The art of delegation

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The art of delegation is about showing confidence in your staff, and your ability to hire the right people. Leading people by the hand means two of you are doing the work of one.An inability to ‘let go’ is probably one of the biggest threats to the growth of your business. Sure, the daily pressures of building your business, generating sales, keeping an eye on operations and cash flow are important, but the failure to show faith in your staff by delegating responsibility is a far bigger obstacle.The good news is that this is a natural response and many passionate entrepreneurs believe there is no one better to do the job than themselves. The bad news is that this is short-sighted and probably a hindrance to growing your business.By delegating operational tasks, you are freed up to keep your eye on the bigger picture and to orchestrate the activities of your staff. What’s the use of employing people if you’re not going to allow them to help you get the job done?

Richard Branson provides some real gems in this article in which he explains how he has managed to build a business empire without getting stuck in trying to manage every aspect of the operations.Here are some of the key lessons:

Hire the right people: If you don’t have confidence in the people you’ve hired to run certain aspects of your business you have to question whether you’ve made the right hiring decisions.Promote from within from day one: This is not about moving people up in the organisation, and speaks more to showing confidence in people and their suggestions on how to do things more effectively. By allowing staff members to try their ideas, you are empowering them and giving them the freedom to contribute to your growth - and allowing yourself to step back from those processes.

Empower by supporting: This stepping back does not mean leaving employees to fail. By stepping back you have greater capacity to support your staff through encouragement and making resources or your expertise available so that they can succeed. There is nothing more discouraging than being told to ‘go for it’ while still wanting to control every aspect of an employee’s activities.

Truly take a step back: Once you gain the confidence in your staff’s ability to get things done without you looking over their shoulders, remove yourself - physically if you can - from the operations so that you can take care of the bigger picture. Step in where needed or asked to, but focus rather how you can use these resources to reach your business goals instead of leading them by the hand.

Key take-away: The art of delegation is about showing confidence in your staff, and your ability to hire the right people. Leading people by the hand means two of you are doing the work of one.

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9 comments
    It's always a struggle for small business owners to decide when you should delegate. For some the business comes with employees. But for many who found a start up it is always a challenge to figure out when you should hire employee number one. And then employee number two. And what do you with them? Delegation is great but you need to be delegating to someone who costs less than you and frees up your time so that you can focus on things that add more value to your business. Otherwise it is not a cost effective decision and you should either keep doing the same things yourself or you should consider outsourcing the tasks to a third party service provider rather than hiring an employee. For us we have found it much more cost effective to delegate to third party service providers rather than take on full time staff with a large fixed overhead and all the regulatios that go along with staff. So for me delegation is not just about delegating to employees. It is about delegating tasks or responsibilitis to third parties who could be employees or probably more appropriate third party service providers. The benefit of outsourcing to third party service providers is that it is cost effective (you only pay when you need them) and they are usually experts in their fields (so you get an expert for every task rather than an employee who might be good at one thing but not so good at something else). You might pay a bit more in margin for the service provider (not always in this competitive economy) but often their costs are lower as well as they have economies of scale that you do not - so you end up with a less expensive resource who is an expert in the area where you need the help and you only pay them when you need them.
    I have noticed especially in this digital age that more and more companies are outsourcing work to freelancers asand when a project calls for it. This not only cuts overheads but often allows you to deliver a professional service without the complications and costs of staff. What is your take on hiring vs outsourcing?
    There is merit in both hiring and outsourcing and it really depends on your business the sector the task the skill required and the sensitivity of the task. In most cases tasks that are not core to your business can be outsourced to third parties. For example if you are a hairdresser you require staff with the skill and qualification in hairdressing to be working your clients' heads... However you can easily outsource the laundry service for towels and bibs etc you can outsource the cleaning of the hair salon...
    I agree with David at the early stages of a start up it is difficult for business owners to let go of their businesses... Most business owners tend to work in their business instead of working on their business. I have come across businesses that literally come to a standstill when the owner is not around. Every entrepreneur needs to get to a point that they can hire someone they trust to handle certain tasks... The aim is to start small make baby steps... Start with all the non-core functions and tasks. Admin for example is a bug bear many entrepreneurs and I am yet to meet one that enjoys completing admin tasks. There are many people out there and who don't cost much that you can outsource your admin to... Then work up to more critical tasks
    I think most people can delegate. And I think most people understand that accountability for that task now goes to someone else. But what I think a lot of people don't realize is the new sets of skills that they must use now as the manager of an employee or contractor. It requires a lot more attention to communcation. Of course you need to communicate the task and establish clear expectations for the task as well as deadlines. But the way you communicate now counts for a lot. You need to communicate clearly but with emphathy and sympathy but with firmness and clarity. You now need to motivate this other person to do the job as well as you did the job yourself.
    Communication is a two way stream... I have worked with people who do not communicate when an instruction is not clear to them or when they encounter challenges when executing the task. Some people think that their questions are stupid and they don't want to embarrass themselves by not speaking up. My experience in these situations is that everythings ends badly... Your role as a manager is to encourage your people to ask questions no matter how stupid it seems to them. Also encourage people to speak up as soon as they encounter challenges and not wait until a deadline is missed or any other calamity occurs. It is part of building trust...
    So you ownyour own business and you know how you like your business to be run. Not only do you know how you like your business to be run but you also know how to run your business effectively. A person who does not know as much about your business as you do such as an employee may not know the best way to accomplish tasks that you would normally perform. Therefore delegating certain management tasks to employees does pose a risk to your business. I think this is the fear that most business owners have what steps can you take to ensure you have the right person for the job?
    Will you ever find the right person? No one can replace you. And one of the keys to delegation is to know that your version of perfect is not necessary the only version of perfect. When we started our first wine business I developed the wine label which won an award for best wine label in South Africa a couple of years later. I was quite content with my work. But then we met a graphic designer who presented us a proposal on our label which just blew my socks off. It wsa so much better than my label. Fast forward a year or two and I designed our first web sites. I was pretty happy with them. The graphic designer was now part of a larger company that did web sites and they pitched us a spec proposal to revamp our web sites. Again blew my socks off. They did a much better job of the web sites than I could ever have done. Admittedly the content remained ours and we had a lot of input but the end reasult was 10x better than what we could have done by ourselves. We had to let go of control - to trust the expertise of others who were better in their field than us. By letting go we got a better product all around because we were prepared to accept that the vesrion we were happy with was not the only version possible and that better versions existed elsewhere. So while we provided the content (because we knew our business better than anyone else) they provided the technical skills and an outside view that made our business better.
    Hiring the right people is an art in itself... As a small business owner you may not afford to pay the fees of a recruitment agent that may assist you to shortlist the right candidates for your vacancy. My advice is to turn to your network. As an entrepreneur you should have a vast network that you can tap into when the need arises... LinkedIn is a great tool to search for talent. Once you have searched for the skills and experience you are looking for you can see if anyone in your network knows the individual. So you can do reference checks on the individual even before contacting them. Endorsements on LinkedIn are also a good place to start... You can contact the individuals that have endorsed the potential candidate. This is contraversial but poach talent from your competitors... You can do intel on your competitors and find out if they have the type of individual you are looking for... At least the person is familiar with your industry and the job for which you require them.