Strategic Delegation Podcast
We all wish we had more hours in the day. Since that won’t happen, it is critical to make the best use of the hours we have. Delegation is key to maximizing results. You want to be productive and work toward your goals, not be overwhelmed by nonproductive activity.
Optimize Results Instead of Maximizing Effort
Many organizations and individuals seek to maximize output. A focus on maximizing output overlooks the importance of results. So, output optimization focuses on utilizing the right resource for the task. It is all about the return on investment (time and money). Every business, especially small businesses, need to understand the difference.
When an organization uses a higher value resource to perform a lower-value activity, the mismatch increases the cost to the business, reducing profits. Let’s talk about high-value and low-value tasks.
High-value and Low-Value Activities and Tasks
Decision-Criteria for High-Value
First, let’s talk about the decision criteria used to determine high-value versus low-value appraisal. High-value tasks and activities are those that contribute significantly to:
- Long-term mission and goals;
- Revenue and profit generation;
- Cost reduction; and
Low-Value, Urgent Demands
On the other hand, low-value activities consume your time and keep you from the high-value work. These tasks may be urgent but not crucial to long-term success.
Low-value tasks are often necessary tasks that keep the business in business. So there is a significant difference between an essential low-value task or activity and no-value, unnecessary tasks that creep into the organization [I’ll discuss those in a future article]. The critical aspect of low-value tasks is ensuring the least expensive, effective resources to execute them.
What is Delegation?
Delegation is an act of confidence. It occurs when the person with primary responsibility gives a member of their team responsibility and authority to carry out one or more specific activities. Delegation is at the core of effective management and leadership. In effect, delegation says that you trust someone else to execute part of the work you for which you are accountable.
The Impact of Delegation
When leaders delegate, it not only enables them to focus on higher-value tasks, but it also accomplishes several other things:
- Demonstrates confidence team members;
- Provides learning opportunities to the team member;
- Enables match of lower-cost effective resources to the task;
- Prepares your team members for promotion (and you too!);
- Develops trust between workers;
- Improves communication;
- Improves morale;
- Decreases the time to get things done;
- Increases job satisfaction;
- Increases productivity;
- Increases results; and
- Improves decision-making.
Why People Don’t Delegate
Here are a few reasons that cited for not delegating the low-value tasks:
- It is quicker to do it myself. It takes an investment in developing resources and team members that are effective and capable. This investment may include time recruiting a third party, time to train and mentor the person, and time to setup up communication and monitoring systems.
- The lack of control is the issue. For many, it is hard to give up control of how tasks get done. It may be a matter of self-confidence or a fear of a loss of control. The inability to delegate is the struggle of many micromanagers and control freaks!
- I can’t afford it. Many organizations are operating lean. It is hard for them to justify to themselves or higher-ups spending money on adding team members to handle low-value tasks. After all, we said they are low-value. Organizations want to spend their money on the talent that makes an impact. What they often miss in their evaluation is that it is less costly in the long-run to free up the more expensive and skilled team members to do more of the high-impact activities.
- No one in the organization knows how to do the task. This point gets back to developing your team’s skillsets.
- Sadly one of the reasons people don’t delegate is that they lack confidence. They fear that if they allow someone else to do the tasks, the person will perform the tasks better, possibly putting them at risk of replacement. From this perspective, It is job security to do everything themselves.
- They don’t know how to decide what to delegate.
- They’ve had a bad experience.
Successful Delegation Process
What to Delegate
It all begins with an assessment of the tasks and activities. At every level of the organization, business owners, leaders, and managers need to analyze their jobs. The analysis should generate a comprehensive list of daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual tasks. Define each task with the following elements:
- Should this task be delegated – is it a critical task for long-term success (high-value impact)?
- Examples include: recruiting a high expertise position, working with a crucial customer, and so on.
- Does the task require unique expertise?
- Does the task provide an opportunity to develop a team member’s skills and expertise?
- Is this a task that recurs and would provide on-going benefits if you develop someone to do it?
You ultimately want a list of your activities and tasks ̶major and minor. [I recommend a spreadsheet. A spreadsheet makes it easier to sort and analyze functions as needed.] List the task, frequency, skills/expertise required, and other information relevant to determining if, when, how, and to whom the task can be assigned. [An important point to make is that every person in the organization should have a continuity or contingency plan for the unexpected. What if someone is sick or leaves suddenly? Knowing who can take over the job is crucial to the business.]
After creating your task list, assign a level to each task. You can use ABC’s (or 123’s, whichever you prefer).
A-Level Items ̶ High-Value
A-level tasks are the high-value tasks that you retain. However, these tasks are ones that you should consider developing a team member to be able to execute during a crisis (too many A-level tasks to do) or when you are preparing to move up the ladder. [The old saying of train your replacement applies here. If you have the confidence to train someone to move up to your job, then you have the opportunity to respond rapidly to your chances to advance.]
B-Level Items ̶ Medium-Value
These tasks indirectly support your long-term success. These are the enabling tasks related to building the business – systems, processes, infrastructure, and capability related. They need to happen consistently and efficiently.
C-Level Items ̶ Low-Value
As previously discussed, these are items that require attention today. These do not make or break the business from the perspective of catastrophic failure. But they will damage relationships with customers, vendors, and other stakeholders if not addressed. These activities are time stealers. These can include:
- Screening email
- Scheduling appointments
- Attending routine meetings
- Other administrative tasks.
Again these tasks have to get done, just not by you.
When to Delegate
The next step is to take your delegatable tasks list. The next step is to determine if this is the proper time to delegate. A critical aspect of successful delegation is timing and support. The first time you delegate even low-value tasks, you will still likely have to invest your time.
- Do you have time to effectively delegate (provide support as needed, check progress, review and rework work-product)?
- Is there time to get the job done?
- Inexperienced team members may take longer to do the work.
- The work may need to be redone or revised to get a quality output.
- The consequence of not getting the project done on time may be prohibitive.
- What are the consequences of not meeting quality or timing?
- What is the impact of failed delegation?
To Whom Should You Delegate
There are many factors to consider when you delegate. Successful delegation requires you to match the task to the right experience, skills, and knowledge.
So how well do you know your team? Before you make any decision to delegate, it is crucial to know the expertise, attitude, skills, experience, and workload of anyone you consider for delegation. Many managers forget their team members have a life outside the business, and before they joined the company.
Another thing to consider in the delegation equation is the person’s communication and management styles. Do they have to be told what to do, or will they ask? Can you give them broad parameters, and they can fill in the details? Do they have confidence in their ability to get things done, or do they tend to be under or overconfident?
Hidden Potential ̶ Team Capability
Your team members may be involved in volunteer and community organizations. Those organizations may have provided opportunities to gain new skills and experience. In addition to new experiences, your team members may engage in continuing education (CPE, college, and graduate school).
I recommend that you make time to update your knowledge of each team member. Encourage them to let you know when they have expanded their skills, education, and experience.
Another aspect of getting to know your team utilizes analytical trait assessments (personality and strengths tests). The value of assessments lies in their ability to reveal indicators of the innate personality, decision-making, and other traits. Now not all assessments are equal, nor do they tell the entire story about a person. But they do provide another perspective on your teams’ hidden potential.
Throughout my career and education, I have taken a multitude of personality, skill, and other assessments. Some were highly accurate. These tools build awareness of possibilities. [One caution: Some people may want to use their results as an excuse why they “can’t.” I’ve worked with several companies whose employees and owners explained their personality tests said they weren’t capable of doing something. Assessments are about tendencies, traits, and indicators. They are not absolutes.]
When is the best time to start your delegation process? Now. A better time doesn’t exist. Busy is a perpetual state for most of us. Make the time to develop your strategic delegation plan:
- Create your activities and task spreadsheet (or choose the tool of your choice). Don’t forget to rank each task (ABC or 123)
- Define each element on the spreadsheet with the vital information needed to make a decision.
- Create a list of your team members with their education, experience (within and outside the organization, skills, credentials, and assessment results.
- Identify the people who can do the work.
- Choose to delegate to the person most qualified and the time to do the work.
What if the best person doesn’t have the time? Ask them to go through the delegation steps and identify what work they can delegate to another team member (peer or subordinate).
Delegation is an on-going process and requires situational awareness at all times. It is too easy to let low-value tasks creep back into your daily routine. When you find your stress level going up, and you feel like the more you work, the further behind you are getting, stop!
Take the time to step back and assess where you are spending your time. Has the job changed, or did you lose your delegation discipline? Set your rules and boundaries and stick to them.
I love to automate where and when possible. I work with a great deal of confidential information and am always engaged in new activities with colleagues, clients, and other stakeholders. It is challenging for an administrative assistant to screen my email because of an evolving list of commitments and priorities. So I utilize software to manage emails.
Many tools exist to create sorting rules for your email. One of my practices is to set up a rule as soon as I get the first email from an organization. I establish folders and subfolders in my email system based on the sender, domain, or type of email. It automatically gets filed into the appropriate folder. For instance, e-magazines go into a things-to-read folder. Continuing education emails, yep a folder for that too.
Other tools include workflow automation, scheduling, team management, and more! If you absolutely can’t afford a person to take the load off, look at software and apps to automate some or all aspects of tasks. [Keep in mind that the more you can consolidate or integrate your software tools, the less duplication of effort you will have.]
It may seem that delegation is a lot of work and not worth it. In the short run, you may be right, but you are in this for the long-run success of your business. Delegation is an investment in the future of your business success. It can significantly expand the amount of work that gets done.
Effective delegation requires you to take the time to:
- Choose the right tasks,
- Identify the right people,
- Delegate effectively, and
- Monitor the results.
Strategic delegation is the key to increasing your return on investment in all aspects of your business, especially the people. With the right people on your team, and the motivation to develop them as part of your business growth strategy, success is in your future.