A fine balance: The art of delegating and why you should practise it

When you lead a team of one, you have only yourself to rely on. As your team expands, knowing how to assign responsibilities is fundamental to your company’s growth. Delegating doesn’t simply free you up to focus on taking your business to the next level – it empowers your team to support you on that journey. Or, as Jeffrey Pfeffer, Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business put it, “Your most important task as a leader is to teach people how to think and ask the right questions so that the world doesn’t go to hell if you take a day off.”

Google ‘How to delegate’ and you’ll unearth over 41 million links flush with inspiration, step-by-steps and encouraging wisdom. Yet, even with all this information, delegation is still a skill that many small business owners struggle with.

Use simple strategies

According to the late London Business School professor, John Hunt, only 30 per cent of managers believe they can delegate well, and of those, only one in three is considered a good delegator by their team. So what’s the trick to upping your skills?

In her book Work Less Do More: The 14 Day Productivity Makeoverauthor Dr. Jan Yager's method for effective delegation, based on research and observation, involves seven simple steps including:

  • Choose what tasks you are willing to delegate
  • Pick the best person to delegate to
  • Trust those to whom you delegate
  • Give clear assignments and instructions
  • Set a definite task completion date and a follow-up system
  • Give credit
  • Delegate responsibility and authority, not just the task.

“When you try to do everything yourself rather than appropriately delegating tasks that others can do (sometimes even better than you can do them), you slow yourself and your company down, as well as potentially sacrifice the quality of your services or product,” Yager says.

Delegating well will empower your team members

Delegating well empowers your team to help you grow your business

Persist through the learning curve

Scott Dawkins, Financial Adviser and founder of Griffin Financial Services, has experienced first-hand the transition from sole operator to delegating manager. He launched his business in November 2014, and hired his first team member just four months later. Since then, he has expanded to a team of four, and learnt valuable lessons along the way. “Being a manager is much more challenging than being an adviser. Those challenges are around the transitions, from being the key dependent of the business to having the business become less dependent on you,” says Dawkins.

“At the same time, you have to be able to let go, and that means sometimes letting staff make their own mistakes. The three things I’m always looking at are to automate, eliminate, delegate.”

When it comes to mistakes, Dawkins says that at the beginning, you can't always expect a job to be done as well as you might do it yourself. "With new staff, there’s a commitment of time, energy and resources required to make sure they understand what’s required and how it’s measured,” he says. “Down the track, it’s much easier to delegate because you know your staff understand the process."

Successful delegation may require you to dedicate time and energy to help your team learn 

Successful delegation involves putting in the time and energy to ensure your team members understand what's required.

Monitor, don’t micromanage

Checking in with your employees to ensure tasks are progressing smoothly is important as a manager, but there’s a fine line between monitoring and micromanaging, which undermines the point of delegating.

John Besson, writing for the Harvard Business Review suggests evaluating who in your team is the best fit for a task, so you can delegate with the confidence to give them autonomy.

“Which team members are highly capable and can be stretched to take on more responsibility and operate more independently? Who are the talented people that, although green in their roles, can get up the learning curve quickly with coaching and guidance?” he asks. “Use this information to plan your delegation strategy and re-shape your team.”

He adds that it’s important to define key milestones, check-in points and expectations for communication along the way. “Many managers deputise a staff member to monitor due dates and key deliverables on their behalf so things don’t fall through the cracks,” says Besson. “They also incorporate follow ups on major initiatives into regular team staff meetings and create metrics that help the team know if things are on track.”


Make tasks measurable and meaningful

There's no denying that communicating clearly with your team about what's required is essential when it comes to mutual understanding. "It’s a good idea to have clear reference – a system in place – so you can make sure everything’s ticked off," says Dawkins. Being able to define the successful outcome of a task helps clarify whether it's been done well or not.

Still, Dawkins believes that the key to inspiring your team to achieve great results is about connecting your vision to the task you’re delegating. “The starting place has to be clarity around the role and function, but it’s not just about telling them what to do, but why it’s important,” he says.

“Explain how the task helps, or demonstrate why it’s meaningful and what its vision or purpose is. If the purpose is simply to make money, that’s not very inspiring – but if they can see the value in what you’re doing and the impact that can have, they’re going to engage.”




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