One of the toughest hurdles for any business owner is relinquishing control. However, effective delegation requires you to assign or outsource work that is diverting too much time from your most important job—growing your business.
It can be tempting to hang on to certain roles, particularly those related to finance, but routine duties like overseeing inventory and invoices can be time suckers. “Failure to delegate is one of the key reasons small companies fail to grow,” says Liz Pielow, an HR consultant at STRATiCOM, a small business management consulting company in Minneapolis. If you’re spending more than half your time on trivial tasks that aren’t moving the business forward, she recommends honing your delegation techniques.
Rather than blindly farming out your work, make sure your approach contains six key ingredients:
Balanced hiring. “The first thing I would do is hire people who complement your skill set rather than mimic it,” Pielow says. If you’re a big-picture person, find somebody who’s detail-oriented. Then you can stop struggling with projects that are better suited for someone else.
Training and mentoring. According to Pielow, a common mistake made by small business owners is delegating tasks without sufficient training. “The advantage to training people ahead of time is they begin to understand your thought process as an owner,” she says.
From complex proposals to simple tasks like answering customer emails and phone calls, be sure that people are properly trained to handle each task they’re assigned—and in a way that’s right for your small business.
Communication of purpose. When delegating a job, explain how it fits in with the larger purpose of the company. For example, a business owner could hire someone to install and manage a new computer system, and assume that the IT person doesn’t need an overall understanding of the business.
Not so, says Pielow. She suggests telling the person, “We’re planning 20% growth next year, we have five key customers identified, we plan to start handling orders on such and such a date, and we’re not going be able to handle the growth with our existing system.” When people understand their role in the business, they’re more likely to alert you if they need additional support or information.
Outsourcing. If there aren’t enough duties to justify hiring a new employee, consider outsourcing them to an independent contractor. Accountants, marketing specialists and Web designers can free you up to focus on fine-tuning your product or service, pricing, networking and other aspects of your business.
Just be sure you’re communicating the same information to the contractor—purpose, timeline and expectations—that you would to someone in your own company.
Follow up. Check in regularly to make sure the tasks you’ve assigned are on track, and be available to answer questions. If you’re not used to delegating, it may take extra effort to stay on top of projects without being overbearing.
“One of the biggest mistakes people make once they turn that project over to someone is micromanaging,” says Pielow. “You should be concerned with the results you’re getting, not how the results are getting there.” Through occasional meetings and ongoing communication you can ensure everyone has the tools they need to do their job, leaving you the ease of mind to do your own.