Ready, Set, Delegate!
In most cases it takes good people to grow a business, and for an entrepreneur, this means delegating and trusting others to deliver the results that will grow the firm. Hiring the right people, engaging them in the pursuit of their dreams and giving meaning to the employees who are building the business requires different skills than those needed to launch a business. Readers will learn what those skills are and how the entrepreneur can use them to achieve smart growth.
Prove that you want to grow your business. Go ahead, tell us not how much you did today, but how much you didn’t do. Sound crazy? The key to growing your company as big and as fast as you want may be getting very good at not doing any work. Here’s why: “It’s impossible to grow a business without delegating. You can only increase your workload so much,” says Ralph Rubio, co-founder and CEO of Rubio’s Baja Grill, a $40 million restaurant chain based in San Diego that dominates the fish taco business on the West Coast.
Task At Hand
Steve Leveen, co-founder and CEO of Delray Beach, Florida-based Levenger, a $70 million catalog company specializing in upscale products for readers and writers, vividly recalls when he hired his first nonfamily employees. It was a year after start-up, and, says Leveen, “I felt great relief. The people we hired helped with packing orders. That was a great boost to my productivity because I could then focus on areas that would help us grow.”
It’s easy to talk about delegation–but is it easy to do? “Delegation is very hard to do right,” says Susan Leeds, managing director of The Ayers Group Inc., a New York City human resources consulting firm. “Smart delegation takes thought and planning.” That means delegation isn’t simply sweeping your desk clean and blindly handing off all the tasks on your to-do list. “You need to approach delegation with a plan in mind,” says Leeds, who teaches a multistep delegation process to clients. The first step is careful thought about what to delegate.
That’s a crucial question, mainly because some tasks should be handled personally. There are tasks that aren’t suited to delegation, says Ron Riggio, a psychology professor at Claremont McKenna College’s Kravis Leadership Institute in Claremont, California.
What can’t you delegate? There’s no rule of thumb; let your instincts guide you. You probably wouldn’t delegate thinking about the products your company will offer next year, but you might delegate a survey of current customers regarding improvements they’d like to see in your products. Either way, a building block for effective delegation is knowing what tasks are yours and yours alone.
The next step in Leeds’ plan is to determine the results you want to achieve. That means not telling employees to make some phone calls about past-due invoices. That’s too vague. Instead, be specific. A more defined goal might be to get customers with past-due bills to agree to a payment schedule. Knowing the results you want is your job, not the job of employees to whom you delegate.
Step three is to decide which person is right for the task, says Leeds. A salesperson might not be the right person to make collection calls, but perhaps your bookkeeper is. Either way, match skills and personality to the task–that will maximize productivity.
The fourth step is to decide what controls and checkpoints you’ll put on the person to whom you’re delegating. How often will the person report back to you? What signal means it’s time to shout for help? Get very specific about these steps because that will make delegation work smoothly, both for you and employees.
Fifth, motivate the person to whom you’re delegating. If you’re handing off important work, you want the subordinate to be fired up to get results. “Link the new job to what motivates that employee,” says Leeds. If the employee is there to learn, present the task as a development opportunity. If visibility is important, present it that way. “Make sure what you delegate is appropriate [for the employee],” Leeds says. And sell what you delegate–don’t just hand out tasks.
The last step is accountability. “Effective delegation means holding people accountable for the jobs that are assigned to them,” Leeds says. A big mistake here is that bosses often expect the employee to fail–and readily take the task back to do themselves. Don’t. That’s a quick way to undermine employee effectiveness and, in the bargain, guarantee employees will never develop in the ways you need them to if your business is to reach the level you want.
Follow these steps and, odds are, your delegation skills will improve dramatically. There’s one more huge hurdle to jump, however. That occurs when employees start doing the work you’ve delegated, but they’re not doing it the way you would have done it. “This is a major issue for entrepreneurs,” says Dailey. “It’s painful for them to accept that there are other ways to get jobs done and that oftentimes, the way the employee did the task is good enough.”
Tasks that keep you from growing your business
When Levey and his team realized that the hours they spent on a bike en route to product samplings were not enabling them to scale to a nationwide platform, they hired a demo team. “Getting customers to trial something is important, but we also realized it wasn’t a good use of our time, because it wasn’t conducive to our long-term growth,” he says.
Independent contractors were brought on to handle sampling and inform customers about the products’ nutritional facts; that freed Field Trip’s founders to pursue new accounts, which today include several major grocery chains, as well as JetBlue Airways, Vitamin World and Costco.
Activities that will help speed up cash flow
As a small company represented in huge grocery stores with more than 50,000 SKUs, Field Trip found that its relatively modest invoices often would get overlooked. “Checks for $100 get lost against the $10,000 checks pretty easily, so we were hounding the stores just to get paid,” Levey explains.
The founders discovered that hiring distributors not only got them paid faster, it also enabled them to get paid with a few large checks rather than many small ones. The company now employs more than 25 distributors.
“By delegating that work to distributors, our accounts receivable have significantly improved, as has the timing of our working capital,” he says. “We’re getting our money faster, and we’re also getting checks that were previously going unpaid because we didn’t have time to follow up on them.”
3. Areas that are out of your wheelhouse
Ryan Fleming, co-founder of Long Beach, Calif.-basedRemindGrams.com, delegates tasks that would require too much time for him to learn and master. That is one of the factors to which he credits the success of his 24/7 concierge service, which keeps a virtual eye on the well-being of loved ones.
Fleming has turned to services such as Elance and Fiverr to outsource web design, creation of video and web content, SEO, social media activities and PR. “The SEO stuff is well over my head, but when you have someone who can help you understand how the Google algorithm works, it’s a game-changer,” Fleming says, adding that he attributes many of his company’s 400-plus users to the success of the keyword “RemindGrams.” “It would take me about five years to create [animation] online, so delegating out those types of digital assets is a no-brainer for me. It definitely pays for itself.”
4. Tasks that are already streamlined
Hard work goes into developing processes that allow employees to increase their efficiency while still meeting in-house quality metrics. But once those processes are in place, there’s no reason to be the person who implements them on a day-to-day basis. After launching Venice, Calif.-based online inventory and order-management software Lettuce in 2012, CEO Raad Mobrem saw his staff expand from two people who did everything to 13 within three months.
While exciting, the period was fraught with organizational headaches and growing pains. So he divided the company into sales, marketing, customer support and product. In each of those areas, processes were put in place so managers could easily delegate tasks when needed.
“When something needs to be done, we can walk an employee through our current processes and say, ‘Here’s what we like to do, and this is how we do it.’ It’s a clear path of where we’re going and how we do things,” Mobrem says, noting that Lettuce now has 15 employees and thousands of users. “As a result, we went from chaos to really well-delegated processes and tasks that everyone is able to complete in a timely manner.”
5. Tasks in areas with often-changing regulations
Brian Fox, president and founder of Brentwood, Tenn.-based Confirmation.com, is a CPA who tries to stay up to date on the latest changes in the field. But he says he “wouldn’t even think about” doing the accounting for his electronic audit confirmation services firm, even in the leanest of the startup days.
“The rules change so often that if you’re not in it day to day, you’ll miss something, from a tax standpoint or an accounting application standpoint,” he says. “You need somebody who does that as their full-time job.”
Fox outsources his legal, accounting and insurance needs to outside agencies that are current on specific regulations.
Waverly Deutsch, professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, says delegating to a specialist is a good call when the cost of making a mistake might be high. “When you’re dealing with a government agency like the IRS, EPA or immigration, you don’t have any power, and the risk of doing it wrong–and facing stiff consequences–is enormous. Those are areas where you definitely should delegate to an expert,” she says.
6. Projects that impede development
While Fox enjoys the product development side of his business, he has trouble presenting his thoughts in enough detail for a technology team to take over. Instead, he hands off that part of the process to avoid becoming a bottleneck within his own operation.
“I was holding up our development, so we brought in a product person that I could share the idea with, but then they could do all the legwork,” he explains.
Today the company has a team that takes ideas for new products, enhancements and modifications and writes detailed specs so the technology team can create them.
7. Anything you want your team to learn
Bob Marsh–CEO of Detroit-based Level-Eleven, which creates motivational software for sales teams–says one of the best ways to get employees to internalize something he wants them to learn is to let them complete the task themselves. While he could simply tell his sales team how he’d like them to do a specific task, he finds that it’s more effective to ask someone to take the lead on the activity so they can get the team together and come up with best practices.
“It helps people internalize it, because they’ve made their own thoughts and decisions on it,” Marsh says.
8. The stuff you simply hate to do
Many ‘treps agree that handing off the tasks they can’t stand helps them maintain their drive and enthusiasm, which is critical to their company’s success. After all, that’s why they work for themselves.
“I really believe you should do the things you enjoy and have fun doing, and delegate the rest,” says Fox of Confirmation.com. “That’s what excites you when you wake in the morning, and what you’re thinking about when you wake in the middle of the night with a brand-new idea. It’s not: ‘Oh my gosh, here’s a new tax law I can apply.’
You’re thinking about how to grow the business. That’s what gets you excited, that’s what gets you motivated, and that’s what helps you succeed.”
The typical entrepreneur’s “Achilles’ Heel” is that they spread themselves too thin, work on too many tasks at the same time, start new projects constantly and micromanage projects and details that they should delegate. They become overwhelmed by the increasing demands on their time and begin losing the passion for their business and working harder without getting the results they want.
Your success and freedom as an entrepreneur depend on your ability to focus on what you love and do best and eliminating and/or delegating everything else. You should focus on the activities you’re brilliant at, passionate about and that will take your business to the next level.
Harv Ecker, CEO of Peak Potentials Training, offers this sage wisdom on how Poor vs. Wealthy Business Owners think about business. Which one are you?
Poor: Struggle because their business is dependent on them.
Wealthy: Set up a business that works without them; using teams, delegation and systems.
Poor: Play it safe
Wealthy: Take risks
Poor: Do everything themselves
Wealthy: Create teams and delegate
Many entrepreneurs know they should delegate but find it challenging to let go. So many fall into the trap of doing everything themselves – being a lone ranger. It takes a village to operate and grow a successful business.
How Can You Learn To Delegate?
The good news is that delegation is a skill that can absolutely be learned. The first place to start is with your mindset. To leverage the skills of others effectively, you need to be willing to:
- Believe that success is possible
- Examine your reality – what’s working and what’s not
- Experiment and take calculated risks – engage in the process of growing your business and developing professionally
- Assess your productivity – being busy doesn’t always mean you’re being productive
- Recognize that the primary purpose of your business is to serve your life, not the other way around
Dan Millman, in “Living on Purpose” tells us: “In the real world, those of us who are most productive, successful, and satisfied focus not on fixing feelings or manipulating thoughts, but on what needs to be done – and then doing it – no matter what thoughts or feelings arise.”
4 Common Myths About Delegating
Myth #1: “I’ll lose control of my business if I delegate and things will fall through the cracks.”
Are you a control freak?
Reality: There is a wide range of freedom and authority that you can give to your team member. When you use a delegation and team building system, it will allow you to manage the process effectively, instead of micromanaging people.
Myth # 2: “If I want something done right, I have to do it myself.”
Are you a perfectionist?
Reality: Other people can do the tasks as good as, and many even better than you. Yes, really:) Delegation will bring you massive results when you build a team that is focused on doing what they’re brilliant at and are the best fit for you. Moreover, when you learn effective delegation techniques, you can ensure that things will get done the way you want.
Myth # 3: “I can’t trust anyone else with my business.”
Reality: If you want to achieve success, risks are necessary for business growth. Delegation requires a calculated risk where the potential benefits (ROI) and costs are weighed. Many of us have natural tendencies that can keep us from letting go. When I did my DISC Behavioural Profile I learned strategies to modify my perfectionist tendencies that would hinder me from delegating effectively. I got a comprehensive understanding of my gifts and weaknesses, which helps me with team building – to choose the right partners and teach others how to best communicate with me.
Myth # 4: “I can’t afford help.”
Reality: You can’t afford not to delegate! There is a simple formula that guarantees you a high return on investment in outsourcing. You will need to know:
- How much your time is worth hourly or how much more revenue you could generate in a month if you had more time
- The hourly cost of outsourcing a specific task
Here’s an example of the formula:
Your Virtual Assistant spends 10 hours on tasks taken off your plate: Investment = $300 With 10 extra hours you’ve gained, how many new clients could you handle?
1 client = $300 you break even 2 clients = double your ROI 3,4, 5 .. clients? You get the idea!
You will get an even higher ROI when you delegate revenue-generating activities!
It’s important to recognize though, that ROI is not only about money. Often an idea is viable if: it moves you closer to your vision of success; if it will increase your credibility with clients that would lead to more opportunities, or if it will give you an emotional feeling of fulfillment or completion. I call this creating a “wealthy lifestyle”!
Prosperous entrepreneurs have gone through the growing pains of letting go to get the help they need. Robert Kiyosaki, author of Rich Dad’s Guide to Investing, tells us “The moment you begin to think of time as precious and that it has a price, the richer you will become.”
Are you ready to make a change? What would it be like to enjoy more success, freedom and create a wealthy lifestyle with delegation? What resources do you need to help you? What is the first step you need to take?
Carl Gould is a business strategist, and growth expert. He has written 5 books in the area of creating business success, and is the co-host of the weekly radio program, ‘Quit and Get Rich’ (www.gteamradio.com). Carl and his team of experts advise companies and organizations to grow to the next level. What is the next level for you?