The transition from working in the business to working on the business
Learning to delegate is a skill many managers—regardless of company size— struggle to pick up and master. This is especially true for entrepreneurs or managers at start-ups whose business is developing faster than their own skills. A rapidly growing start-up means that entrepreneurs will find themselves slowly being faced with tasks or projects that are way beyond their skill sets. When this happens, the entrepreneur or manager then decides it’s time to hire new talent, and this is where the confusion begins.
Usually, entrepreneurs start businesses on their own with a small team—at the start, they’re very hands-on and involved in both the strategy and tactics that go behind running a business. They wore different hats and performed different types of tasks. However, now that the business has expanded and the team has grown and branched out, the entrepreneur finds themselves taking on more of a managerial role, or in other words, working on the business rather than in the business—building effective teams and managing them rather than being only part of one; hiring the right person for the task rather than being the right person for the task; focusing on forming the company’s “bigger picture” rather than being the one who takes action towards that “bigger picture.” The skills required to work on the business can be drastically different from the skills required when working in the business itself—The skills get much less technical. And one of those “nontechnical skills” that are essential to a successful transition yet so many struggle to attain, is “delegating.”
Delegating isn’t a skill to be taken lightly, especially for entrepreneurs going through the aforementioned transition. In fact, this skill is so important that it can be what will help your business expand in the smoothest way possible without compromising on speed or quality of service—CEOs with a knack for delegating actually generate up to 33 percent higher revenue.
So how do you go about learning to delegate?
How to start delegating
With every skill comes a learning curve, and the trick to developing and learning a skill effectively is to simply keep at it.
Tip #1: Choose the right person for the job
So let’s say you’re presented with a task or project that is not in-line with your priorities right now, this is your chance to pass this task or project on to someone else. But who? The answer is simple: the person you think is right for the job.
When delegating a task, you’ll need to make sure you choose someone whose skill set is required to achieve the desired outcome. Delegating isn’t a matter of giving a task at random or to whomever seems available at the time—you also want results, and not just get the task done. Figure our your team’s or employees’ strengths and weaknesses to determine if they’re up for the task, and even better, figure out their career goals and skills they want to improve on or learn. Giving employees tasks or projects that not only play on their strengths but also matches their professional goals can increase their levels of engagement.
Tip #2: Communicate expectations clearly
One of the most important skills many managers and CEOs unfortunately overlook is proper communication, and if you don’t know how to communicate your wants and expectations, then you won’t be able to delegate properly. And one of those things that you will need to communicate is your desired outcome.
When you’re assigning a task or project to an employee, you need to make sure you let them understand exactly what kind of outcome you’re expecting from them. If you just give an employee a task without giving them reasons as to why this task is important and what results you expect from them, then you’re increasing your chances of misalignment—your interpretation of a good outcome will most likely be different from what your employee thinks is a good outcome.
Don’t let your employees decide what a “good outcome” looks like on their own. Make sure you clearly tell them what you expect instead of ending up with an outcome your employee thought you wanted.
Tip #3: Share the responsibility, not the task itself
There are two ends of the spectrum here—you have managers who micromanage their employees, or managers who place full responsibility of completing a task onto their employees. As bad as it is to control every single thing your employees do, it’s just as bad just assign tasks, forget about them completely, and relinquish all responsibility that comes with that task.
Instead of leaving your employees to fend for themselves, give them proper resources and authority they can turn to whenever they have a question or need to report progress. This way, the responsibility is share—you, the manager, monitor progress and provide guidance when asked, and the employee takes the action required to complete said task.
Tip #4: Give feedback—and credit—where it’s due
So now your employee has completed a task, but the results aren’t exactly what you expected. What do you do then? The answer: you give them feedback.
Appropriately giving and receiving criticism are two skills to learn on their own, but the best place to start learning these skills is to apply them. It’s important you give your employees constructive criticism so that they can take your feedback and make the changes necessary the next time they perform a similar task. And if you’re brave enough, ask your employees to give you feedback as well; were your instructions clear? Were you able to effectively communicate your expectations to them? Did they find it difficult to understand what the task entailed? Their feedback can help you hone your delegating skills.
And giving positive feedback is just as important as giving negative feedback. If your team managed to complete a task successfully, make sure you recognize that success and credit them one by one. Giving credit to your employees for achieving a task successfully and showing them that you truly appreciate their hard work can make them more engaged and more likely to succeed again in future tasks.
Tip #5: Train your employees to delegate
It might seem odd to teach your employees to delegate too—after all, they’re not the managers, you are—but employees need to learn how to set their priorities as well.
We’ve all heard of the overworked employee or perfectionist who insists on doing things themselves. You may be delegating the work effectively as a manager, but having employees who don’t know how to do that can be just as detrimental to your business—tasks will take much longer to complete, business processes will slow down, and the quality of your services might even begin to deteriorate. All because some employees decide to do all the heavy lifting when they could share the responsibility amongst their coworkers.
Training your employees to effectively delegate themselves can move things along quicker and help improve your business’s agility.
One aspect of this skill that can be so difficult for many to understand is the letting go of the idea that “only I can do it well.” It’s natural to see your employees taking up to two hours to complete a task when it could’ve taken you less than an hour—You have experience, they don’t. And while it may be nerve-wracking for you to see your employees take so long, remember that with time, they will learn to do it quicker and much more efficiently.