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Learn to delegate

I’ve written about delegation before, but I continue to think about it because so many small business owners don’t do it very well.

Entrepreneurs often like to pull all the significant levers in the business and push all the important buttons.  They built the business and know the critical parts of it better than anyone, so they don’t hand off any core decisions, responsibilities, or activities to anyone else.  Yet by failing to delegate, the owner is unable to keep good people and unable to grow the business beyond his or her personal limitations.  If this is a problem for you, please read below.

In the end, effective delegation is a trust issue.  What if I do hand off something important to someone else and they screw it up?

Here’s a way to limit your risk and gradually learn to delegate effectively.

Divide the all the company’s identifiable, distinct decisions, responsibilities, or activities into four categories: A, B, C, and D.  When you assign a D responsibility to someone, instruct that person that this responsibility is theirs and theirs alone.  They should just go ahead and carry it out.  Don’t call, don’t write, don’t report to me when you’ve done it.  Just do it.

When giving out a C responsibility, you instruct that person that this is still a responsibility that is theirs, and they don’t need get permission in advance, just go ahead and do it.  But in this case, you want to be notified when it’s done.

B responsibilities are moving up the ladder another rung.  You should instruct the person with these responsibilities, “These do require a consultation, so before you pull the trigger on one of these, we need to talk about it.”

You can show your subordinates a list of A responsibilities, but you don’t give those out.  Those are the decisions, responsibilities, or activities that you will continue to reserve for yourself.  Ideally, over time, these will be the long-term, strategic decisions you are making for the company.

If this is done in a clear, well-defined way, you will have drawn very effective boundaries for your people.  You shouldn’t have anyone going off the reservation and doing things he or she has no authority to do.  In short, you maintain control.  But better yet, you begin a process of delegation that can grow over time.  Again, this is a trust issue.  So you build trust as you see how effectively your subordinates handle the responsibilities you’ve given them.  Then more of your A responsibilities can become B responsibilities and given to someone else.  Likewise, a B can be transformed into a C, or a C to a D.  It’s just a way to avoid throwing someone into the deep end of the pool before they’ve proved they can swim.

One other caveat: when you delegate something to someone, judge the results they achieve, not their methods.  They may carry out a responsibility differently than you would have done it, but if they get the desired result, who cares?  Don’t micro manage.  Give them some latitude to do things their way, to bring something of themselves and their creativity to the process.  Who knows?  If you let them alone, they may even figure out a way that’s better than yours.

This is an evolutionary way to build delegation into your company’s culture.  Ultimately, your subordinates will be doing the things they are qualified to do, and you’ll be left with only those things that truly belong on your plate.

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