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Delegate Your Way To Growth

One of the discussions I always have with small business owners is about how “letting go” may actually help them to grow their business.

It is always a difficult discussion because it seems counter-intuitive that you can grow by doing less yourself.

Look, I understand, for someone who has bootstrapped his business as I have, it is hard to reconcile growing your business your way, with getting others to do it for you.

I mean, you’re the one who knows how to do things right, aren’t you? You’re the one who works extra hard when that’s called for. You’re the one who has to figure it out if something goes wrong.

And on top of all that, how can you really trust someone else?

But, I tell them, it’s not a matter of “trust”. You have to create a structure where everybody knows what they are doing and why they are doing it, within a collaborative structure where everyone benefits in some way.

So there is some work involved but it’s worth it because, without the ability to delegate some of your work and responsibility, you cannot grow.

Here’s why:

Imagine my own example, starting an accounting practice and hanging up my shingle.

To start with I couldn’t afford to hire staff, so when clients came to me, I did the work myself.

Think of an 8 hour day (I wish, but then I was younger and fitter in those days!). Let’s say an average client’s work took 16 hours to complete (including final photocopying, writing of letters and mailing). Let’s say on average 1 client a day wanted to meet with me and on average that meeting took an hour and the follow up to their request took another hour.

So, in a week, I would meet with and follow up on 5 clients (10 hours). This left me 30 hours (without a coffee break) to do client work, so I could finish up to 2 client jobs a week.

That’s fine to start with but I’m at maximum. If 4 clients brought their work in each week, after the first week I would be a week behind. After the second week, I would be 3 weeks behind, and after the third week I would be 5 weeks behind, and so on!

So, clearly, I have to bring in other staff. If I did not delegate some of the client work, I would not be able to grow.

But hiring staff and growing also means growth in administration. In the simple example above, I have no time to collect fees, market to and meet new clients, calculate wages, do the banking, make payments and keep the books. If I dd all that myself I’d have even less chance to grow.

Alright, as the business grows I have to hire more staff – you can accept that.

But what about “control”, what about doing it the “right” way? After all, it was my service and experience that attracted clients so I still had to review all my people’s work, didn’t I? Some people were inexperienced graduates and needed teaching as well as extensive reviews of their (often error-laden) work. Others were more experienced and could complete jobs independently but I still had to control quality, right?

So, after hiring more staff and enabling more clients to be serviced because the team collectively had more hours available, I now reduced the time I had available by ensuring that every file was reviewed by me, causing bottlenecks and stress.

And also stopping growth because my staff did not grow in experience and jobs were delayed while I found the time to review them, while I had to find the time to personally meet with every client.

Clearly, I had to delegate responsibility as well as production.

I will tell you how to do this correctly below.




If you think that this doesn’t apply to you in your business, let me ask you this:-

  • If you are in any service business – architect, engineer, financial planner, lawyer – do you fully utilise the skill of your para-professionals or trainees? Dentists for example no longer do a regular clean, their dental technicians do. Some General Practitioners no longer apply wound dressings, their Nurse Practitioners, if they employ them, do.
  • If you are in manufacturing or light industry – do you still supervise every process whether on the floor or in any other way just to be sure?
  • If you are in construction – do you still “help” with the measurements and then go home to keep the books and do the ordering?

Here are two important questions: –

  1. What would happen to your business if you got seriously ill?
  2. Do you feel you can take an extended holiday?

If you delegate correctly you can say “yes” to both questions.

How do you delegate correctly?

First of all, you have to understand some basic principles of delegation.

If you have time, I recommend you read The One Minute Manager by Kenneth Blanchard.

Blanchard created the Situational Leadership model, and you can read about it here.

Basically, the model categorises workers into four groups:

  1. Those that are inexperienced and still puppy-dog enthusiastic
  2. Those that are somewhat more experienced, and beginning to lose their enthusiasm and become bored
  3. Those that have moderate competency and can have variable commitment depending on the task at hand
  4. Those that are very competent and are motivated to do well

The model states that you cannot delegate to everyone in the same way.

The way we delegate is a mixture of providing instructions and direction and providing support and feedback.

If your delegation style was to be “in control” you would probably give a lot of instructions and then provide a lot of support by looking over their shoulders. As you can see, this would be a serious mistake if you are dealing with someone who is highly competent and self-motivated.

Situational Leadership teaches that for each of the four groups, you need to delegate specifically:

  1. For the inexperienced and enthusiastic, delegate with a lot of direction and don’t spend too much time giving moral support
  2. For the somewhat experienced, you still need to give a lot of direction, and because they have become bored or disillusioned, you also need to give high support and encouragement
  3. For those who are moderately competent, you can reduce the detailed instructions but increase the support, particularly in tasks they find uninspiring
  4. For those who are very competent – clearly tell them what the objectives are and leave them to it!

But you also need a structure to practice correct delegation.

You need to create a structure in your business so that people know where to go for direction and rewards, how they can progress in experience and recognition, and what to do when nobody is around – or in other words, how to think for themselves, within their capabilities, for the good of the business.

You can create this structure by developing four areas in your business:

  1. Ensuring that everyone from the bottle washer to the office manager has clear roles and responsibilities – and are measured by them
  2. Providing clear policies and procedures explaining “how we do things around here”
  3. Providing good training on both the above
  4. Developing a strong learning culture

Providing clear roles and responsibilities starts with drawing up an “organisation chart” showing who works where and who reports to whom. Then, each role on that chart must have a clear job description that tells that person what their role is in the business, what they are responsible to do, who they report to and who reports to them, as well as their “job duties” specifying exactly what they do in their day-to-day work.

What this does is to allow everyone to say to themselves: “I am responsible for this in the business. It doesn’t stop me from being flexible and helping others, and it doesn’t stop me from learning new things – but if this doesn’t get done in the business, it’s down to me.”

Some of these responsibilities for those more competent and experienced may well be supervisory or managerial roles, relieving you of those responsibilities.

You need to back up this structure of responsibilities with rewards, financial and non-financial, rewarded after regular reviews and encouragement. The rewards will be what’s appropriate to your business and may range from bonuses to time off to recognition to promotion.

Once people know what they are supposed to achieve in their roles, they need to be clear on how to do it in your business.

Providing clear policies and procedures sets out exactly how their tasks are to be done.

Policies explain the overall “rules” about how you do business. For example, you may have a policy on customer service that starts with something like “The customer is always right” and explains how this applies and how far your business will go to satisfy this.

Procedures are step by step instructions on how tasks are to be completed.

Providing clear procedures means that you can expect predictable results, no matter who performs the task. It means that someone can step into someone else’s place in case of illness. It means that new hires have a set of instructions to follow that are clear and unchanged from the way they see others performing that task. It means you can expand by hiring more people to do that same task. It means you do not have to be there to see that everything is done right!

Procedures can be implemented through a mixture of user-manuals, flowcharts, checklists and even scripts (for telesales or customer complaints, for example).

Good training on roles, responsibilities, policies and procedures will ensure that everyone is fully informed on how to use these resources and are on the same footing about what they mean.

Providing such training, with documented job descriptions and procedures, means that your people will know how things are done in your business, allowing you to relax your need to be present and in control. It allows people to grow into roles, gaining more and more experience in the job, and become independent in their thinking – as long as they meet their responsibilities and objectives – so their independent thinking is all about business objectives.

They can do this if you also develop a strong learning culture in the business.

A strong learning culture means that people like to learn and progress, and gain experience because they are rewarded for behaving that way. It also means that there is less need for direct instruction and less fear of getting something wrong.

A learning culture philosophy is based on issues being “learning opportunities rather than mistakes.”

If a staff member does something “wrong” and is continually punished, they will not learn and they will fear the task and likely make more errors.

However, if the first issue is treated as a learning opportunity, they can learn from it.

To do this, instead of imposing some form of “punishment” (including rude stares!) ask why they made the error and what can they learn from it?

The answer may be that they took short cuts from the stated procedure, or that they nobody had shown them what to do, or even that in their enthusiasm they may have over-extended their real experience.

Once you know this you can make corrections by reinforcing the reasons for, and retraining in the procedures, ensuring that someone is tasked to train them, or honestly discussing walking before running! The learning opportunity is backed up by explaining how not doing it right hurts the business, and therefore everyone in it.

This issue about “we’re all in it together” is also reinforced if you provide a context of the Vision of the business over the whole structure that you develop above.

You need to be clear about your Vision because it provides the “why” of the business – why this business exists – and as a result how each member of the business has a role in fulfilling that “why”. Understanding this results in people talking about “us” and “we” and starts the forming of a common goal.

The Vision needs to show how everyone benefits in small and big ways, from financial reward to job satisfaction to the pleasure of working there.

Having a clear Vision also explains the objectives in the policies and procedures – why they exist to attain what objective within the larger Vision, as well as how each person’s role and responsibilities helps in attaining the Vision if they fulfil their responsibilities.

In summary, you need to delegate to grow your business.

You cannot do it all by yourself. You cannot even do it with workers who all report to you and await your final approval for everything.

In order to delegate to grow your business, you need to:

  1. Understand the right way to delegate;
  2. Provide clear roles and responsibilities;
  3. Provide clear policies and procedures;
  4. Provide training on the roles, responsibilities, policies and procedures;
  5. Develop a strong learning culture, and
  6. Communicate your clear Vision for the business.

The growth of your business isn’t just about the numbers.

You need to create a business model that allows you to grow and expand your way.

Find out more about the six business success factors critical in growing your business by getting our free eBook here.

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See you next month.

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