If you want to see one of the most significant barriers to the success of a small business, just look on the desk of a small-business owner. There, you will likely see piles of unfinished work and unreturned phone messages scattered about. “If I could only get ahead!” they cry. But they can’t get ahead because as soon as they finish one task, two more pop up. On top of that, they have to manage the employees, take client calls and address problems at the same time. As a result, they miss deadlines, new business opportunities – and many weekends at home with their families.
As small-business owners we have a tendency to want to do everything ourselves. It’s not that we enjoy doing all the work ourselves, but we think no one can do it as well as we can. But, if we want to see our businesses prosper and grow, we have to learn how to delegate – and delegate in a manner that will bring about the results we need.
Unfortunately, there is often a learning curve involved in learning to delegate, and small-business owners don’t have the time or patience for that. Delegating involves empowering – and trusting – your employees. This may be a challenge if you haven’t entrusted important tasks to them in the past; it may take awhile for them to earn your trust. Delegating tasks may also be tough because it may reveal the truth – maybe a team member just can’t cut the muster, and it may be time to make the difficult decision of letting him or her go. But there was once a day when you didn’t know everything you know now, and someone allowed you to make mistakes so you could learn. Now your people need the same experience.
So, when you decide you want to start delegating tasks, you should be careful how you approach it. One of the keys to delegating effectively is making your team members feel empowered and in control. You can do this by asking them these powerful questions throughout the delegation process:
1. “Is this your best work?”
Many times, subordinates suspect that we are going to edit and alter their work before it goes to the client. And why shouldn’t they think this? We have reworked and edited everything they have ever given to us. But what we have done is turned ourselves from a CEO into a high-priced editor. They don’t turn in their best work because they know we will rewrite it anyway. Instead of doing that, next time a subordinate emails you a proposal “for your review,” send it back to them with a note that reads, “Is this your best work?” Don’t take the time to read it until they can assure you that it is their best work. If you review it and find changes need to be made, send it back to them and let them make the changes. If they can’t get it right you either need to improve your training or improve your people. But either way, you are no longer a high-priced editor.
2. “I don’t know. What do you think we should do?”
It’s 3:30 and a team member walks into your office, plops down in your chair and let’s out a big sigh. You look up, but you know what’s coming: a big problem is about to be dumped on your desk. You listen to the tale of woe and you agree that it really is a knotty problem. But instead of launching into problem-solving mode, respond with a simple question: “I don’t know. What do you think we should do?”
This response places responsibility for the problem where it should be – with your team member. It also allows you to hear their thought process as they think it through. In addition, it trains the team member to think things through first and prevents them from bringing every problem to your desk. You get them to solve the problem, but you get to see (and troubleshoot) the solution before it gets implemented. What a deal!
3. “What three things am I doing that you should be doing instead?”
There are always tasks that we are doing that should be moved to our team members. Sometimes they are things that we do out of habit and other times they are things that we enjoy; but as the leader of our company we shouldn’t be doing them – someone else should. Ask your team members to think about things that they can take from you that would free up your time and give them more responsibility. If you ask it regularly monthly or quarterly, it keeps them always thinking about what they can take on. It’s also a terrific question to ask at review time! It keeps them growing and adding new skills and it frees you up to do your job.
As your business grows, you can’t do everything by yourself anymore (nor should you want to!). To determine whether you should start delegating more tasks to your team, ask yourself these questions: Is it getting overwhelming? Can you continue to work and live like you are? If your business doubled, could you still do all this? If you answered “No” to any of these questions, then start turning to your team for answers.
Material adapted from a talk by Jim Alampi of Alampi & Associates LLC. Jim advises CEOs, Boards and executive teams on business issues, leadership, strategy and execution find out more at www.alampi.com.
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