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.

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.

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!

5 Barriers to Strategic Execution

Some business owners and leaders believe strategy is something you do once per year and is more theoretical and conceptual than something that can actually be achieved. Other owners don’t even bother because they feel they are too small and think they just don’t need it. Only a few create, plan, execute and monitor a strategy to ensure effective strategic execution. Regardless of your experience with strategic planning, you may find yourself nodding in agreement. If this is the case, take comfort because you are in good company. Below are the top 5 barriers to effective strategic execution that most companies encounter when trying to grow and transform:

No plan. Studies have shown that you are significantly more likely to accomplish your plan/goals if they are documented! Entrepreneurs and small business leaders are often navigating from fire to fire, reacting to the next biggest thing to ensure that it won’t sink their company or their mission. In the Acustrat Strategic Management Maturity Model, this type of company would fall in the reactive/chaotic maturity level. Most likely, everyone involved in the company is either burned out or about to burn out very soon. If you find yourself in this category, think about the following:

  • Hire a company to facilitate strategic planning and document the outputs
  • Decide which things you want to focus on to grow and transform your business
  • Write down a plan for execution with target dates

Only built by executives. Feel free to replace executive with entrepreneur, business owner, VP of something. Regardless of the title, “executive” is someone who runs or helps run the business. Aculign believes strategies and strategic plans should be developed by ALL stakeholders of that company…because a strategy built by executives is only truly owned by the executive team, however; a strategy built by the entire stakeholder group is owned by …you guessed it, the entire stakeholder group. So why is this so important? Two big reasons: Organizational Awareness and buy-in.

  • Organizational Awareness: Often times, the executive teams believe they have visibility into the intricacies of their business. With organizational awareness, you have more input into the strategy from various stakeholders: customers, staff, partners, and suppliers. A plan without the correct organizational awareness will be silo’d to only the executive perspectives. While they have great perspective, it is impossible to know the intricacies of every aspect of the operation unless you involve the entire stakeholder group.
  • Buy-In: Involving your customers, staff, partners and suppliers will help you achieve something that is very hard to gain: Buy-in. They understand you are working on your business, they want your input to help improve what they do and the cool thing is, under most circumstances, they want to help creating a Skin-in-the game / Bought-in type of relationship. Something that is very hard for companies to gain.

Lack of Program Management: Ok, how many of you have conducted what you thought was a pretty good strategy session, took some pictures of the output and then filed it away in your memory or a filing cabinet? You are not alone. Companies struggle tremendously with keeping the strategy front and center and planning the work so they can work the plan. You may ask yourself, “what’s the point.” My thoughts exactly! What is the point of spending all of that time if you don’t execute on those great ideas?!? A well-known proverb says: “Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.” If you are in this category, you’ve just spent an enormous amount of time day dreaming.

  • A great solution to ensure success is to hire a middle-party to manage the entire program of work. If you are an executive, someone needs to hold you accountable. Someone needs to manage the timeline, tasks, assignments, resources, budget and scope.

No Prioritization. Someone or a group of people need to make prioritization decisions. “Do the easiest first” doesn’t always work in this case. Would you choose to spend $200 on a broken car radio or spend $250 on new brakes? Prioritizing the “Nice-to-haves” vs “Must-haves” is a critical step that is often left out of the strategic planning process. Here are a few great tools to assist with prioritization:

  • Pairwise comparison: A pairwise comparison is a great tool to use that will rank every initiative/idea against each other. For a free template, please contact us at info@aculign.com
  • MoSCoW: This is a great prioritization method which gives you the opportunity to say:
    • I Must have this
    • I Should have this
    • I Could have this
    • I Would have this

Lack of a kick-off. The easiest way to ruin a good party is to not have one. Once all of your great work is planned for, prioritized and funded, companies need to have a kick-off. A kick-off provides the energy, alignment, passion and cultural awareness needed to effectively launch a strategic program of work. Without a good kick-off, you will have confusion, mediocre buy-in (even if you involved them in the planning aspect) and hampered results. An effective kick-off session provides a launch date, a new energy, a re-birth of a sort. If you do all of our strategic planning processes and miss this, you will limit your results tremendously. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on this. Here are some elements to effective strategic kick-offs:

  • Presentation outlining the strategic objectives, vision, mission
  • Expressed gratitude. This can be in the form of words (written thank you notes), gifts, donations, etc.
  • Have fun. Plan some fun games. Hire a comedian or team building coach.
  • You can cater in OR you can cook if you are on a budget.
  • Give some money away to a local charity at the kick-off.

These Top 5 barriers to strategic execution are not all-inclusive. You may experience others along your journey.  Aculign helps companies break down the barriers and set a clear path to strategic execution. If you would like more information or need some advice, please email us at info@aculign.com.