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.

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.