Learning to Delegate

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I am a bit of a perfectionist. I like things done and I like them done well. One of the hardest lessons I learned was to be able to let go and delegate. Whilst I have become more effective at delegating since running my own business, this isn’t where I learnt to delegate.

Outside of work I have spent many years as a volunteer reserve officer with the Air Cadet Organisation.  I’ve been lucky enough to work with lots of talented people during that time, but it was working alongside experienced RAF Sergeants that gave me my real training in delegation – their guidance and advice was invaluable.  Here are my tips for delegating within your business.

What to Delegate

It is easier to delegate when you fully understand what tasks you can delegate.

As a business owner you are the decision maker, the marketing guru, the sales manager, the bookkeeper and the administrator, as well as many other things. It can be hard to know what you can delegate. People go in to business for a variety of reasons, but often it’s to do something they love and rarely is that their accounts!! You cannot be good at everything so start with the tasks you are less good at, those that require expert knowledge like HR or those you simply don’t enjoy.

When to Delegate

This is a bit of a catch 22 – you will normally need to delegate when you are overwhelmed with work: when you’re getting up earlier, going to bed later, skipping meals and not seeing your friends and family. However, to delegate effectively you need to invest time and often money, especially if you’re the only person in your business.

Frequently, this will come hand in hand with deciding whether you will outsource the tasks or employ a member of staff.  Only you will know what is best for your business and it will depend on the range of skills needed to complete those tasks.  If there are a wide range of skills, you will probably want to outsource services initially until you’re ready to build the right staff team. You may continue to outsource some tasks, for example HR, even after you have employed staff.

How to Delegate

This is where you need to invest some time. Clarify in your own mind what the task is and what steps are required for it to be completed. If it’s something you’ve done before or do regularly, try to put together a flow chart or process document.

Clearly communicate the task and outline your expectations and what you want to achieve. Your way isn’t the only way and if you delegate the task to someone they may not do it exactly how you would do it. That doesn’t make them wrong! As long as they don’t breach any legal or regulatory requirements or put anyone at risk and as long as the task gets achieved on time, it might not need to be done exactly how you imagined it.

Sometimes another person will have a quicker way or a way of doing something that solves a different problem you have at the same time. If you have decided to employ a member of staff, allowing them to determine how best to achieve the task helps them learn and makes them feel trusted.

Establish milestones and agree with the other person how you want to be kept updated and how frequently. When you delegate a task, you are still ultimately responsible for ensuring it is achieved even if you are not the one doing it. Clearly communicate what your role will be, how much independent initiative you expect the other person to have, at what point they should raise any issues with you and what level of decision will be with them and when they should refer to you.

What if it goes wrong?

Sometimes people let you down or don’t complete the task. It can be frustrating, but it’s important not to let that put you off delegating. There are lots of people out there who will exceed your expectations. Review why the task wasn’t achieved – Was it outside their skill set? Did they have enough time? Was the brief clear enough? Review, reflect and apply your learning for next time.

Many people find it hard to delegate. They think it is easier and quicker to get the job done themselves. However, this can lead to less time and increased stress. If you’re running your own business, it can leave you with little time to think about strategies to grow your business or find that ideal client.  Start small, gain confidence in delegating, then do it again.  In the long run it will save you time and gives you greater freedom to build the business you want.

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