Plus special bonus five steps to help you transform into a world-class delegator

Heart of Business Mentor, and Maximising Value Expert Malcolm Allitt shares his thoughts with you.

In my last blog I offered ideas aimed at helping you get past some of the blocks which might be holding back the potential of your business.  Central to my thinking is that, as a business owner, your attention needs to be focused on the long-term direction of your business and in leading and growing your team to deliver your objectives – you simply can’t do this if you’re flat out, coping with everything that lands on your desk!  

The value of your business depends on the people working for you.  The truth in this statement is easy to see.  Ten people working together really effectively has got to be more productive than one person working flat out (you) and nine others working at only 70% because they’re not fully utilised, stimulated or stretched.

Achieving your goals through others requires a range of skills including objective setting, planning, leading and co-ordinating.  But the biggest perceived risk is that the people you delegate to will simply get it wrong.

“Delegation is just too risky!”

What do you do in other parts of your life when you perceive a serious and potentially expensive risk that you can’t fully control?  You take what steps you can to manage it… and then, if you’re prudent, you take out an insurance policy.

In your organisation you can manage delegation using a similar approach.  Here’s a five-step ‘risk-management’ model which I hope you’ll find useful.  The first three steps are very basic and involve no risk:

Step 1. Step-by-step command: ‘Wait there until I tell you what to do!’

Step 2. Close control: ‘Come and ask me when you’re ready for the next task. Come back and show me when you’ve finished’

You just might use these approaches for something that’s mission critical, or if you have very inexperienced staff.  But even the most anxious business leader knows that these approaches are very labour intensive for you and probably very de-motivating for the team member.  Let’s assume that, for the general management of your business, you’re already beyond that point…

Step 3. Coach and support (and manage progress): ‘I’d like you to take on this specific task/project/challenge.  Think about how you might approach it.  Work out what you think the steps are and the intermediate milestones we’ll need to review.   Come back and see me at 2pm and we can discuss your ideas.’

Surely, there’s not much risk here, either.  If you don’t like what they come up with you can give them some coaching, add more structure or, in the extreme, simplify the task or take it away from them altogether.  You’ve also built in the opportunity to check at regular intervals that everything’s on track.  Importantly, using this approach develops your people to become more capable and independent over time – and they’ll appreciate the commitment you’re giving to their development.  The downside is that it needs patience from you!

The next two steps are riskier and should only be used when you’re confident that your employee has the necessary skills, experience and confidence (with your support, of course).

Step 4. Offer free rein (but monitor progress): ‘Would you like to take on setting up our new website/managing this supplier/setting up a tracking system for spare parts?  We can review progress at our regular one-to-one next month.’

Step 5. Elevate to manager (and work as internal partners): ‘I’d like you to be our sales manager and take responsibility for the whole sales function.  Arun, Jo and Marcus would report to you.  I’d like you to join the management board and contribute to our policy decisions.  Have a think about it, talk it through with your partner tonight, and we can have a chat about the details this time tomorrow.’

You could think of these five steps as a development route for an employee, as you get to know her better and as her competency grows.  And, of course, a member of your team might be a beginner at some new, important responsibility you want him to take on, but an expert elsewhere – so different steps can be used at the same time, depending on the challenge.  Some employees will never get past stage 3, others might reach stage 5 in no time.

“Delegating is important but now’s not the right moment”

A senior manager from one of the high-street banks once turned up on one of my executive development programmes.  Andrew was responsible for managing risky debt and took pride in working silly hours and taking on everything himself so that he could protect his young team of graduates from unreasonable exposure.  One of his team, despite Andrew’s thoughtfulness, ungratefully quit.  When I next saw Andrew he’d reduced his weekly hours from 70 to 40.  He was learning to delegate, having finally realised that the bright young people working for him had asked to be there for a reason.  They were keen to learn, keen to participate and make a contribution – and he’d been leaving them bored and frustrated.  He’d also realised, in the nick of time, that his second wife was on the point of leaving him…

Making a Start

So far we’ve picked out five steps that you can use for managing the tasks you delegate to your staff.  Here’s a Bonus Five Steps to help you transform into a world-class delegator.

1. Set aside time to think about what tasks you could delegate, without putting yourself or the business at too much risk.  Who has potential?  Who is under-utilised (it might well be everyone in your organisation!)?

2. Consider both the likelihood and risk to the business if things were to go wrong and the ability of the person you have in mind.  What is the most appropriate step to use for the task you have in mind?  If in doubt, adopt step 3 and, at least at first, include ‘SMART’ objectives (Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic and Timed).  The main fault I come across is that managers jump straight from step 1 or 2 to step 4 or 5.  This is potentially reckless, an abdication of responsibility (on the other hand, of course, it makes it very easy to justify doing things yourself the first time something goes awry – or simply not risk delegating in the first place).

3. Do it now rather than when your best people have left to work for your competitor.  Monitor performance closely – both your staff’s and your own.  Be pro-active in your search for employee potential.  Keep in mind that people manage their personal lives perfectly adequately.  They marry, feed a family, get children to school on time and take overseas holidays.  Assume that your people are competent: they might not do it your way, but their way works.  When you delegate they won’t run your business as you do but – who knows? – they may do it just as well or better.  Master the ability to make the key transition between steps 3 and 4 (via 3.25, 3.50 and 3.75 if necessary!)

4. As you build your ability and confidence, create a staff and organisation development plan for the future.  Remember, your company will only really fly when you reach step 5.

5. (Scariest of all…) make it your policy to employ people who are better than you, in every part of the business.  Reward them, stimulate them, give everything you have to their development, promote them as soon as you dare – and they’ll return your investment in spades.

Do all this and you’ll have much more productive and happier employees.  You’ll also have more time and energy to think about and work on what’s important for your business’s long term success – and more time to work on your golf handicap, into the bargain!

Get Help and a Grant to Support You

Did you know that if your business has fewer than 250 employees you can get financial support for personal coaching and mentoring through the government’s Growth Accelerator scheme?

Malcolm Allitt is a Growth Accelerator coach working with Heart of Business in London and the Thames Valley area.

If you’d like a conversation over a cup of coffee about how you might maximise the value of your business – and have financial support in helping you do it – then telephone Malcolm on 07961 352268 or email on [email protected]