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The Green Sheet Online Edition

February 23, 2009 • Issue 09:02:02

Dead-on delegation

By Vicki M. Daughdrill
Small Business Resources LLC

The new year is in full swing, the economy continues to struggle and generating new customers is a top priority for every business. You've set your goals for the year, created a budget to achieve those goals and positioned your company to realize its potential. You've organized your office and worked at managing your time. Now, it's time to focus on actually running your business.

Owners of successful businesses exhibit a variety of management skills, including the following:

  • Strategic planning
  • Negotiating
  • Managing conflicts
  • Developing strong teams
  • Conducting effective performance appraisals
  • Mentoring
  • Running efficient meetings
  • Providing rewards and recognition
  • Delegating

In the coming year, I will discuss each of these topics. I will begin with the fine art of delegation.

It is a widely held belief that the success of a small business depends on the owner's ability to delegate effectively. There is simply not enough time in each day for the owner to complete every task necessary to assure that the company continues to grow and thrive. Like many other skills, delegation is a learned process. Becoming an adept delegator is challenging; it requires learning to let go, allowing others to make decisions and accepting consequences - including work that is perhaps not exactly as you would complete it had you done it yourself.

Why should I learn to delegate?

Delegating tasks to others has the following benefits. It:

  • Lightens your workload and eliminates your having to do routine or administrative tasks so you can spend time and energy on revenue generating activities

  • Shows respect to your subordinates and reflects your trust that they can complete the work

  • Eliminates frustration and confusion among your staff, provided everyone clearly understands the work to be completed and knows who is responsible for accomplishing each task

  • Keeps things from falling through the cracks

  • Allows key employees to develop new skills, take greater responsibility within the company, take initiative and move into higher levels of management

  • Grooms your successor to move into your job when you move to your next position higher up in the organization

  • Makes sure that activities continue in your absence and that quality customer service is ongoing

When should I delegate?

Part of the learning curve is knowing when to delegate. Here are some guidelines to help you. It is appropriate to delegate when:

  • A significant amount of work must be completed in a short timeframe

  • An employee has specific skills or interest in the tasks to be completed

  • An employee can learn and grow from accepting additional responsibility

  • You have routine or administrative tasks that require attention

  • Details take up too much of your time, and you need to focus on revenue-generating activities

How do I learn to delegate?

Here are eight steps that can lead to smooth delegation of work:

  1. Evaluate the skill sets and interests of your employees, and determine the appropriate person for each task you want to delegate.

  2. Delegate the entire task, both the responsibility for the task and the authority needed to accomplish the task.

  3. Clearly explain your desired outcome while focusing on the result, not the process.

  4. Ask employees to summarize their understanding of their assigned tasks, including anticipated results or outcomes.

  5. Request ongoing status reports on the delegated projects, and provide appropriate feedback.

  6. Keep communication lines open without hovering, but still remaining available for clarification and assistance as needed.

  7. Assess progress on a regular basis and, if at all possible, work with employees to fulfill tasks rather than take the work back - an action that demoralizes employees and provides you another task to complete.

  8. Finally, evaluate the completed tasks, reward employees for their performance and accomplishments, and remember to reward the results, not the methods used to complete the project.

What shouldn't be delegated?

Part of the learning process is to know what to delegate. The following are duties business owners or managers should never delegate:

  • Performance evaluations and appraisals
  • Disciplinary actions
  • Politically sensitive activities, confidential issues or hot-potato customers
  • Confrontations resulting from interpersonal conflicts

Where do I begin?

Here is a brief quiz to help you evaluate your ability (and willingness) to delegate. Answer yes or no to the following 10 questions:

  1. Do I feel it is easier to complete a task myself rather than train someone else to do it?

  2. Do I worry that delegating assignments will reduce my authority within the company or that I will be perceived as less valuable?

  3. Do I find that my employees don't complete the tasks I've delegated?

  4. Do I feel there are only a few of my employees who can handle delegated tasks?

  5. Do I believe I should be able to complete every task by myself and without help?

  6. Have I been told that I micromanage tasks that have been delegated?

  7. Do I "take back" delegated tasks when it's clear that an employee won't get it done on time?

  8. Do I avoid delegating because I believe my employees are already overworked?

  9. Do I often assign tasks or assignments in the hallway or on the spur of the moment?

  10. Do I sometimes delegate responsibility for getting a task done without delegating the appropriate level of authority?

If you answered yes to five or more of these questions, consider devoting time to further developing your delegation skills. Significant tools exist to help you learn this essential management skill. A search for "delegation" on one Internet search engine produced 599,000 hits; books and seminars on the topic abound.

In this challenging year, take extra time to enhance and strengthen your management skills. The survival of your business may depend on it. end of article

Vicki M. Daughdrill is the Managing Member of Small Business Resources LLC, a management consulting company. E-mail her at vickid@netdoor.com or call her at 601-310-3594.

Notice to readers: These are archived articles. Contact names or information may be out of date. We regret any inconvenience.

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