correctly, gives us the opportunity to give those things to them. Rather than threatening their jobs when giving them tasks in order to force their compliance, try to specifically explain why their responsibilities are important to the business. Let them know that you need their help and make certain that they are appreciated when they do excellent work. Whenever you can illustrate how your staff’s actions create success for the business, which, in turn, means good things for them (promotions, bonuses, sincere appreciation), you almost always win.

Getting Started

We now know why we must effectively delegate, so here comes the hard part...actually putting it into practice. Here are a couple of closing points to help you get started.

  1. Know your business. What are the critical tasks that you must do, without fail, in order to be successful? Are you spending most of your time doing them, or is your schedule dominated by things that someone else could be doing? What are the responsibilities that you know are important, but you never seem to get the time for? Your job as the supervisor/owner is the future of your business; therefore, the majority of your time should be spent on those tasks that will brighten your future. As Stephen Covey once stated, don’t find yourself “in the thick of 'thin' things.” Identify the stuff that is eating up your time and delegate it out.
  2. Know yourself. What are your specific strengths and weaknesses? Are there employees, consultants, or vendors that you could bring in to offset those weaknesses? This can be challenging, but being honest with yourself and admitting that you need help can ultimately save your business and give you a clear picture of what you need to do. Doing a self-appraisal is always a healthy practice; however, don’t be afraid to gather feedback from other sources. Supervisors, employees and mentors can provide great feedback regarding what we are good at and where we need to improve. Ultimately, the results of the business always speak the loudest on how you're doing.
  3. Know your people. What is the caliber of your staff? Do you have confidence that they can do their respective jobs without micro-managing them? What are their unique talents and gifts? Do you have the right people in the right roles, or do you need to upgrade your staff? (For tips on how to hire excellent staff, please see Selecting the Best: Finding those employees that will produce and support your business). Always remember that your staff are not servants. It is best to consider them as “paid volunteers.” They're people who make a choice, each day, to come and work for your business. You can and must hold them very accountable for their results and work quality; however, you must also recognize that the better you communicate, support and appreciate, the better their performance will be.
  4. Execute through following up. Are you disciplined and organized enough to provide great follow up with your employees? When you delegate a task, it is very important that you periodically receive status updates from the individuals that are responsible for its completion. This will, of course, depend on the size and scope of the task, as well as the trustworthiness of the individuals who are assigned to it. I had a mentor once tell me that the secret to great execution was 45 seconds because that is approximately how long that it takes to check on the status of a project with one of your employees. You avoid negative surprises, and potentially avoid disasters, the better you get at this. Prior to a deadline, set reminders on Outlook, or write them down in your planner so that you don’t have to remember everything that you are doing. This does take discipline, but it is well worth it.

In the end, this is all up to you. Delegation can be something that you dread, or it can be something that can take your business to the next level. Please know that in all my years, I have yet to meet a “born delegator.” This is a skill that you must practice and learn. Best of luck to you all and thanks for reading.

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