How not to do it all yourself

June 1, 2011
An owner-dependent business can’t compete in a tough economic climate. If you’re doing it all yourself, you’re not looking forward, scanning the market and beating competitors to the punch. But if you have employees, you can offload tasks if you know how.

A business that depends on its owner to get results isn't just a frustrating, time consuming headache anymore. An owner-dependent business can't compete in a tough economic climate. If you're doing it all yourself, you're not looking forward, scanning the market and beating competitors to the punch. But if you have employees, you can offload tasks if you know how.

Why is this important? Because owner-dependent businesses are less efficient, less adaptive and less able to look ahead than those where work has been effectively delegated to employees. And if you're not at peak efficiency, it means your costs are higher, your quality is inconsistent, which means you can't quote as low as the other guys and your reputation can't be as strong.

You need to delegate work to your employees, but if you've tried delegating work to them and it’s always a disaster, you need to figure out what you are doing wrong and change how to delegate since delegation done wrong is often a mess.

The reason delegation fails is because your expectations and assumptions aren't clearly communicated. You haven't specified how to do what you ask, and/or the employee isn't qualified or properly trained.

Poor results from delegation are not the fault of the employee: It's up to you to create the structure and systems that let your employees get the results you want (without you looking over their shoulder).

How to delegate
Done right, delegation is the single biggest weapon in your business arsenal. But again, the key is doing it right. A simple process that works every time is to gather the data.

Buy a pocket-sized calendar with one day per page, broken into quarter hours. If your PDA or Smartphone can do this, use that. Start on a Monday, and log every single thing you do and the time (to the nearest quarter hour) that you spent doing it. At the end of the day (until bedtime) there must be no empty spaces. Include the person and task involved.

Next is to categorize the data you gathered with the following system: use "S" for strategic work, which includes planning, decision making, etc. (This should be no less than 60%. How do you stack up?) Use "T" for day-to-day technical and operational items, such as sales, finance, marketing or operations. Add a "D" if the work can be delegated, meaning someone else could do it. There will always be some operational tasks that an owner must do, but not many.

The Ts that can be delegated are where you start, and usually 20% of these are eating up 80% of your time. Now we know what to delegate. Next we do the "how."

Write down what results are expected, what tools, methods and processes other people are to be involved in and how? Include what are the exact steps required to get the result (this is the heart of the system). You must be excruciatingly detailed in documenting these even though they’re second nature to you. Also write down when the results are to be completed.

You also need to write down what should be done if a problem arises, how the result will be measured and reported and what should happen when the task is complete.

Train, test, implement
Now you need to determine the best employee to handle the task. (Hint: this should be the lowest-level employee capable of following the process. (Any higher and you're wasting capability). Walk them through every step of the process, note where gaps exist and questions arise. These are places where you'll need to add a step or more detail. Let them go through a few test runs and get together to review results. If things go well, you're ready to let go of the task.

Always monitor results closely in the beginning and ease off as reliability becomes clear. The system doesn't produce precisely the same result as you did, but that's usually a tiny cost compared to the huge return of freeing you to really run the business.

If you execute the delegation steps properly, you've killed several birds at once. You have freed up your time to be a strategic manager rather than a worker; created more reliable and predictable results; identified problems and improved efficiencies; improved your competitive position; and removed the biggest bottleneck to growth (you). And a delightful byproduct is that you’ll work fewer hours, with less stress and less firefighting.

Creating and documenting systems requires some thought, effort and time. But you only do the development work once for each task. In fact, you can create a system to create systems and delegate that task as well!

Delegation and its underlying systems are the keys to both freeing yourself from operational tasks and surviving in a down market. And it makes owning the place a lot more fun too!

Jayme Broudy is the founder and principal of Contractor's Business School, a coaching, training and consulting firm. Since 1993, Jayme has worked with hundreds of contractors in many specialty areas to build successful stand-alone businesses. Visit or call 800.527.754.

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