Delegation – A Key Success Factor

There are many reasons entrepreneurs have for not delegating – It takes too much time to explain or I can do it faster and better myself or This is too critical to delegate. Unfortunately, if you allow these reasons to guide your approach to delegation, your business will never grow to its fullest potential.

A fundamental law of nature that’s every bit as absolute as other scientific laws of nature is the law that Bandwidth is finite – you only have so much time in the day. Another way to say it is Bandwidth does not increase based on need – no matter how much you want it to. This situation exists in businesses of all sizes – from the solo entrepreneur to Fortune 100 companies. To overcome this condition, one must learn and practice the art of delegation.

Delegation, not Abdication – Many executives delegate like this. They say, “James, would you take on this project? It has to be done by next Thursday. Thanks.” That’s it. Then, when the job comes back incomplete, they are infuriated. What happened? They left out accountability. They neglected the structure for making sure things happened according to plan.

Delegation means more than simply giving assignments to others. It means giving another party a certain degree of discretion that’s not inherent in their role – the right to make decisions that are officially tied to your role and for which you are ultimately responsible.

Another way to think about delegation for the solo entrepreneur is “Outsource everything but your core competence.” Here’s an example – You’re a management consultant and you need a new logo. You could do it yourself because your computer came with Photoshop and you like to do graphics or you could hire a graphic designer to do it for you. Look at the economics – Your billing rate is $150 per hour. It takes you three hours to do a logo. The designer is charging $150 for the logo design. Not delegating this task cost at least $300 more – why “at least?” – because if you engaged in business development or networking during those three hours, you might lave landed a lucrative project worth far more than $300.

This example illustrates the reason why you should delegate or outsource – It frees up your time to do what only you can do – that’s your highest value contribution.

Looking at the act of delegation in a company larger than one person – there are six aspects to consider:

1. Give the job to someone who can get it done
– This doesn’t mean that person has all the skills for execution, but that they are able to martial the right resources.

2. Communicate precise conditions of satisfaction
– Time frame, outcomes, budget constraints, etc.; all must be spelled out. Anything less creates conditions for failure.

3. Work out a plan – Depending on the project’s complexity, the first step may be creation of a plan. The plan should include resources, approach or methodology, timeline, measures and milestones. Even simple projects require a plan.

4. Set up a structure for accountability – If the project is to take place over the next six weeks, schedule an interim meeting two weeks from now. Or establish a weekly conference call, or an e-mailed status report. Provide some mechanism where you can jointly evaluate progress and make mid-course corrections. This helps keep the project, and the people, on track.

5. Outline the range of authority – Describe the level of initiative you expect the subordinate to take in terms of problem solving. You may ask subordinates to do one of the following when they encounter unexpected problems:

– “Ask me what you should do.”
– “Recommend a solution, then I will tell you what to do.”
– “Act, and then let me know immediately what you have done.”
– “Take initiative, and report only routinely.”

6. Get buy in – Often time frames are dictated by external circumstances. Still, your delegate must sign on for the task at hand. If you say, “This must be done by next Tuesday,” they have to agree that it is possible. Ask instead. “Can you have this by Tuesday?” Whenever possible, have your delegate set the timeline and create the plan. You need only provide guidance and sign off.

Not everything can be delegated. Here’s a few things that should not be delegated:

– performance feedback
– disciplinary actions
– politically sensitive tasks
– confrontations arising from interpersonal conflict

The only point to delegating something is if it frees you for things which create greater value. Don’t give away the hiring function if you are spending your time fiddling with the corporate web site. Don’t hire a Sales VP, if you are spending your time on purchasing. The greatest leverage you have is in leading your company. Spend your time on that.

Michael Shapiro – Dynamic Management Solutions, Inc.


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