The Art of Delegation – An Interview

I am the CEO of a small business and learning the art of delegation has proven to be the single most important lesson to my company’s growth, workplace satisfaction, and work product standardization.

What was the best advice you’ve gotten about delegating work? Early on I was mentored by an executive at the Coca Cola corporation who taught me that, in order to grow my business into a national brand, I must create a reliable and consistent experience for the end user. Why are customers loyal to Coke? Because they like it. So, naturally they expect it to be the same every time they buy it. They would be disappointed if it wasn’t. So, I had to handle my brand the same way. But how was I to grow my small bookkeeping business with three bookkeepers and 30 clients into a national brand that delivered a reliable product and service? By delegating the work to the team and making it replicable.

What made it so valuable? Once I fully adopted her way of thinking it made my refusal of non-conforming clients easy. Instead of trying to change our processes to meet their needs, I was able to tell them that I did not believe we would be able to meet their needs and thereby eliminated any clients that were looking to run the show themselves, deviate from our established standards for quality, or make demands that caused us to be inefficient. That left me with a client base that valued our service and were pleased to work with us. It also helped me to define for our sales team exactly what we do and what product our clients can expect when they engage us. This training on the sales side helped us to avoid unfit clients in the future. Now we were ready to grow….but how was I going to teach all of those Bookkeepers how I wanted the work done? I couldn’t do it one at a time so I created precise instruction sets which eventually were combined to become our operating manuals for the various positions within our organization.

How would you rate your own ability to delegate? Why? Excellent. I think a major hurdle to delegation is the idea that ‘I can do it better and faster so I may as well just get it done’. Of course you can, but that is a self-defeating and task oriented mentality. What happens when that same situation arises again – as surely it will repeat itself if you department or company is growing – and this time you don’t have the bandwidth to get it done? Now you have become the problem – not the solution. I always suggest my managers do everything at least once so they can understand the concepts and steps involved in any given task. Once they know it, they need to create an instruction set and delegate the task. When we delegate we either record it in a manual or instruction set or record the training in video format which can be shared with anyone needs to perform that task in the future. Yes, this takes a lot more time than doing it yourself, but it is much better for the team and the company.

What do you wish you could improve about your delegation skills? I need to be careful to express the ‘why’ as well as the ‘how’ when I delegate a task. I find that if I explain the purpose behind the task, team members will carry the torch and be more studious about quality and timeliness. They take ownership of it and often they will improve upon the instructions to make the task more efficient or find overlap benefits in other areas.

What do you have trouble with? What have the consequences been? Since ours is a small business, I have the propensity to wear all of the hats. I want to know what’s going on in every area and I want to learn about each facet before I decide who is best for the job. The cure for this is to remember that I have many well qualified, intelligent, dedicated staff members on the team and they want what’s best for the company as well. When I resist the urge to be involved and instead delegate the learning curve and team selection decision to someone else, the flow begins again and we are able to move forward on more fronts than ever before.

How do you choose the right person to whom to delegate a task? One of the keys to delegation is the creation of Quality Control checks that allow you to determine if the work is being done properly and in a timely manner. Good strong QC checks will help you avoid a culture of micro-management. I will typically chose the person who is able to most efficiently perform the task and then I will chose another person to whom they have to be accountable. The accountability partner receives data from the task performer and the only sign that something is amiss is the absence of communication or data. In this passive role, that person can easily oversee a multitude of tasks and offer support only when and where it is needed to get something back on track.

Once you build the cookie cutter of processes and QC stops for each position, delegation is not a problem and the future growth of a department or business is reliant only on adding new clients and new team members!

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