Small-business owners can sometimes feel like they’re the only ones capable of bringing their company success and fall into the trap of trying to solve every single problem. While some are able to recognize and avoid this pitfall through employee delegation, others are more reluctant to let go, due either to scarce resources or the intense emotional investment they have in their company.
The inability to delegate can be compounded by the loose structure of a small business. When a company hasn’t been around long enough to develop clear roles and reporting systems, communication can turn into a confusing mess of crossed wires. These misunderstandings create delays and mistakes, which only make matters worse for the owner and end up limiting business growth.
Ultimately, this lack of delegation can lead to emotional exhaustion and burnout for entrepreneurs — two feelings that can prevent leaders from realizing the full potential of their companies. If leaders are truly invested in the success of their businesses, they have to learn how to share their responsibilities.
The Keys to Effective Delegation
If everything in your company depends on you, it can only grow as large as your personal capacity allows. Proper delegation makes it possible to scale beyond your own reach. Great leaders wouldn’t have achieved their level of success without delegating effectively, but they also don’t delegate blindly. To assign responsibility in a scalable way, you must delegate purposefully:
1. Learn what people are passionate about.
You’re likely less productive than you could be because some of your regular tasks drain your energy. When you’re motivated and energized by a task, you can do it twice as fast — the same thing is true for your employees. If you blindly give them tasks they don’t enjoy, they’re not going to be effective.
Before you delegate, spend time getting to know your team. My company specializes in pharmaceuticals, but our value system is steeped in our commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR). When I get to know new employees and connect with seasoned ones, I like to assess how our CSR work has resonated with them and ask whether they’d like to shoulder more responsibility in those initiatives. It’s a unique way to show trust in someone and determine their readiness for additional duties.
You can’t hand off the right tasks if you don’t know what your team members excel at or enjoy doing. Build relationships with them and learn about their interests, hobbies and passions before assigning them tasks.
2. Uncover your unconscious biases.
We make assumptions about people all the time. It’s only natural, and it helps us to have mental categories so we’re not processing everyone from a completely blank slate. But it’s not helpful when we use these categories to assume whether people want to — or can — do certain tasks.
As a leader, it’s your responsibility to question your biases and learn to look past them. When you’re delegating, you should ask one fundamental question: Does this person have the experience and the know-how to take on this extra responsibility? Allow that question to guide your ultimate decision.
If everything in your company depends on you, it can only grow as large as your personal capacity allows.
3. Be flexible.
Delegation is an ongoing process. You can’t simply choose a task, find a person to do it and then let it go. That’s a recipe for chaos rather than healthy business growth. As you hand off responsibilities, you’ll want to plan for any necessary follow-ups with your employees and stay open to coaching or making changes that are needed.
It’s essential to create clear channels of communication — whether in person or digitally — so you can see how people are adapting to their new tasks. This allows you to assess their work, provide constructive feedback and set them up for a successful transition. In cases where a task isn’t a good fit, you can quickly redirect team members to something else.
Whenever I assign a task to an employee, I schedule regular check-ins and use email, direct messaging, in-person and other communication methods. We touch base on progress toward project milestones and work together to determine whether they need any additional resources or insight from me.
When you start a small business, you’re driven to create something that can grow and make an impact. But this dream can often drown in the day-to-day work of running your business. If you want to keep your business growing—and your dream alive—you have to learn to let go.
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