5 Ways to Delegate Better

It’s a lesson oft repeated: “The surest way for an executive to kill himself is to refuse to learn how, and when, and to whom to delegate work,” said James Cash Penney, founder of the J.C. Penney retail chain. Sure, you can hold onto every role and wear every hat in your small business—but doing so severely limits how much that business can grow. Small-business coaching can help leaders effectively delegate. Here are five ways to strengthen this skill so your small business can soar:

Play to your strengths

Delegation isn’t about randomly clearing items off your to-do list. It’s about leveraging your unique skill set in the most affective and strategic ways to grow your business. Make a list of the tasks that are eating up your time and assess which of those can be handled just as well (or even better) by someone else. Bookkeeping, IT, customer service and social media tend to be the easiest for business leaders to let go of. But take a close look at production labor as well. “Many founders are too closely tied to the manufacturing of their products for too long. If you’re the only one with the recipe for the secret sauce, you’ll never grow,” Susan Solvic cautions on Business2Community.com.

“Delegation isn’t about randomly clearing items off your to-do list.”

Avoid boomerang work

If you reassign tasks to team members who don’t have the bandwidth, that work will likely come right back your way. For Joni Swedlund, a principal in Deloitte’s management consulting unit, delegating to overstretched coworkers would often result in this boomerang effect. “More often than I liked, I would just take the assignment back and get it done right,” she told the Wall Street Journal. Rather than assigning work based on skill set or expertise, carefully consider employee workloads to avoid this type of time-draining delegation trap.

Spend time teaching

If you hand more responsibilities and authority down to your team without also training them, you’re setting the business up to stumble. Invest time and resources in helping your coworkers to stretch their skill sets and exercise their judgment—before there’s a key project that needs to get completed on a dime. And remember that as team members grow into new responsibilities, errors will happen. Instead of punishing employees for a misstep, focus on teaching them how to avoid repeating the same mistake next time.

Stop micromanaging the middle

“Stop believing you’re the only one who can do the job properly,” Harvey Mackay writes in The Business Journals. “Just because an employee does things differently doesn’t mean they don’t do the job right or as well.” Set clear expectations of what the outcome should be and have established protocols in place for standards along the way. Then trust your employees to follow their own paths toward the finish line.

Curb unwelcome surprises

Empower your employees to elevate issues or raise questions without fear of criticism. If they worry that a small issue or query will be judged harshly, they’ll likely stumble forward unassisted—and you may find an unwelcome surprise when the deadline hits. To avoid that situation, set clear expectations when you delegate about what type of question or issue should always warrant your attention. And establish a schedule for midpoint check-ins if the project is lengthy or sizable.


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