3 Responsibilities Owners Should Never Delegate

Date: November 18, 2013

Business owners must delegate in order to be successful, but a few areas should remain the owner’s purview.

Halley Bock, president and CEO of Fierce Inc., a Seattle-based leadership development and training company, is a firm believer that delegation can be a powerful tool for small business owners. "It both frees up the owner for more strategic activities and expands the experience and level of responsibility for the staff." But she also believes some tasks should never be handed off to a subordinate.

Case in point: Bock says entrepreneurs should never delegate the establishment of their business' culture or values.

"It's plainly true that leadership starts at the top, and if small business owners want their teams to act in a certain way, and if they want their company perceived in a certain way by customers, they must embody the behaviors they hope to establish," she says.

Another reason it's important for small business owners to handle this task themselves: It's critical to the success of companies both big and small, and the owners of said companies "are uniquely positioned to possess the disparate data points and have the perspective to make optimal choices for the business."

Here are a few other tasks that business and leadership experts say should not be delegated:

1. Overall responsibility

"The reality is, if you're the owner or the CEO or the senior manager or the senior supervisor of a business, the responsibility of everything that happens within that business is yours," says John Boggs, a former U.S. Marine Corps Colonel and current president of Phoenix-based Fortitude Consulting LLC. "Does that mean that you have to do everything yourself? No. Absolutely not," he adds. "But you do have to understand and accept that you’re responsible for everything that happens—or what fails to happen."

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2. The development of your immediate subordinates

"Why? Because you need to know they are trained and fully capable of performing their responsibilities," Boggs explains. Leave this aspect of your business to chance, he adds, and "you're likely to see factions develop that will break off and vie for attention” and possibly become a festering wound within your organization. The moral to this particular story, according to Boggs: "You can't 'bring people up' and then leave them alone."

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3. Any decision that affects your entire organization

Such decisions are "yours and yours alone," stresses Boggs. "Never give anyone else the authority to make a decision that affects your entire organization," he adds. "That’s a strategic decision by definition, and as such it's yours to make. That doesn't mean you make it in a vacuum, though. You have to gather facts and input before making it, but the final decision has to be yours."

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When It’s OK to Delegate

There are a few jobs you should feel free to hand over to subordinates, says Paul Foster, CPA, CEO and founder of The Business Therapist. Hand off the most repetitive ones first, he suggests.

The key is to "accept [that you] will need to give up a little bit of control to get some freedom in exchange." Also, if you can accept that, at first, the staffer now completing the task will do it "80 percent as well as you can, it will ease the perfectionist impulse to say, 'You didn't do it perfectly. I'll handle it myself.'"

Foster also suggests creating a system around delegated tasks. "If the business owner designs and then trains the new person on the system, it [becomes] a trainable, repeatable part of the business." Not only will that free up some of the owner's time, he assures, "but it usually increases efficiency and profitability" as well.

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