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.

Why You Need a Solution Engineer

Solution Engineering and Why You Need It

Have you heard of a solution engineer?

Take a quick journey down memory lane. Recall the last vendor your company hired.

Why were they hired?

What problem were you trying to solve?

What product or service did they sell you?

Now, ask these two questions.

  1. What elements convinced you that the problem you were trying to solve was, in fact, the problem?

  2. What made you believe that you truly needed that vendor and their solution to solve your problem?

Your decision to hire that vendor is part of what we call solution engineering. When you identified what you believed to be a problem, you started yourself down a particular path. It was a path that is different from another path you would have taken if you believed that another thing was the problem.

When you believed that thing to be your problem, you did your homework based on that belief. Your investigation, discovery, and due diligence was guided by your belief about the problem.

Eventually, you came to a place where you concluded that you needed a vendor to help you resolve your problem. But your belief about your problem guided you to a specific type of product. And the specific type of product is sold by vendors who specialize in those products.

You’re a sharp person, though. And by now you have already picked up on one flaw in this process. And it is a philosophical one.  Within this framework of thinking, your solution options always become increasingly narrow. Which is a good thing, of course.  Yet it happens in a bad way.  Here is the problem:

You have created your own version of reality.

The vendor and their solution is then invited into this reality to participate in resolving your problem.

Nine times out of ten, what happens next? The inevitable happens.

The slow and subtle process of implementation begins to reveal that what you bought wasn’t quite what you thought you needed.

Or perhaps the solution introduced new issues you didn’t realize you struggled with before. Or maybe the solution unlocks ideas you didn’t have before. Or the solution just doesn’t seem to be resolving your problem in the specific way you were hoping.  Regardless of the inevitable challenge, you feel stuck.  You’ve already established a very expensive relationship with the new vendor.

Ultimately, you begin growing dissatisfied. When we’re not happy with a vendor, what do we often do? We complain, right? It’s always the vendor’s fault. And of course, the vendor team sits in their offices and blames you for the breakdown or confusion. But examine the relationship for a moment. Who ultimately hired who?

Who can help with small business solutions engineering?

Enter consultants. The word makes most people shudder. Perhaps it should. As with any industry, a few bad consultants can give the consultation industry a bad rap. Much could be said regarding the ethos of this market. So let’s use another term that better describes a consultant worth their salt: solution engineer. They are highly trained, skilled and experienced in a variety of practices, methodologies, and often times various solutions.

The value of a solution engineer is four-fold:

  1. They help you get a big picture view of your entire business so that you can see the problem, issue, or challenge in its bigger context.
  2. They facilitate discussion and discovery with proven methodologies and principles that allow you to have your own “aha moments.”
  3. They assist with vendor and solution research, serving as a go-between, representing your business to the vendors.
  4. They aid in the implementation of the solution, integrating it within the bigger context of the business and its operations.

It’s always wisest to leave the construction of a solution in your business to people like that. When they are handed a project that has been properly analyzed, solution engineers can create the best solution for the actual business value or need. If all they do is point out what’s going wrong and propose ideas that sound good but can’t be proven to add value in soft or hard cost savings, it’s time to rethink the money you’re spending.

The role of the solution engineer is to iteratively interact with what the client says they need or want in order to determine what they really need. 

Discovering the real business value-need has two key effects when it comes time to finding and/or building the right solution.

  1. First, it reduces a myriad of solutions down to the ones that are the most appropriate to the real business value-need. There is no end to the making of many solutions. And there is no end to the spending of labor and capital on the wrong solutions. Cycling through various solutions that don’t scratch where the business really itches is a cancer to organizational traction and momentum.
  2. Second, discovering the real business value-need ensures the requirement is met with accuracy and delivery which equals quality. When a biz or org comes with their own predetermined solution without the skill, expertise, and experience of solid analysis, they have already cut themselves short. They’ve limited themselves up front from discovering what they really need (and just don’t know it yet), and from implementing the right solution for that need.

If you’re a leader in your business or organization, don’t cut your feet off before you can even start running. Find and include a seasoned analyst in your process prior to going any further. And when you do, don’t give in to the knee-jerk reaction you’ll probably feel inside, which tells you that they’re slowing you down and choking organizational progress. They’re really not.

Solution engineers are actually helping you discover what you really need.

Here’s why you should never come to a solutions engineer with your solution already in hand.  You end up saddling them with what are really just administrative tasks faking it as pseudo-analysis. You’re wasting your money at that point. And your time, which is money. And their time, which is more money. And anybody else’s time who intersects with either of you on the matter.

I call it pseudo-engineering because the work you assigned to them to do are engineering-type tasks that appear to be engineering but in reality are just skilled admin work aimed at a goal you’ve already decided on before you engaged them…

…a goal which nobody really knows for sure is even the right one to head for in the first place…

…because the whole project started with a solution before it started with analysis…

…probably because we allowed ourselves to become temporarily dominated by the emotion of rush and demand…

…which is another issue altogether that requires analysis of its own!

And I digress.

But on purpose.

The rush and demand of a client usually mean one thing: they just want someone to stop the bleeding, fix what’s broken, or make yesterday’s revenue opportunities a week ago. And that’s generally where solutioning wanders to the wrong place in the process and workflow. If that’s you, stop what you’re doing, take a deep breath, commit yourself to discovering the real business value-need, no matter how long it may take. 

Take it from me, as one with years of small business experience working with leaders, managers, and owners on a variety of challenges and opportunities. If you’re in this spot right now, you do not want an admin. You want a a solutions engineer. It’s worth your time, your money, your career, as well as the future and legacy of your biz or org. And it’s worth listening to them thoroughly once you’ve hired them.

You’ve invested too much up to this point to come up with solutions on your own that probably don’t even address your pain points!

Typically, most organizations end up in a difficult predicament with software vendors.  If so, you’ll find it helpful to begin doing your own solutions engineering by understanding 4 Important Questions to Ask Your Software Vendor.

16 Operational Norms for Service-Based Small Business

Operational Norms for Small Business

“Business as usual.”

What does even mean, right?

As a small business owner you know full-well that “usual” means “normal.” Yet “normal” hardly ever happens on a day-to-day basis in the service industry! So much so that not-normal is actually normal!

To some degree that is very normal. However, we believe that standardizing as much as possible is the single greatest factor to creating stability in a line of business that is determined by ever-changing customer demands.

At Aculign we struggle just like you.

As a service-based consulting firm for service-based businesses we face two challenges daily:

  • The tyranny of the urgent
  • The devil of distraction

They’re both crouching at the door of our offices. Each and every day. All day long. Tackling these challenges starts with thoughtfulness and commitment.

Thinking carefully about the ideal state is important to us. It allows the higher functioning part of our brain to function as our wise advocate and tell us what’s really important to us.

Then, we attempt to put energy behind staying committed to those important things.

Those important things function very much like fences or guard rails. As we envision where we want to go, we also think through the distractions that pose a risk to us not getting there.

To help us get there, we created what we call our Operational Norms. These are the guard rails that protect us throughout the day to help us get where we want to go. We recommend using them as a guide to creating your own, in order to protect your time and get your projects, tasks, and goals accomplished.

  1. Only check and respond to email a max of twice daily.
  2. Arrive at the office with a clear list of priorities. Otherwise, how the heck do you get anything done?
  3. Don’t get in front of the computer without a clear list of priorities.  You’ll get distracted.
  4. Compile a task list for tomorrow no later than the evening before.  This helps you get ahead on #2 above.
  5. Don’t permit yourself to tackle any more than two mission-critical items per day.  If everything is important, then nothing is actually important.
  6. Do NOT multitask. It is one of the deadliest lies out there.
  7. Shorten your schedule and deadlines to force focused action and prevent procrastination.  Tasks with deadlines too far in the future almost always get delayed even more.
  8. All meetings should require an agenda and produce decisions and delegated action plans with deadlines.  Too much time is wasted in meetings without a  purpose and focus.
  9. Meetings should default to a maximum of 30 minutes.  We offer a 4 hour workshop on meetings for you and your team. You will walk away with prepped agendas for your most important meetings.  Contact us to learn more.
  10. Do not allow interruptions unless it is extremely urgent. Otherwise, send an email or chat message.
  11. Batch activities to limit setup costs. Group the same type of stuff together so you can keep your mind in that zone and do more quality work.
  12. If it’s not well-defined and important, don’t do it.  Otherwise, table it and schedule a block of time later to define and plan it.
  13. Analyze tasks to discover what to eliminate.  More than likely, some tasks evolved over time to become bigger than they really need to be.
  14. Delegate.  Give work away that someone cheaper than yourself can and should be doing.
  15. Never automate something that can be eliminated from the workflow.  If there’s not really a need for it, don’t try to make your software do it for you anyway.
  16. Outsource whenever and as often as possible. If you can’t or shouldn’t do #14, that is.
  17. Establish verbal flags that team members can use in discussions and meetings to call attention back to the agenda or matter at hand.  Give your team freedom to keep each other focused.

Like us, you will more than likely experience crashing through one or more guardrails. Probably on a daily basis, at first. But if everyone on your team agrees that operational norms are necessary, and if everyone agrees on what they should be, then shared agreement means that you’ve created a context where you can help each other. It’s not uncommon for one of us to say to another team member,


as a way of reminding that team member that a distraction or “rabbit trail” has just been introduced. And it’s common in meetings for one of us to say,

“Let’s anchor,”

as a means of re-anchoring the discussion to the agenda at hand.

Regardless of how you choose to do it, an environment of humility is important, as everyone is willing to admit their weakness and let their team member help them stay focused.

What are some of the operational norms that you feel are crucial for your business?  Share them in the comment field and help generate “aha!” moments for others who read.

The importance of Process Design for Small Businesses

Let’s talk about Process Design for Small Business

Effective process design for small business is critical. The history of business points to a fascinating shift in recent years. Innovation has moved the focus from product to experience. With the rise and peak of industrialism and manufacturing, making a patented “widget” is now rivaled by creating a customer-driven experience.

  • Coca-Cola’s recipe is reportedly hidden away in a massive vault. But its marketing theme is almost always about the people you drink it with and that refreshing feeling.
  • Anybody can make a hamburger. But McDonald’s created a process which delivered quality food fast, offering a satisfying experience for families to enjoy a pre-cooked hot meal together.
  • Coffee is a commodity. But Starbucks created a unique space and customer service experience which continues to draw tens of thousands daily.

You can undoubtedly think of a dozen more examples. But you get the point. For the service-based business, the “widget” your company makes is all about the experience you produce for your customers. Your customer experience is produced largely by a process. What does this mean? Two things.

Your small business process design is the HOW…

First, it means that your company itself is your product. The service you sell is your product. You are selling… YOU! Second, it means that your process is your “secret sauce.” You may not be able to patent it. But you don’t need to either. You simply need a process that can produce a remarkable experience for every customer you serve, every single time.  Essentially, your processes are about…

  • HOW you do sales and marketing.
  • HOW you offer helpful content and resources to your demographic.
  • HOW you receive and follow up on the leads you generate.
  • HOW you first interact with a potential customer.
  • HOW you sign up a customer for your service.
  • HOW you perform the service your customer is paying for.
  • HOW you ensure customer satisfaction.
  • HOW you take their payment.
  • HOW you follow up after taking their payment.
  • HOW you handle warranty or guarantee work.
  • HOW you nurture your customer’s experience for additional business or referrals.

It’s all about the HOW!

That’s because the HOW always determines the outcome of the WHAT. The services you perform are driven by processes that create certain experiences for your customers. Therefore, process improvement is at the heart of the service-based business, since it automatically improves customer experience.

The simplest improvements in one or two processes will improve your customer experience to the point that you will see rapid market differentiation. In a short time, you will quickly stand out from your competition. Most of your competitors don’t pay close attention to processes or may not make the connection between process and customer experience. This is where you will shine in your market and outshine your competitors.

Want help with process design?

Aculign specializes in offering service-based small businesses the experience they want in order to grow their bottom line and make an impact in their community. We do this through proven processes. Our process improvement work is itself process-driven. Through a logical, step-based approach, we assist small businesses like yours to identify and improve key processes to stabilize and scale for growth.

To get started, there are two approaches. If you are a DIY owner or manager, access our process improvement model overview to get started. If you need a hands-on, consultative approach to monitoring, measuring, and coaching,  apply with Aculign to get started.

Of course, if you want to find out more you can learn more about Aculign here.