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Why delegation is critical to your success

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If you’re the kind of person who is motivated to run their own business, you’ve probably got a good dose of confidence and self-belief. Whether you had an idea for a new business that you’re now making a reality or you saw the potential in an existing business that you’re busy turning into something greater, you’ve got your own vision. 

So it wouldn’t come as any surprise to me if you said that you find it hard to delegate – many entrepreneurs do. When it’s your ‘baby’, the temptation to want to make every decision yourself and micromanage every area of the business is huge. I know, I’ve been through it myself! 

But if you look at your business and what it requires, then think about yourself, your capabilities and where your strengths lie, you’ll realise that:

1. you’re not the best person to carry out many of the essential jobs and tasks integral to the running of the business, and 

2. with the best will in the world, you’re not superhuman and there aren’t enough hours in the day for you to cover everything. 

One of the biggest challenges every business owner faces is establishing a structure that enables them to work on their business, not in it. When you’re caught up in the (albeit necessary) daily tasks, it’s too easy to let time go by and suddenly realise you’re stuck in a rut. You’re so busy trying to get everything done that there’s no time left to make things happen. You need to free up your time so you can put your energy into developing the business and driving it forward from the helm…not the stationery cupboard!

There are two elements to this: delegation & outsourcing. In this article, I’m going to cover delegation, which is the first step and the first skill to master. (You can read ‘Outsource to accelerate your business growthhere.).

“No person will make a great business who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit.” – Andrew Carnegie

There are three key reasons you need to delegate if you want your business to succeed and grow:

1. To cover your weaknesses. You can’t know and be good at everything, so you need to delegate roles and tasks to people who can fill your skill and knowledge gaps.

2. Make sure you’re using the best person for each job. In order to make the best use of your time, you need to delegate certain roles and tasks, not because you can’t do them, but because it makes better business sense to have someone else do them while you focus on the areas where your efforts are more valuable.

3. To enable your business to expand. You can’t possibly scale up a business if you’re trying to do every task and make every decision yourself. You need to delegate roles and, importantly, responsibilities to other people.

I make it an absolute business priority to focus only on the activities that are the best use of my time. So when something needs to be done, I ask myself two questions:

1. Regardless of how much I might enjoy it or how well I might do it, can I delegate it to someone else who can do it better, faster or cheaper?

2. Would delegating it free me up so I can spend more time on business development, working on my health and fitness, pursuing my hobbies or relaxing with my friends and family?

If the answer to either of those questions is yes, then I delegate!

Delegation is leverage

In 2014, Gallup released the findings of a study they’d conducted over a number of years, with the collaboration of 2,500 entrepreneurs. One of the key things they found was that you undeniably have a greater chance of success if you stick to your core strengths and natural talents. As such, you have to delegate.

Other People’s Time is undoubtedly one of the best things you can leverage in order to grow your business. By delegating jobs, responsibility and tasks to the right people, you can increase productivity and profits exponentially. 

This isn’t about ‘using’ people; this is about empowering them to take on tasks that best suit their capabilities, leaving you free to get the maximum return on your own efforts. And it’s a mutually beneficial relationship: you and your business benefit from the work others do for you, and they benefit by being able to grow and develop their abilities while receiving pay and credit for their achievements. 

So, if delegation is this great thing that enables your business to develop and grow, allows you to make the best use of your time and skills and gives the people in your team the opportunity to reach their full potential, what keeps so many people from doing it?

Why people avoid delegating

  • They don’t know how to. When you’re new to being a business owner, it can seem foreign to delegate, especially if you’ve never had to delegate in your previous jobs. Even if you have delegated before, when it’s your own business, suddenly it can seem like a very different proposition.
  • They’re too busy. Ironically, it’s often the people who need to delegate most that tell me they’re too busy to find the time to do it! But if you’re going to make changes in your business, at some point you need to get off the wheel.
  • It’s too much effort. Delegating properly means understanding and defining the job that needs to be done, finding the right person to do it and then managing and nurturing that person until they’re comfortable with what they’re doing. You won’t always get it right first time – and neither will they – so it’s not a quick fix, particularly in the early stages of a business when you’re likely to be the one on the front line yourself. 
  • They think they’re the only one who can do the job properly. This is probably the one entrepreneurs struggle with the most. But it’s important to understand that just because an employee does something differently, it doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t do it well. Mistakes might be made a first, but that’s just part of the learning curve and you have to give people a chance to learn and improve.

Any number of these reasons can combine to make delegation seem such a pain that we fool ourselves into thinking it’s better, quicker and easier to do the job ourselves. That’s the short-sighted approach and you’ll never build your business unless you appreciate a few truths:

  • Delegation isn’t a quick solution
  • If you don’t delegate, you won’t grow
  • Putting effort into recruiting the right person is key
  • People learn and do things differently 
  • Your way is not the only way
  • You’re playing the long game, so taking the time to get the right people in place today will pay dividends in the future.

“If I can do it myself, why should I pay someone else to do it?”

That’s something I often hear from clients in coaching sessions when we’re talking about delegation. More often than not, people think they’re saving money because they’re not actually handing over any cash, when that’s usually a false economy.

You might have heard of the Theory of Comparative Advantage, developed by political economist David Ricardo in the early 19th century to explain why countries engage in international trade, even when their own workers are the most efficient at producing every good. His theory held that countries should focus on producing the goods they can produce well with less effort, then import the rest – and that theory can be applied just as well to our personal productivity.

I show clients how they can use the concept to decide which tasks are the best use of their time and energy and which they should therefore delegate. I love watching the penny drop and seeing their brain get right to work on applying it to their business.  

Here’s an example to illustrate that doing everything in your business yourself really isn’t saving you any money: 

Let’s say you run your own corporate training company and can earn £100 p/h delivering training sessions to executives. Meanwhile, the business also needs someone to book venues, print materials, invoice suppliers, maintain a social media presence, etc. Why on earth would you do all the admin yourself, when you could pay a personal assistant £12 p/h to do it, leaving you free to do more of the £100 p/h work? 

The P.A. will quickly become faster and better at their tasks (thanks to specialism and muscle memory from repetition), while you also become more skilled in the delivery of your training. 

Think of it like this: if you do everything yourself, for every hour you spend doing a £10 p/h task, you’re ‘losing’ £90 p/h and depriving yourself of the opportunity to get better and more specialised at what you do best! Can you really afford to lose that much money? 

Let’s say you spend an average of 3 hours a day doing £10 p/h tasks. In just one year, you’ve potentially haemorrhaged £67,500 (£90 x 3 x 250 working days) in lost income. That’s enough to employ an assistant full time to take care of all the £10 p/h tasks and leave you almost £50,000 to put in the bank.

So, if you think that you don’t have enough money in your budget to hire any help, sit down and put a value on all the tasks you do and then look at where your time is best spent. Once you learn the real value of your own time, you’ll realise that, far from saving money by doing everything yourself, you’re probably costing yourself way more in lost profits by being stuck in that mindset.

The benefits of delegation

With every change you make, you should feel and see the benefit. While you might find it hard to let go of tasks and trust other people with various aspects of your business, once you learn to delegate properly, you’ll be amazed at how much lighter you’ll feel. When I was able to stop working in my business every day because I knew it was in safe hands, my life changed. I was free to move forward with other things and make more choices about what to do with my time. 

Here are 5 very real benefits of delegation: 

1. You can get more done in less time

There are only 24 hours in a day. Assuming you’re sleeping, eating, exercising and taking time to just stop and take a breath every now and then, there are actually way fewer than that in your working day and, if you own a business, the list of Things To Do is endless. 

Working on your own, you’ll quickly get completely overwhelmed but, if you delegate and leverage other people’s time and effort, you can finish more jobs in a shorter period of time. If you’re running your business efficiently, you should actually have the right number of people for the right amount of work, meaning everybody is using their time effectively and nobody is overwhelmed.

2. If you help others learn and develop, they’ll rise to the occasion

This is a key benefit – more than that, I believe it’s your duty as a business leader. When you delegate tasks, try to have a mix of people who can already do what you’re asking and then some who are capable of learning new skills. Broadening an employee’s knowledge and skill base helps them feel valued and more self-confident and your business will gain a more versatile employee.

It may take a little time to get someone up to speed on a new role but it’s worth investing in training the right people, who will give back to the business over the long term and repay your investment in them many times over.

As your business grows, you can encourage your people to take greater responsibility, foster teamwork and build layers of management through mentorship. In my experience, the more ownership you allow people to have over their work, the more motivated they are to do well and the more loyal they become. So share your experience and knowledge, and allow people to have a level of autonomy in their work. 

“As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” – Bill Gates

3. Your stress levels should reduce

When you’ve got too much to do, feeling stressed is almost unavoidable and that can have a hugely negative impact on your productivity as well as your overall health. But if you can delegate to the right people to take tasks and decisions off your hands, that will give you more time to think, plan and focus on the tasks that come more naturally to you.

4. Your profits should increase exponentially

As your business grows and you recruit more people to your team, points (1) and (2) have ever-more impact. And with more getting done, a happy, skilful and motivated team taking care of most of the day-to-day running of things and you focusing on other tasks to drive the business forward, profits should be rising. Yes, of course there is a cost to having staff but if you’ve recruited well and they’re being properly managed, their productivity should pay dividends.

5. It gives you time freedom

This is the ultimate benefit of delegating and having a team of effective, trusted people working in your business: it frees up your time. Because you don’t have to be there every day, you can do other things to improve your quality of life.

Delegation allowed me to give greater priority to my life outside work. I used to be frazzled, tired, stressed, irritable, overweight and – I’ll be honest – not very present for my family, and it was largely because I was on a treadmill trying to do everything myself. Once I got a proper system in place and learned how to leverage other people’s time and energy effectively, it allowed me to focus on the things I should have been prioritising all along: nutrition, fitness, getting a good night’s sleep and, of course, spending time with my loved ones. 

“What’s important is that you have a faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them.” – Steve Jobs

The dangers of not delegating

The inability to delegate is one of the main reasons that businesses don’t scale up and ultimately fail. While it’s very common for owners of start-ups to try to do everything themselves, as the business grows it can only prosper with division of labour. If you don’t delegate, you limit the potential of your business to your own strengths and weaknesses – and your own time. 

Here are some of the consequences of not delegating:

  • Productivity is limited to what you yourself can accomplish
  • As your responsibilities and number of tasks increase, you’ll become overwhelmed and burn out, which could have catastrophic consequences for your health and family
  • If you’re always stuck in the minutiae of the business, you can’t be a good leader. To lead well, you need to be able to step back and see the whole picture.
  • You won’t have the time or energy to give the high-value work enough attention
  • If you micro-manage and don’t let people get on with their job, they’ll become demotivated
  • If you’re overworked and stressed because you’re trying to oversee everything yourself:
    • you’ll foster a bad atmosphere at work
    • you won’t have time or energy to develop your team 
    • you’ll make more knee-jerk decisions, which are unlikely to be good ones.

Top tips for how to delegate effectively

Delegation is a process that relies on good planning and effective communication. Not everyone’s naturally good at it so, just like most other things in life, you might need a bit of practice. 

I’ve spent 20 years working in the business and corporate world. In that time, I’ve learned a lot of hands-on lessons about the right and wrong ways to delegate, so here’s some advice on how to delegate like a pro:

1. Know what you need. Bear in mind that might be different from what you want! Look at the job that needs doing and put together a list of skills and attributes that the right person for it needs. 

2. Don’t be a perfectionist. It’s your business – of course you want everything to be perfect – but if you’re looking for perfection in the person you’re delegating the job to, you’ll be looking forever. 

      1. Have a baseline of what you need
      2. Establish the standard of quality you expect and a reasonable timeframe
      3. Allow a certain amount of autonomy.

“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”– General George Smith Patton, Jr.

3. Provide clear and complete instructions. Half the time, when someone doesn’t do a job properly, it’s because they weren’t clear on what was expected of them. Remember: if you set vague instructions, you’ll get vague results, so make sure your employee has all the information they need and understands what you expect.

4. Spread work out evenly among staff. Not everyone will turn out the same standard of work – some will be better than others – but if you tend to give the most and/or the best jobs to one person, that’s likely to cause resentment within your team. That can result in a dip in productivity or even staff turnover, both of which will eat away at your profits. If someone is a little weaker, perhaps organise extra training or give a more senior member of the staff the responsibility of supervising them.

5. Focus on teaching skills. Delegating doesn’t mean simply passing off work you don’t want to do, it’s about empowering your employees and letting them stretch their skills and judgment. And remember that if they’re learning new skills, they’re going to make the odd mistake, so give them a bit of leeway and don’t come down hard on people who are trying their best. 

6. Don’t micro-manage. Of course, you need to check in on progress, but give your employees some time and space to get to grips with their job. It’s a good idea to set some checkpoints right at the start when you outline your expectations and let them know you’re there to support them when they need it; you’re not trying to catch them out.

7. Give thanks and credit where they’re due. It’s an old saying, but a little appreciation really does go a long way. Make sure your employees know their efforts re recognised and appreciated and credit them to the wider team or clients as appropriate. 

The 19th century business magnate and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, who remains one of the wealthiest businessmen in history, was a master in the art of delegation – so much so that his tombstone reads: ‘Here Lies a Man Who Knew How to Enlist in His Service Better Men Than Himself’. And he didn’t just delegate well, he appreciated and was generous to the people who worked for him. As he himself said: “No man can become rich without himself enriching others.” So, while you’re delegating and building a staff, remember to also be generous with your praise, time and knowledge.

Having got to the end of this article, you’re now hopefully in no doubt as to the necessity of delegation and realise that if you do it right, the only limits to your success are how high you can aim.

“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling while they do it.” – Theodore Roosevelt

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