Delegating Your Way to Bigger Profits, More Business, and a Better Life
By Kevin M. Mitchell
To the thousands of retailers in sunny, warm Southern California for the NAMM show, I have to ask: who’s minding the store? Your spouse? A family member? Your trusted manager, Giles? Your not-so-trusted manager, Spike?
And even if you’re confident that the store will still be standing when you get back on Monday, would you be as confident if you were gone for a week? A month? More important, when you do get back, will you get to spend time in thoughtful reflection of the seminars you took at Anaheim and the conversations with others in the long line for Starbucks coffee? Or will you be immediately swamped by vampire-like neglected details sucking the very life out of you?
Some of you feel you are indispensable to your own business because, well, you are. Maybe you feel like you don’t own your business—it owns you. Because you know your business like no one else, you’re likely caught in an endless cycle of working in the business rather than on the business—i.e., getting caught up in the daily details, the proverbial fire extinguishing, rather than doing the things you need to do to experience long-term growth.
And for the record, the “hey, Willow, let the guy delivering accordions in, but through the back, will ya?” doesn’t count. We’re talking about real delegation involving empowering another with real authority. It’s not simple—like everything that’s important in business, it requires education and training. But have no doubt as to its importance. A lack of delegation is why many businesses fail. At the very least, it can cause a business to plateau prematurely.
“The single most important reason why your business must be able to run without you is, quite simply: Risk,” writes Susan Carter in her How to Make Your Business Run Without You. “The more your business success is dependent on your personal day-to-day involvement, the more you put your business at risk to falter and fail.”
Many of us have started our businesses on a wing and a prayer (or more accurately, a dozen used guitars and a small loan from Aunt Anya). In the beginning it was just you. Maybe you hired one or two part-timers, and eventually, after making a lot of mistakes, you started to figure it all out. Then you likely moved to bigger digs, and maybe you even opened up a satellite store or two.
Carter continues: “Customers want what you have. You are able to fill their needs. Yet, as business increases, control begins to disintegrate. You realize that having implemented a great start-up plan, you did not plan for the next level of growth. Suddenly you are consumed by the daily tasks that must be performed to take care of your increasing customer base.”
Thus working in rather than on the business. And you’re in Catch-22ville: mired in the daily tasks of keeping everything afloat, you’re not orchestrating the next level of success. And if you ain’t movin’ forward, you’re fallin’ behind.
I was able to work closely with another expert in the field, Bob Nelson. Progressive corporations realize that their executives need to be able to delegate successfully to succeed. They also realize that this is something we don’t automatically know how to do, and thus spend a great deal of money on training sessions. (Which I strongly recommend—or at least pick up one of the several good books on the subject.)
Nelson breaks the art of delegating down to four steps: Preparing, Delegating, Monitoring, and Evaluating. By doing this, you’ll reduce your workload, allow yourself to tackle larger jobs, and produce more satisfied employees.
Overcoming Employee Resistance
But before you can start delegating, you’ll likely have the challenge of overcoming employee resistance. There may be a lack of incentive—Xander doesn’t think the reward equals the time, energy, and risk required to take on the extra responsibility. So you have to increase the reward. It doesn’t have to necessarily be cash, either. It could be better hours, more perks, a bonus in the form of a piece of gear, etc.
Likely the soon-to-be delegatee won’t feel ready. So for God’s sake, don’t take a “sink or swim” attitude. Spend some quality time with Drusilla and train her. Walk her through the steps of doing payroll several times—a dozen times if necessary. Yes, it’s initially more time short-term. But long-term, it’s greater success and longer lunches for you.
Another challenging employee is what I like to call “the Coaster”—and almost every store has one. It’s easy and less stressful to coast along, doing the bare minimum the job requires. In this case, you have to sit down and spell out the negative consequences of this action (or more accurately, lack thereof). This includes no advancement, fewer raises, etc. Also, though, this counter-leaning dude or dudette might just be fearful and uncertain of new responsibilities. In this instance, make sure they know they are expected to ask questions along the way.
Everything is in the attitude. Yours and those you’re delegating to. Nelson preaches that to ensure equilibrium of attitude, you need four things:
You must take the time to delegate by viewing it as an investment.
You must have confidence in not being shown up or losing control when you delegate. Don’t be afraid.
Willingness to risk
You must be willing to risk stretching resources and seeing mistakes being made, and thus allow employees to truly take the responsibility.
You must trust your Grahams and Cordelias despite your nagging, empirical knowledge of their abilities (or temporary lack thereof). And walk the walk: show you trust them.
A good way to sabotage your delegating process is give responsibility without authority. Tell someone to handle, say, all the print music buying but second guess them at every step and then change their orders unilaterally without their participation in the process. You’re already going to be fighting your gut instinct of “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.” But again, you have to think about this long-term.
No, it’s not easy.
There’s a great section in Nelson’s Empowering Employees through Delegation where he quotes the owner of a restaurant:
“The first and most obvious problem was watching someone mess up a task I could do easily in half the time. I had to learn to keep my mouth shut since interceding would frustrate my new subordinate—not to mention use up the time I wanted to save. Handing over my company—my baby—to others and standing by as they did things their way sorely tested my faith in humankind.”
So Nelson urges you to back up employees even if you don’t agree. No spying, no harping on mistakes. Have patience and show respect.
What should be delegated? Start with recurring tasks, the collecting of information, any kind of detail work. But don’t just get rid of all the ugly bits of your job. That’s not delegating, that’s dumping. Let Faith represent the operation at that chamber of commerce meeting. Send Riley out to lunch with that manufacturer’s rep.
Things that shouldn’t be delegated include… well, the act of delegating itself! (Doh.) Also things like performance evaluations, disciplinary actions, etc.—things that are innately confidential or sensitive in nature.
So you’ve prepared a list of tasks to be delegated. What’s next?
First off, communicate clearly. Tell Ethan what is expected of him and how you expect him to achieve that goal. Make him repeat it back. Consider spending time creating a task sheet including tips and short cuts that have worked for you (but let him know he doesn’t have to follow it to the letter, and encourage him to develop his own system).
Make sure deadlines are clear and there is an understanding of the consequences of finishing late. Tip employees off to any potential complications and ensure them that you are focused on the end result, not the method in which it is achieved.
Then provide them the authority to make it happen.
Monitoring & Evaluating
Don’t confuse “monitoring” with “spying.” The latter freaks your delegatees out, while the former motivates them and assures them that you care about their performance and their success—as opposed to playing into the paranoid tendency that you are just setting him or her up for failure.
His or her experience, the importance of the task(s), and your relationship with them will determine the amount of monitoring you do.
Monitoring includes tracking the tasks and personally following up. “How’s that project progressing?” Again, attitude is important. Show your confidence in them and don’t act in a such a way that they feel you’re watching their every move.
Volunteer to look at a small part of the overall project. For example, if Oz has been put in charge of ordering, stocking, and merchandising all the accessories, ask to see just the capo order—that way you can gauge the overall progress in a way that’s not intimidating.
Finally, when the assignment is completed, take a few minutes to sit down with Buffy and “compare the results with the goals,” as Nelson would say. Be positive and affirming—even if it didn’t go so well. In fact, if it didn’t, be quick to offer an anecdote of a time when you blew it. That will keep her from being defensive, and she’ll concentrate on what can be learned from the experience. With your support, it’ll all go down more efficiently next time.
Do not go over every detail of every decision or action she took. Mention a few aspects of the job you thought went well and then casually mention one or two approaches she might want to consider when she goes about it next time.
Slaying the Delegation Vampire
“The unending process of delegation is integral to the manager’s role,” writes Tim Hindle in How to Delegate. “Delegation has a number of benefits. When you streamline your workload, you increase the amount of time available for essential managerial tasks. Your staff feel motivated and more confident, and stress levels decrease across the workforce.”
More motivated staff. Smoother-running operation. More time to work on long-term projects that will take your business and profitability to the next level. So now that you’re not always minding the store, you can mind the business. And/or at least have a life.