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How to Delegate: Giving People the Tools for Success

By Maya Dollarhide

Nov. 16, 2017
Business group standing close to whiteboard, solving a business problem
Being able to successfully delegate people is an important skill. (Photo credit): Gettyimages.com/Hinterhaus Productions

Effective delegation can improve productivity, save money, and boost morale.

Delegation is important when it comes to running a business, but it isn’t always easy for owners, who may be used to doing everything themselves, to hand over tasks.

As small businesses grow into larger ones, business experts agree that delegation is a necessary tool to save both time and money. “Delegation is one of the biggest challenges small business owners face, and executing it poorly—or not at all—is one of the biggest reasons small businesses fail,” shares Scott Marquart, founder of Stringjoy Guitar Strings in Nashville, Tenn. “Too many small businesses run on a spoke-and-wheel system, where the person in charge is at the center of the wheel and every employee interfaces with them directly to get their marching orders, to gain approval, or to fix a problem. Ultimately, that puts the business at risk—if the head of the company gets sick or their flight gets delayed and they can't make it to the office, everything grinds to a halt.”

Empowering employees

Delegating work isn’t something that comes naturally to everyone. It is a skill that involves training yourself to empower your employees, and this skill is worth putting into practice over and over again, until the process is seamless. “The trick to delegation is to hire self-starting employees, give them a lot of training and attention for the first few months, and once they're ready, routinely empower them to make decisions,” says Marquart, who manages up to 12 employees at a time.

Using the drip method

Some business owners say it is important to start with smaller tasks at first, before moving on to major job assignments. Jack Anzarouth, owner of Digital Ink Marketing, in New York City, recommends starting small and building up. “I started delegating the less important tasks in my business first, as it’s easier to let these go to other people. Things like following up with clients we already have and doing mundane reporting to them were much easier to let go of than nurturing new clients, which I felt I should take more of an active role in,” he shares. “Eventually, though, I did learn to give these higher level responsibilities to others.”

Anzarouth uses what he calls the “drip method” when introducing new responsibilities to employees. “I only giving them a bit of the new responsibility at first, and then slowly increase it over time. Before I increase the level of responsibility, though, I need to see positive results. Sometimes that just means they don’t make a mistake or don’t miss a deadline for an entire month, but that still counts,” he says. “Once I have ascertained that they’re able to take on the new responsibility without issue, I give them a bit more until they have completely overtaken it.”

Delegators grow

According to a 2014 Gallup Study, out of 1,446 U.S. employer entrepreneurs, 33 percent of those with high “Delegator” talent planned to significantly grow their business, compared with 21 percent of entrepreneurs with lower or limited “Delegator” talent who said the same. The study, as reported in the Gallup News, found that among the study’s participants, 20 percent of employer entrepreneurs with high “Delegator” talent planned to increase their employee base by 5 percent or more in the next year, compared with 14 percent of the participants with a lower or limited “Delegator” talent.

In the study, Gallup identified six key differences between those people with high and low Delegator talent. These ways include, but were not limited to, the ability to relinquish control of projects, use strengths-based approaches, focus on outcomes, not the tiny details of processes, and, unsurprisingly, communicate frequently with their employees.

Using project management systems

Some business owners recommend using robust project management systems, like Asana or Google Drive, to help delegate and organize daily workloads via custom or template workflows that can be accessed by all team members. “You need to document discrete tasks and keep that documentation in an easy to find location. I like keeping referential checklists in Asana for some tasks, checklists that need to be checked off each time for others, and longer documents in shared Google Drive folders for more involved tasks,” shares Joe Goldstein, the operations manager for Contractor Calls, in Pleasanton, Calif. “Don't make the documentations too long-winded, but make sure you cover both the necessary steps and the thinking behind them. Otherwise it's easy for your team members to follow instructions by rote, but miss out on opportunities to bring new value to the task.”

Let team members take ownership

Goldstein says that, when delegating, it is important to be conscious of your team members’ happiness and not just delegate the boring jobs. “Rote tasks like harvesting emails can cause burnout, so be sure to mix in more fulfilling tasks when available. Give them the opportunity to take ownership of their work whenever possible—it can lead to better employee satisfaction and better results,” he adds.

Another way to boost morale while delegating in the workplace is to remember that everyone from the mailroom clerk to the president needs to work well together and take pride in their individual work. “The more ownership your employees take in your business or their job within it, the more effective they will be, with less management or oversight. One final trick: whenever possible, delegate to teams instead of individuals. As the SEALs say, ‘Individuals play the game, but teams beat the odds,’” says Marquart.

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