Ten Tips for Effective Delegation

Fifteen years ago, my friend Brett quit his restaurant job and bought 100 acres in Southern Maryland to pursue his dream of organic farming. He’s a skilled farmer: growing the most flavorful tomato varieties, breeding winter-hardy greens and creating a closed loop system by integrating chickens.

With his increasing success in farming and growing customer base, comes the realization that he cannot do everything himself.  Try as he might, there just aren’t enough hours in the day. He’s had to grow his team and learn to delegate more and more tasks to his staff.

Over the past few months, I’ve watched several clients enter this same phase of business growth where they need to start delegating. All the technical skills that got these brilliant entrepreneurs to this phase –– whether it’s how to work the soil, build a customer base, or run a restaurant –– won’t help them get to the next phase of growth. In this phase, they need to transfer their skills and vision to their team, so they can work together to grow the business. The entrepreneur needs to become the CEO.

It’s a hard lesson to learn that you can’t do it all yourself, but finding a way to communicate your goals and priorities to others is a critical skill for an entrepreneur with a growing staff.

1. Decide what you will delegate. If you’re going from operating one restaurant to three, you need to determine which responsibilities you’ll maintain vs. delegating to others. Will you be scoping new sites for further growth? Or maybe you will run the original restaurant and delegate management of the other two? Will you be fundraising for the new restaurants or managing the construction?

2.  Once you’ve decided what you will delegate, clearly define roles and responsibilities. Is this a new job or new tasks for a current employee? Create new job descriptions:

  • What tasks are expected – what exactly are you delegating?
  • What are the skills required for the job?
  • To whom will the person responsible report directly? To whom will they report indirectly?

3. Communicate

  • What are your expectations for how the project/job will go?
  • When do you expect tasks to be completed?
  • At what point should questions be asked?
  • What does success look like?

4. Create feedback loops: don’t just send your employees off and expect things to go exactly as you planned. Check in on a regular basis to make sure things are proceeding as planned, answer questions, and make adjustments as necessary. (But try not to be overbearing!)

As I’ve grown my business, I hired and have delegated to my assistant, Jenny. She also has thoughts on effective delegation, providing a few interesting insights from the other side:

5. Have clear expectations. I’ve found that mind-reading only works some of the time, so if you want a specific result, you have to ask for it! Always articulate the goal, along with any specific details that need to make it in to the final product, and the timeline. If you’re not sure what the end product should look like, ask for a few different options to choose among, early in the process, and discuss which direction is best for the rest of the project. Make sure you confirm the task, goal, and timeline with each other to prevent miscommunication down the line.

6. Build in accountability. Planning regular check-ins lets your employee know there’s support available and ask questions as needed. They also allow you to redirect progress as needed or as your vision develops, and keeps progress chugging along. Adding structure also makes it easier to break a big independent project into smaller steps, with specific goals along the way to keep on track. Sidenote: When working remotely or on different projects, it’s helpful if you identify how you’d like your employees to communicate with you. Do you prefer regular emails with progress reports, phone calls when you’re driving between appointments, or a sit-down discussion on Friday afternoons?

7. Make it easy for someone to help you, and make it easy for them to work independently. Identify resources for your employee to start with, such as last year’s deliverable or the names of a few organizations to reference. That way, they can figure out initial questions on their own and develop a sense of the landscape.

8. Consider their growth: Use tasks as a way to develop your employees’ own capabilities, not just as a way to lighten your own load. The work they spend time doing is an investment in growing your business, and an investment of making your staff more skilled and valuable. Delegation should serve as on the job training that benefits both of you.

9. Play to your strengths. Choose responsibilities to delegate based on your respective talents and aptitude. It makes a lot more sense for an employee to take on a task that’s not your strength and make it her own, than trying to develop a specialized skill set you’ve already mastered. This way, we’re both working on tasks we can excel at, and complement each other’s skill sets. For example, I have no training in accounting, while Julia has an MBA. It’s not a good use of her time to teach me everything she knows, so the financials stay firmly in Julia’s court –– but I can spot a typo from 100 yards and got a perfect score on this addictive color-vision test, so I’m responsible for making the deliverables we produce together read well and look good.

10. Finally, be open to flexibility: the project might not get done exactly the way you’d imagined it, but that diversity and new direction often proves a strength. You can do everything yourself perfectly, or you can grow on to bigger projects.

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