Do you want it fast, or do you want it good? I’m not talking about pizza; I’m talking about delegating.
For a business owner, there are many opportunities to delegate and just as many ways it can go wrong. Entrepreneurs typically try to delegate tasks, get frustrated, then give up, telling themselves, “If you want it done right, you have to do it yourself.”
What you might not realize is that delegating is not a single act, but rather a process of teaching, feedback and encouragement that ends with the ability to assign work. Trying to begin with assigning work is like telling a new piano student that she will start with a recital. What you want to do instead is begin with the basics, give the student a chance to master “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” then push her out onto the stage.
Here are the four essential steps to successful delegating.
1. Ready, set, teach. Let’s say you are looking to delegate your inbound sales efforts to a new employee, Susan. You, the owner or manager, have been fielding these calls by yourself up to now, and you’re looking forward to getting some help.
Your first impulse might be to simply sit down with Susan and verbally give her the rundown of how you handle these calls: Find out who referred the caller, get the details on their request, provide a price range, etc. You know, common sense stuff.
But wait! Think about it from Susan’s perspective. What assumptions are you making, and what are you taking for granted? Even though you may be eager to get this show on the road, take the time to prepare before you begin teaching a new skill or behavior.
Gather existing documentation such as pricing sheets or examples of previous projects. Think about what kind of outlines, checklists, or cheat sheets you might want to create to facilitate the teaching process. Anticipate questions and overestimate how long the conversation will take, even with the help of job aids.
2. Practice and review. Once you’ve completed the initial training, give delegatees an opportunity to practice their new chops with your supervision and review. Ideally, you’ll find a way to give them a low-stakes setting where they can make mistakes without major consequences.
For example, you may decide to have Susan take the lead on fielding the next call that comes in while keeping you close by, just in case she runs into something unexpected. I have also used call recording services so that my employee would be firmly in charge of the call, and I could listen to and review his performance afterwards.
Now comes the part that people dread – giving feedback. Luckily, the most important thing is giving positive feedback. You may need to re-teach some information, but generally speaking, new learners are harder on themselves than you could ever be, so your job as the delegator is to focus on what they did right. This kind of positive praise and attention actually helps to embed their new learning at the neural level.
3. Let them build confidence. After you have provided the positive feedback and any additional training or job aids, you’ll want to encourage delegatees to build confidence with more practice and more input into the process.
At this point, they should be competent with the basics, so now it is time for them to truly make the task their own. Ask for their suggestions and encourage them to develop their own style. Unleash their unique strengths and acknowledge that their way may be different from yours, but equally effective or even superior.
4. Get out of the way. Now you are ready to delegate! By which I mean, you can now simply ask Susan to handle an inbound sales call. Your student has become recital-ready through instruction, encouragement and practice, and you get to reap the rewards.
Trust in your training and development efforts and resist the urge to micro-manage. Reconnect to your original reasons for delegating – more time for product development, for example – and make sure your new availability is now allocated toward that goal.
Figure out how often you need to “spot check” the work for quality control and think about how you can help the delegatee keep improving over time. And don’t neglect to give yourself a pat on the back before you decide on the next task you plan to delegate.
Remember, employees, contractors, vendors and business partners – whether they be local, virtual or overseas – all require a methodical approach to delegating to ensure success.
Jennie Wong, Ph.D., is a syndicated business writer, executive coach, and the author of "Ask the Mompreneur: Small Business Advice on Starting and Growing Your Own Company," available at www.JennieWong.com. Email your entrepreneurship questions to TheJennieWong@gmail.com.