How often do you find yourself complaining about how busy you are? Contrary to popular belief, work overload is not a badge of honor. It’s a sign that your team is potentially mismanaged — that you’re hoarding work while your direct reports are hungry to learn and grow into new responsibilities.
Every small business owner needs to get comfortable with delegating. In addition to delegating work, it’s equally important to delegate leadership responsibilities and strategic vision. It sounds scary, but you know what? Your team is more than capable of making great judgment calls. That’s why you hired them. If they make mistakes, they’ll bounce back. Plus, they’ll appreciate the encouragement while pushing them forward.
Here’s a look at 8 ways to become a more productive and effective delegator:
Utilize Resources Optimally
Teams are powerful — there is strength in numbers, but there’s also power in diversity. Don’t be afraid to use the four magic words in management — “What do you think?” You will quickly learn that your employees can make you a better manager. Sometimes, there are more efficient, more creative and more powerful ways of accomplishing a goal than you may realize. If you don’t ask questions and support your employees, you will never learn. Give employees permission to use their talents. Your team will be better than you alone. Get comfortable with this fact. Embrace it.
Pick the Right Person
Picking the wrong person to complete a task is a major reason for delegation failure. Mismanagement is a common problem in business; we set idealistic expectations and then when things hit the fan we place blame on the employee. It is easy to play the blame game, but don’t — especially if you put an entry-level marketing candidate in front of a senior-level programming job. Instead, look for an employee that has: experience, flexibility, energy, passion, tenacity and technical know-how.
Provide Thorough Instructions and Expectations
People aren’t born with business skills. As much as you want employees to read your mind, it’s just not happening. To effectively delegate, you need to create scalable, repeatable instructions and expectations. Write one set of instructions that six people can use, and you have an instant way of scaling your team. But don’t rely on written instructions alone. Talk to team members to make sure everyone is on the same page. One important caveat: Don’t confuse clear instruction with micromanagement. Micromanaging squashes creativity and will instantly make you the world’s most annoying boss.
Delegate the Entire Role
Delegate one hundred percent responsibility for a task. The more often you assign big responsibilities to the right people, the more competent and confident they become. If it is a newer employee, ask to be notified before major actions are taken (to avoid possible catastrophe). Weekly feedback provides cadence for balancing freedom to accomplish work, while keeping your finger on the pulse of progress. When things go wrong remember: mistakes happen. Encourage your team to work through the situation and be a supportive mentor.
Focus on Learning
When delegating, make sure to prioritize learning — as much as you do the successes of your project. As you hand over greater responsibility through delegation, it’s important to understand that learning new skills often includes making mistakes. Don’t punish employees who make a good-faith effort to do things right. Mistakes are often the source of one’s greatest lessons. At the same time, an employee that is making the same mistakes over and over requires guidance.
Be Realistic About Perfection
Establish a consistent standard of quality and give employees a fair deadline, or time frame, to reach it. Once you establish clear expectations, let them decide how to carry out the project effectively. Perfection just adds unnecessary pressure. Don’t let important details fall through the cracks, but make sure to maintain a stress-free environment where team members can go home and get a good night’s rest at the end of the day.
Keep Tabs on Progress
Delegation does not give you the right to disappear. Periodic follow-ups are crucial. Approach these meetings as checkpoints to see if they have any questions or concerns. I developed 15Five, an employee engagement platform, in part to help business leaders maintain the right balance of distance and personal connection. Be there, and be present. Show that you care, but don’t be overbearing. Keep the feedback channel open so honest insight can flow both ways.
Recognize and Reward Effort
When your project is a success, give credit where credit is due. Treat employees as true partners. Listen to their feedback and respect their ideas and opinions. Give lots of praise, and do it publicly. Feedback and praise will boost morale, but it will also reassure your team that they are going about their business the right way. Position your star performers as role models to your fellow employees.
Delegation is crucial to your success as a leader, and your business’s bottom line. Get used to it, even if the process feels awkward at first. Take a step back, count to 10 and restrain yourself from getting too involved. Better yet, focus on your own independent ventures. You’ll be too busy to meddle with your employees.
If you’re not sure where to get started, just ask your employees. What initiatives would you like to see them tackle? Delegate your delegation!
This article has been edited and condensed.
David Hassell is Founder and CEO of 15Five, a SaaS company with a powerful and simple solution that gathers critical insights from employees in minutes each week, enabling informed management to get the visibility they need to boost engagement and drive alignment across their entire team. Connect with @dhassell and @15Five on Twitter.
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