To be an effective business owner, you must be willing to delegate and relinquish control. Even I admit it can be a scary proposition at times, but it’s a management strategy that will reward you and your team.

Done correctly, delegation allows you to make the best use of your time and skills, develop your staff, groom a successor, and engage and motivate your team. It has another hidden benefit: It will create leverage and capacity for you personally and your senior management team.

Poor delegation, however, will frustrate you, demotivate and confuse your staff, and fail to achieve the task or purpose itself.

Why don’t more leaders master the art of delegation? Quite simply, people don’t delegate because it takes a lot of upfront time and effort, and they are not confident in the results.

You’ll need to encourage employees to think creatively, allow them the freedom to work unfettered by too many rules, and trust that everyone has the noble intent to do a good job.

WHAT TO HAND OFF

One key rule on delegation is that you can’t hand off just anything — and you almost certainly shouldn’t delegate everything. To determine when delegation is most appropriate, ask yourself these key questions:

  • Is it essential or critical that you do it yourself? Or is this a task or responsibility that someone else can handle? 
  • Does someone else on your team have more experience or the skill to do the task better than you?
  • Does the task provide an opportunity to grow and develop another person’s skills?
  • Is this a task that will recur, in a similar form, in the future? If so, it’s a great candidate for delegation, because it will continue to free up your time.
  • Do you have enough time to delegate a job effectively? You’ll need to make time available for adequate training, for questions and answers, for opportunities to check progress and for rework if necessary.

Finally, ask yourself this: Is this a task that you should delegate? Tasks that are critical for the long-term success of the firm — recruiting the right people for your team, for instance, or developing a strategic plan or mission statement — genuinely need your personal attention.
ASSIGN RESPONSIBILITY

Once you have determined an appropriate task or responsibility to delegate, follow a specific process.
Begin by selecting the right individual for the role and responsibility, delegating to the lowest possible level in the organization. Remember that the people who are closest to the work are usually best suited for a related project, because they have the most intimate knowledge of the everyday work.

Take into account not only how the role is suited to an individual’s abilities, but also what that person can gain — in terms of professional growth — from the added responsibility. This increases workplace efficiency, and helps to develop your people.

Next define the assignment, requirements, parameters and the authority level needed, and provide checkpoints and realistic expectations. Clearly articulate the desired outcome you want accomplished. Where are the lines of authority, responsibility and accountability?

Explain why the employee has been given this task and where it fits in the overall scheme of things in your firm. Assess the resources that are needed to accomplish the task or responsibility, and whether training is required for completion. And make sure you both agree on a schedule for getting the work completed.

At this point, don’t just walk away and wipe your hands of the project. Rather, provide for ongoing communication and feedback. Be available to provide guidance and answer questions, while holding the person accountable to making progress.

WHAT MATTERS MOST

Successful executives — particularly those who have built up a successful business by doing everything themselves — may face other adjustments as they start to hand off responsibilities to staff.

At this point, for instance, I like to remind leaders to concern themselves with what is accomplished, not how the work should be done. Their way, after all, is not necessarily the only (or even the best) way to manage a task. Allow a task’s new owners to control their own methods and processes. This facilitates success by boosting trust and engagement. Employees thrive when they feel they are not only entrusted with, but also held accountable for, the projects they complete.

Don’t forget to ask a lot of questions. One of the most powerful tools in delegating successfully is asking questions rather than giving instructions. If you say you trust your employees but then tell them how you want them to do every little thing, the message is clear: You don’t really trust them after all. When your team members ask what to do in a given situation, respond by asking what they would recommend. Then you can discuss the idea, and they can confidently take the reins in finding a resolution.

Another factor to consider: When you first start to delegate a project, the new owner will probably take longer than you do to complete tasks. This is because you are an expert in the field and the person to whom you have delegated is still learning. Be patient, though. If you have chosen the right person to delegate to, and you are delegating correctly, you will find that the task’s new owner quickly becomes competent and reliable.

Lastly, make sure you recognize and reward results. Employees who have been assigned new projects should be recognized and applauded for their successes. Discuss the ways that success will impact future financial rewards and career opportunities. Provide recognition where deserved.

On the flip side, you also need to work with your staff to analyze failures, uncovering the missteps to help provide an opportunity for future learning. Providing timely feedback on results — both positive and negative — is essential.

As a leader, you should get in the practice of complimenting members of your team whenever you are impressed by what they have accomplished. It may feel unnatural, or take extra effort on your part, but such praise will go a long way toward building team members’ self-confidence and efficiency — both of which will improve performance on the next delegated task.

AVOID FAILURES

Advisory firm executives should also keep in mind (and, of course, avoid) a few of the main problems that can undermine an attempt to delegate work.

  • Failure to plan: Leaders often think it is easier to do the work themselves instead of taking the time to review all their activities and determine which ones may be delegated to save time. Ask yourself: What are your top five priorities? Can any of these be successfully delegated? Ideally, you want to arrange the workload so that you are working on the tasks that have the highest priority for you, and other people are working on meaningful and challenging assignments. 
  • Failure to communicate: It is critical for you to take time to discuss expectations with employees, explain the importance of the activities being delegated and share information that will help employees succeed with the new project. 
  • Fear of relinquishing control: Even good managers may fear losing control of the work, winding up with poor results or a negative impact on clients. Something to keep in mind, however, is that delegation is not a process of abdication. You are still responsible for the overall quality of what is being delivered to your clients. 

That’s what makes the feedback and communication part of the process so vitally important. Hire talented people, provide them with learning opportunities and guidance — and then step out of the way and watch them flourish. 
Kelli Cruz is a Financial Planning columnist and the founder of Cruz Consulting Group in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter at @KelliCruzSF.

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