Doing everything when you’re a scrappy startup owner can feel glamorous and exciting. So can jumping out of an airplane. But you shouldn’t leap without a parachute—and you shouldn’t lead without accepting the value of learning to delegate.
Now, you may find delegation challenging. Maybe you’ve just always been a hands-on person and can’t stand the idea of losing a grip on the creation process. Perhaps you tried to delegate once and ended up with disastrous results. Regardless, you’re only hampering the growth of your company by trying to handle everything.
Even if you can do one particular task better than others, your time could be more valuable elsewhere. Enter strategic delegation. While you don’t want to take a knee-jerk approach and shuffle off all your tasks, it’s also not ideal to just dole out a couple of easy assignments and call it a day.
To help you become a master of delegation, start with these three strategies. The first will get you mentally prepared to say goodbye to some of your to-do items. The second and third will allow you to maintain just enough control—without devolving into a micromanager—to be able to sleep at night.
1. Believe that you can’t and shouldn’t do it all.
The idea that you’re not superhuman is a tough pill to swallow, particularly if you have a lone wolf working style. Your ambitious entrepreneurial brain will push back against the notion that you can’t be a hyper-productive army of one. But if you take on too many responsibilities and push yourself too hard, you’ll only end up burning out, which 52% of professionals have already experienced, according to an Indeed survey.
How can you adapt to the reality that your business won’t immediately crumble if your hands aren’t in everything? Start by dividing tasks into “A” and “B” categories. An A-level activity is best done by you or another executive, while B-level activities can be completed by others without any ill effect. Don’t forget that some tasks can be separated into smaller pieces and partially delegated.
Now, take all your B-level activities off your plate by delegating them to specific employees or even independent contractors. For example, you might need to speak with your biggest clients on the phone every month. Do you need to set up those appointments yourself, or could someone else do it for you? Even if you spend only one hour a month texting and emailing clients to set up check-ins, that’s an hour you can devote to more A-level activities that would benefit more from your attention.
2. Develop a centralized repository of standard operating procedures.
Still feeling a bit queasy at the nation of handing over responsibilities, particularly to newer, untested team members? Ask yourself this question: Would you feel more comfortable and confident if you knew your employees were going to act exactly as you would? The answer is probably “yes,” which points to the need for improved process documents like standard operating procedures.
You can construct as many standard operating procedures as you want for repeated or even one-off procedures. For example, many human resources departments have procedure checklists for onboarding workers. The benefit of checklists is that anyone can follow them. This maintains a high degree of consistency and standardization, which is essential for a strong new-hire experience and your peace of mind. Just about anything you plan to delegate could be documented as a standard procedure.
If you’re looking for inspiration for setting up your standard operating procedures, know that you aren’t expected to reinvent the wheel. Some software platforms feature SOP creation templates. On the other hand, you could always take a more do-it-yourself approach and customize your documentation based on your and your employees’ learning styles. Anything from a recorded instructional video to a step-by-step “how-to” guide can be valuable. Once you have your SOPs in place, you can feel less concerned when delegating.
3. Monitor your delegated tasks with some help from technology.
Just because you delegate an activity doesn’t mean you won’t want to keep tabs on its progress. Nevertheless, you won’t get far if you ask someone to perform a task and then spend all your time looking over the person’s shoulder. You’ll not only waste any returns you would have gotten, but you’ll also probably disempower your employee. That’s hardly a wise move, given that U.S. employees say one of the biggest reasons for leaving their last jobs was that they didn’t feel trusted and valued by their managers and organizations.
The workaround for this is as close as your tech stack. Plenty of systems exist that will allow you to monitor your employees’ individual and collective work. For instance, project management software can enable you to know at a glance whether anything’s been done on a task that you delegated last week. You don’t have to bother anyone to log into your account and, if all goes well, to put your mind to ease.
With that said, try not to get into vendor overload. As Jennifer Sun, CEO of compliance software company StarCompliance, explains, too many portals can make it hard to get a comprehensive understanding of what’s happening. In her experience, overbaking your efforts “results in tremendous duplication and a wastefulness that runs counter to the benefits of using a vendor in the first place.” Sun suggests streamlining your technologies into a single system to avoid turning your delegation dreams into a nightmare.
You may never win the “Delegator of the Year” award, and that’s fine. But you can teach yourself the delegation skills you need in order to benefit and protect you, grow your employees’ responsibilities and skills, and safeguard your company’s health.