4 Steps to Successful Small Business Delegation

4 Steps to Successful Small Business Delegation

As a small business owner or manager, do you know how to delegate with success?

Successful business leaders understand the value of delegation. Successful people truly believe one important truth: they can’t do everything by themselves.  Those who try anyway become micromanagers. They create a ceiling for themselves and their business as a result. Successful leaders know how to delegate with quality.  Their starting point is never assuming that the person they are delegating a task or project to somehow magically knows how to do it.  

Those who lead this way usually irritate, frustrate, and confuse their employees. Aren’t all employees supposed to be mind-readers, after all? Consequently, tasks and projects rarely get completed with excellence, if at all.  Leaders like this struggle with blame-shifting. Relocate the problem from themselves to their team members or employees, they reframe the problem as a hiring or job performance issue instead of a management issue.

Over the years I’ve learned the art of delegation. It’s a delicate balance between trusting your employees and being as specific as necessary. Learning the balance has come the hard way. Lots of mistakes, many conflicts, and plenty of he-said-she-said. There are two all-too-common approaches to delegation. On the one hand, some leaders discourage providing too much information up front. On the other hand, quality communication with the one you are entrusting is an investment. To help you avoid my past mistakes, I’ve summed up my approach in four steps.

Each one is required to complete the delegated task or project with quality.  But make no mistake. Delegation is an art. Each person you delegate to is different. Therefore your management style has to be different. Your delegation process can be standardized.

This 4 step delegation method will help you become a more effective leader and manager.

1. Small Business Delegation Requires ENVISIONING

The first step of quality delegation is casting a vision for the thing you want to delegate. Vision casting is a careful convergence of what you want to say and the audience to whom you’re saying it. The more people you are casting a vision to, the more nuanced your statements should be. Casting a vision to a team requires more time to craft a message. Casting a vision to one person takes less time to prepare since there’s usually more time for one-on-one clarification.

Delegating a responsibility, project, or task should also be relatively straightforward. Striving for shared understanding is not that difficult when a few key conversations are had in a helpful order.

  • Define the problem or need: “Let me take a few minutes with you and tell you what we’re up against.”
  • Present your solution: “Here’s what I’m thinking needs to get done.”
  • Offer a reason: “I think this should be a priority for us because….
  • Motivate their involvement: “I think you would be the best person for this opportunity because…
  • Ask for buy-in: “Would you be interested in helping me?

Over the years I’ve found that this part of the conversation can be brief, but essential. When I skip it, I pay for it later. Taking quality time with the key person obtains the level of buy-in that’s critical to the quality of the thing I’m asking them to do.

2. Small Business Delegation Requires EXPLAINING

The second step of quality delegation is quality instruction.  I’ve found that everything which needs delegating usually needs explaining. Unless that is, the person you’re delegating to has done the task or project before.  Yet even here, more instruction can be offered to help them do it even better.  

In most parts of the world, people are visible learners and not auditory learners. That means they learn better by seeing than by hearing. This may surprise you as a first-world, 21st century, technologically advanced, Westernized citizen.  However, this fact is never clearer than when the person you’ve delegated something to can’t seem to complete it. You may have done a great job instructing about that thing. But if you haven’t shown them how to do it, they have no visible standard by which to compare their work.  Good illustration skills should follow this helpful thinking process.

When instructing someone I’ve found it helpful to use the following conversation process.

  • Offer the plan and be specific:  “Here’s what needs to happen in order to get this done.
  • Ask for input and be specific:  “Do you see anything I’m missing when it comes to getting this done?
  • Show and illustrate the plan, and be specific:  “Let me start the project or task for you by showing you what I think is a great way to approach and accomplish this task. Then we’ll have you review what you heard and saw so we can have shared understanding.”
  • Watch for feedback, and pay attention to it:
    • “I notice some hesitation here or slight confusion.  Show me what you need me to review again.”  
    • Or “I notice you seem to be pretty confident about this.  Why don’t you review with me what I just showed you to make sure we’re both on the same page.”
  • Make a decision and be specific:  “Great. Now that we’re on the same page, what we’re going to do then is….
  • Affirm buy-in by reviewing specifics:  “So at this point are you clear on what we’re trying to accomplish?

If you instruct clearly about the thing you’re delegating, you’ve laid a solid foundation for the expectation and outcome.  When I fail to instruct with quality, I see it in the quality of the work that was completed. The quality of completion is directly connected to the quality of my ability to instruct.  Therefore, if and when things don’t turn out quite like I hoped, I’ve learned to be open to the fact that my instructions need more quality assurance work next time around.

3. Small Business Delegation Requires EQUIPPING

The third step in quality delegation is equipping the person with the stuff they need to get the project or task complete. Remember what they say about assuming? Never assume that the person you’re delegating to knows everything they need, where it all is, how to use it, when to use it, where to use it, how often to use it, etc. You get the point.

  • Offer what you think they’ll need to do it. Be specific: Here’s what you’ll need to get this completed.
  • Ask what else they’ll need to do it. Be specific: Anything else you think you’ll need to get it done?
  • Decide the equipping process:Let’s decide how we’ll equip you to get this done.
    • What do you need?
    • Who’s going to give it to you?
    • When do you think you would be fully equipped and able to begin the project?
  • Affirm buy-in by reviewing the process:So let’s review this once more together to make sure we haven’t missed anything.

You’ve hired a smart person and chosen to delegate to them. But if you have specific expectations about how the project or task is to be accomplished, then it’s your job to be as specific as possible about the details of what they need to get it done.

4. Small Business Delegation Requires EXPECTING

The final step to quality delegation is summarized in the adage, “inspect what you expect.”  Strangely, this step is the most neglected.  It’s completely understandable, though. As a business owner or manager, we get so busy that we just assume the person we delegated the thing actually completed it.  If you manage like this, you definitely experience the ripple effects.  These effects are gradual and often form organizational potholes that hinder workflow, productivity, and effectiveness.  

When you inspect what you expect, then your expectations will solidify in the minds of your employees. In other words, if they know you’re going to check up on them, and if they know the standard you’re going to use, they will be ready. And the work you expect will be done as you expected. Inspecting what you expect involves the following thought process. 

  • Communicate when it needs to get done and be specific: “Here’s when this needs to be completed.” Put it on your calendars right then and there.=
  • Ask for their input on the due date and be specific:Any issues you foresee in getting this completed on time?
  • Decide a due date and put it on your calendars then and there:  “So we’re agreeing that this will be completed by 0/0/00 (@ 0:00 am/pm [if necessary]).
  • Communicate a follow-up date/time to ensure it has been done:  “I’ll follow-up with you on 0/0/00 at 0:00 am/pm to hear how it went.
  • Present contact information should they have more questions:  “Here’s my contact information if you should have any more questions.
  • Affirm buy-in on the expectations one final time:  “To review then, you’re going to get this completed by 0/0/00 @ 0:00 am/pm? And I’m gonna follow-up with you on 0/0/00 @ 0:00 am/pm.

Does your small business need help with successful delegation?

Two questions to ask yourself in closing:

  1. If delegation is a crucial element in your business or organization, are you at the place where you are able to take the time required to delegate with quality?  
  2. Is the value or goal you have in mind worth the time and effort to see it through to the end?  

If the answer to either question is no, then you probably need to do it yourself.  If the answer is yes, then it’s time to delegate. Commit to doing it with quality. Then you can watch your efforts blossom into a fruitfulness you’ve probably only dreamed of before! If you need help getting started, Aculign can help! For more information, you can apply here.

6 characteristics of a Good Small Business Employee

6 Characteristics of a good small business employee: why you need PACMAN employees

Every business owner wants to hire the right employee. But what are the key characteristics of a good small business employee?

Since 15 years old, I’ve worked for over a dozen small businesses.  I work in one now.  I’ve also worked in corporate America for several years.  But being an employee of a small business is one of the most challenging things I’ve ever attempted to do. And it’s one of the most fulfilling.

Throughout my journey in this market, I’ve gained a ton of wisdom.  I’ve also closely observed employees who were able to “cut it” and those who weren’t.  I myself have worked in both those categories!  Sometimes I was able to “cut it.”  Sometimes I didn’t. Small business hiring is all about the mysterious match between the small business work environment and the employee.

So what are some good characteristics of a good small business employee?

Working in a small business requires one to be like PAC-MAN.  One of my favorites games of all time (second only to Galaga…yes, I’m a child of the 80’s), PAC-MAN success is about observing the algorithm, plotting your course, eating the cherries, and eating the ghosts before they eat you.

In a small business, ever-shifting challenges, priorities, and issues are like the ghosts, with one exception: there is no predictable algorithm. Stuff just happens.  But sometimes you get a leg up.  Your intuition senses an opportunity and being the cherry it is, you grab it, and find a whole new path to exponential success.

I was asked several years ago to consult around helping a small business figure out whether or not the potential employees they were considering were going to be a good fit for their particular environment.  There are no surveys that I’ve found that seem to do this sort of thing.  So I resorted to a simpler start by defining key characteristics.

When I listed them out, the acronym appeared plainly:  P.A.C.M.A.N.  And I can say with a high degree of reliability that a person who is not operating with some level of sufficiency in one or more areas will eventually find himself or herself to not be a fit for the environment.  Training new people is expensive and painful.  So getting it right is key.

An employee missing one of the characteristics below will become like the string protruding from the carpet.  The normal stresses and strains of small business will pull on that string and threaten to unravel a whole section of carpet.  It’s always just a matter of time.

P is for Professional

Stuff gets rough in the small business.  Very rough at times, as a matter of fact.  If you’re a small business owner or manager, you know what I’m talking about.  And when things start going rough, professionalism can fly out the window.  Being professional is about maintaining a sense of inner and outer calm at all times.  Not because you’re trying to be something you’re not.  But because you’re calm-headed.  You understand that losing your temper or sacrificing your integrity shoots a huge hole in your boat and leave others with the bailout and clean up.

A person who has demonstrated a struggle to maintain professionalism in challenging circumstances is not a good fit in a small business environment.  They will cost you current and future customers and will sabotage employee relationships.

A is for Agile

Being agile is about being nimble and lean.  Priorities can and will stack up beyond your ability to complete them in a timely fashion. Being able to recognize which priorities are bigger than others is the first step to being agile.  The second step is being able to reorganize all the priorities as necessary, based on the shift. The third is knowing right where to jump in and start working.  Fourth, you’ve gotta work in a lean fashion, understanding where you can add the most value with the amount of time you have.

A person who has demonstrated a struggle being agile is not a good fit in a small business.  They will struggle with their attitude of inflexibility and task switching in order to complete priorities.  As a result, they will unwittingly subtract value from both the project, the customer, and the company.

C is for Context

Not cookie.  Sorry.  Contextual awareness is such a challenge with small business employees.  I’m still uncertain at this point in my life if it is something taught or caught.  Small business employees must possess an internal sense that guides them to think about the impact of a thing on all the other things around it.  People, chains of command, assets, technology, processes, cash flow, customer service, training, equipment and more are all interconnected.  A decision made in one area will impact other areas.  No action is made in a vacuum.

A person who has demonstrated a struggle with contextual awareness is not a good fit for a small business.  There are too few people, customers, assets, processes, cash flow, etc. to withstand too many poor decisions.  As a result, they will unintentionally dismantle things that have taken much blood, sweat, and tears to build.

M is for Moxie

Moxie is hard to find.  It’s about building up the nerve to take initiative, to take a risk on something.  Small businesses cannot withstand a lack of initiative.  It is a key characteristic required to identify something that needs attention, seize ownership of it, conceive of a plan, and step out in faith with a risk to handle it.  Moxie is about being courageously proactive, stepping over boundaries of fear or even taboo, and stepping into a fog of possibilities with a mindset of opportunity.

A person who has demonstrated a lack of moxie is not a good fit for a small business.  The small business has no time for clock-punchers, hourly-minded employees, or those who feel they must wait on instructions before taking an action.

A is for Adaptable

Adaptability goes hand-in-hand with agile.  Agile is about capability.  Adaptable is about attitude.  An adaptable person is flexible with shifting priorities and can also shift their attitude quickly toward new circumstances with a full-on, wholehearted mindset.  Their skills, talent, and heart all shift in unison to the task in front of them and they are energized to face it head-on.  They don’t feel bothered or deeply frustrated by the things that bother other people in such circumstances.

A person who has demonstrated a lack of adaptability is not a good fit for a small business.  The needs of the small business are unique and require an employee whose focused attitude can shift with the required changes the small business demands.

N is for Nosey

Being nosey is not necessarily a bad thing.  In fact, it’s a good thing in the small business. Nosiness goes with moxie since a small business employee must be inquisitive about pretty much everything.  This contributes to the development of intuition.  I define this as the employee’s ability to “sniff” out root causes of problems or identify solid opportunities in the midst of many possibilities.

The employee working in a small business should combine moxie with nosiness by asking hard questions. Then they should ask why. Then ask others for help, and ask customers for more information.  Asking, asking, asking.  Small business owners and managers will probably get annoyed.  But they need to get over it. And fast.  Being nosey is often the sign that a person has an attitude of ownership.

A person who does not ask questions in a small business is dangerous and is not a good fit.  The small business is not an environment for people who just want to show up, check boxes, and go home.  Small business requires ownership-minded employees who are willing to poke around with questions and investigate problems, opportunities, and options. You can’t expect such a person to take action since they don’t know what’s going on. Employees can’t read minds.


Consider using the P.A.C.M.A.N. characteristics next time you do an employee performance review.

  1. Sketch out the characteristics on the left column of a piece of paper.
  2. Think of as many examples as possible from your previous experiences and observations of your employees. Write them down.
  3. Write down examples where their behavior or actions which may create problems or additional challenges that required your cleanup.  Be fair, though.  (If you believe you trend toward being a negative person, work hard to come up with positive examples.  If you believe you’re a generally optimistic person, look harder for honest examples of problematic behavior.)

In the end, these characteristics are not about whether an employee is necessarily lazy, dishonest, or irresponsible.  I’ve worked with many great people in small business who simply were not a fit for the environment.  The analyst in me has desperately wanted to quantify the problem.  Sometimes it wasn’t their fault.

Small business owners and managers can be very frustrating to work with for a variety of reasons.  But sometimes certain employees are just not wired in a way that makes them successful in the small business environment.  In such circumstances, act with nobility and assist the person in finding something that is a better fit.  Be earnest in genuinely caring for their future.  Treat them well and they will speak well of you and possibly recommend your next great hire!

How to Communicate effectively with your employees

Small business communication for managers and employees

Communicating effectively takes work, intentionality, and consistency. If you are struggling with this, you are not alone. In a recent survey of 4,000 employees, a whopping 46% of employees said that they routinely receive confusing and unclear direction.

Many years ago I had the privilege of working with a young lady who served as my admin assistant. She had an uncanny ability to intuit what I would ask for before I actually asked for it.  Our brains were somehow synchronized. It was weird sort of awesomeness. I think it was as close to a superpower as reality will allow.

Having a baby took her away to more important things in life. I lost her from my team. Once upon another time, I hired another young lady to work for me in another company I helped manage. She too was a near-mind reader. I miss her, too. Then I changed companies. To date, these two ladies stand as the only examples of direct reports who could almost read my mind.

When I compare these two remarkable examples to every other work experience in the past, I personally worked hard to be just like that admin assistant for my managers. There was one big challenge, though: no matter how hard I worked for some of them, most of my manages seemed to act like I could actually read their mind. At least that was the only interpretation of events I could come up with at the time.

Over the years I’ve since discovered that the difficulty with managing people is often pretty simple. (At least, it’s simple to the manager, that is!) In short, managers often conclude that employees just don’t seem to do what they need to do. Put another way, they don’t do what the manager expects them to do.

If you’re a manager, how often have you scratched your head thinking to yourself one of the following questions?

  • Why in the world did they do that?
  • Why on earth would they say that?
  • Why in God’s name didn’t they….?
  • Why aren’t they connecting the dots?
  • Why don’t they get it?
  • Insert other why questions here that sometimes give you pause and cause you to feel crazy inside.

Listen carefully: what’s clear inside your head is probably NOT so clear to the people you lead. 

That may offend you. But you’ll be okay. You are a manager or a leader for a reason. You’re probably a good one.

However, the thing that separates most good leaders from great leaders is that great leaders don’t assume their teammates know everything we think they should.

It’s easy to give your people things to do and then assume that they have somehow magically intuited what you’re talking about, why you need it done, how it’s supposed to be done, when, how often, where, etc..

I mean, you try to hire great people, don’t you?

And they should be able to figure it out, right?

So why do we as managers think this way? Why do we treat our teammates this way? Why do managers, in particular, severely suffer from this challenge?

That is an easy answer. It’s because we’re busy! And with so much to do, hitting the bullseye means feeling like we have to be the ones to get it all done by ourselves.

But when we try to do that, we end up harming our most precious resources. How? By not taking the necessary time to educate, instruct, envision and equip them. We are naturally inclined to feel that if we take the necessary time to thoroughly explain and properly delegate, that this will…

  1. Takes precious time away from our other tasks that seem to feel more important, and…
  2. Makes us frustrated because they just ought to know how to do what we need them to do!

Can you be honest with yourself about those two things? If so, then face it. You just end up growing frustrated much of the time, right? 

As managers, we can tend to get frustrated because of two wrong interpretations.

  1. We don’t think they have enough motivation.
  2. We come to believe that they don’t want to spend the time it takes to learn and grow.

Yet in my experience, both as an employee and as a manager, both of these interpretations are profoundly ignorant! Managers believe this about their employees because they don’t consider their own failures to properly educate, instruct, and guide them.

“Make it easy for your team members to understand what you want. Be generous about answering their questions, make their understanding a priority, and foster an environment of open communication and information sharing.” (HBR)

Now, think about how your employees feel. They too just end up growing frustrated because…

  • they genuinely want to do a great job; but…
  • they don’t feel like they know enough; and…
  • they interpret from our frustration that they are doing something wrong and are not measuring up; but…
  • they don’t really know what they are doing wrong and how they are not measuring up; so…
  • they just keep trying harder and harder against the background noise of managerial frustration occupying their headspace; and…
  • they continue to not meet managerial expectations and eventually get so frustrated they want to leave.

Here’s a challenge: show that bullet list to your employees. Then ask them what they think.

Most of them will probably tell you I hit the nail on the head. How did I do it? Because I was that employee once. Well, actually I was that employee many times with many different managers. And then I became a manager and started doing the same thing. And that’s how I discovered the obvious: most managers fall into this trap.

What happens if and when we don’t fix it? We end up interpreting their desire to leave as if they never really cared for the company to start with. We tell ourselves that they never really had a passion for the vision. We conclude that they weren’t an “A” player. They weren’t a good fit for the organization.

All of those things may be true by the time they hand in their resignation. But it’s fair to ask two hard questions.

1. Did we contribute to it by managing them in unhelpful ways?

2. Is it really fair to come to those conclusions about them if we don’t do the simplest thing, like taking the time to thoroughly explain things and make sure they understand?

Good leaders are willing to consider these questions carefully. Great leaders will consider these questions with their employees. Do you want to be a great leader?

Contact Aculign today to request our 360 leadership survey. We send you the survey, you send us your results, and we give you a free executive coaching session to discover how to experience some quick wins in managing your employees better.