How to master effective delegation

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Have you fallen into the trap of trying to do everything by yourself? If so, you must learn to delegate, both to stay sane and to give your team room to grow.

Running a business can feel like an uphill struggle – there’s always too much to do and not enough time. But if you’re honest with yourself, isn’t this because you find it difficult to loosen the reins and let others take on more responsibility?

The fear of delegation

Karen Meager, organisational psychologist and co-founder of training consultancy Monkey Puzzle, says many practice owners choose not to delegate tasks out of fear of them not going to plan.

“They want to stay in control to maintain high-standards, especially if they’ve built the practice themselves from scratch and their reputation is on the line.”

If you started out as a solo practitioner, you’re used to wearing multiple hats and may be reluctant to divvy out certain responsibilities once you’ve hired staff.

“Also, the common belief is If I don’t do it myself, it will not be done properly,” says Vivienne O’Keeffe, business mentor and CEO at V Vortex Holdings. Perhaps you believe it’s easier or faster to do the job yourself, too

“You may feel like it takes more time to tell people what you want and then oversee it,” says Shaun Thomson, CEO of Sandler Training (UK).

Or, simply, you may not know how to delegate. Fortunately though, delegation is a skill that you can learn.

Top signs that you should delegate

  • You feel 24 hours in a day is never enough.
  • You are stressed, overwhelmed, irritable and have difficulty sleeping and concentrating.
  • Routine or menial tasks take up a significant part of your working day. 
  • Important items on you to-do list often do not get done.
  • Your staff are bored or demotivated.

Stop doing, start managing

“Placing everything upon your shoulders can cause intense anxiety because you feel responsible for everything too,” says Meager. “Therefore, delegating is good for your mental health.”

It will allow you to use your valuable time more productively. 

Thomson says: “Accountants tell their clients they must work on the business, not in the business. They should heed this advice themselves and delegate the doing to the rest of the team so that they have time to concentrate on growing their practice.”

You will also have time to ‘be there’ for your people. “As a practice owner, it’s important that you have the capacity to deal with any problems or challenges your team members bring to you,” Meager says.

O’Keeffe adds that delegation encourages a culture of trust.

“Empowering others with crucial tasks and trusting them to do a good job also boosts your staff’s morale and self-esteem. And this makes for a better working environment for everyone,” she says.

Key reasons why you need to delegate

You’ll be able to:

  • avoid burnout
  • work on your business, not in the business
  • support and develop your team
  • encourage creativity and innovation.

How to embrace delegation

“If you find delegating difficult, it can be easier to start small,” says Meager. “For example, you could initially nominate someone to organise a team building day.

Then both of you should take stock of what you learned, what worked well and what could be improved. Then you can begin delegating some project management tasks to them as you will have greater confidence that they will do a good job.”  

It’s worth spending time identifying the way in which the members of your practice work best.

Meager says: “Some people feel most comfortable thinking about larger tasks with longer time periods, whereas others think in a smaller time frame. If you take into consideration which type of time chunk is most applicable to an individual when delegating a particular task, you will feel more confident they can complete this task to your satisfaction.”

Communicate clearly what results you expect and when, and set checkpoints so that both of you are happy with the direction and the progress.

Six-step formula for effective delegation

Step 1. Decide exactly what you want done. The delegated task must be fully thought out.

Step 2. Assign the task and set clear expectations as to timing, updates and final result.

Step 3. Confirm understanding. Is your staff member absolutely clear on what’s required?

Step 4. Confirm commitment. Are they happy to take on the task? Do they have capacity? Will they need help?

Step 5. Trust, but verify. Let them get on with the job but check progress periodically.

Step 6. Give (and ask for) feedback, and recognise good performance.

In summary

The issue may not be quite as serious as ‘delegate or die’, but your health and your business will definitely suffer unless you learn to divvy out tasks and responsibilities.

Further reading:

Iwona Tokc-Wilde is a business journalist.

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