Business leaders know that delegating is key to professional success. However, many managers still underestimate its importance and often fail to get specific training on how to delegate. The Institute for Corporate Productivity found that only 28 percent of the 332 companies studied offered any training on how to properly delegate work. Without an effective understanding of when and how to hand off key responsibilities to employees, businesses can easily diminish workplace efficiency, productivity and morale.
This is a serious issue: Failed business owners will often point to such losses as having contributed to the demise of their companies.
So why, then, do so many managers fail to delegate more?
Understanding insecurity and moving beyond control
Harvard Business Review notes that the reasons executives fail to delegate vary: Some lack self-confidence and fear that handing off a key project to someone will make that person a threat to the manager's position. Others are merely perfectionists that have to make sure everything goes exactly the way they intended. Most have a little bit of each of these issues or underestimate just how much delegation they're capable of doing.
We often engage with startup CEOs who only recently got their companies to the point of gaining strong traction. Getting to this milestone required them to be involved with everything. They're accustomed to being "hands-on" because their success depended on it. Thus, they initially feel lost once they cobbled together a team to take on most of the company's daily tasks.
"CEOs are accustomed to being 'hands-on' because their success depended on it."
But these executives must ask themselves: How much are you working daily, and how does that compare to your staff? Is it relatively balanced, or are you staying hours after the last person leaves the office? As a result, do you feel like your employees don't care about the work they do and that they seem disinterested in their jobs? Who handles decision-making in major projects, you or a team leader?
If all the answers lean toward you taking on all the weight, you haven't fully seen the potential of delegation or of how far your company can go.
Working on your company and not in your business
Of course, you may sincerely believe that delegating responsibilities affects the well-being of your employees and that you risk projecting an image of detachment from the rest of the staff. However, as North Carolina State University suggests, delegation actually helps everyone when it's done right. On a personal level, you can focus on making the company better with the free time you have. In fact, you have a better handle of what's going on in terms of operations and the overall marketplace if you properly delegate. If something is moving in an unprofitable direction, you're the first to know and be in a better position to fix things before they become problems.
Business owners who have moved from initial traction to high growth will tell you that it was critical to step away from working within their business daily to working on their company strategy.
How to make the delegating process easier
It's important to remind yourself of the potential biases you may have against delegating work to your coworkers or assistants. From there, you can actively work to overcome those roadblocks. It's a difficult task, but it can be rewarding over the long term both for you and your business. Then it's just a matter of adjusting your behavior so you can comfortably delegate more often to the people you trust. Consider measuring your actions, either through keeping a diary or placing reminders throughout the day. Over time, you'll see the potential of your staff taking on some of the major responsibilities of your business, and you'll start to experience the grow as a result.
Delegating certain responsibilities is also easier to handle when executives know the right people for the job. For example, you can hire a virtual assistant to help build relationships with clients directly. Even if your assistant is not there with you at the company, you still gain that necessary freedom to be a leader.
The fiction of thriftiness
Many hands-on entrepreneurs, small business owners and executives falsely believe that they are doing the right thing for their company by "doing it all themselves." We are not a big corporation, they think, so why should I not book my own travel and set up my own meetings? We see this mentality among many Silicon Valley executives who are otherwise adhering to the "lean startup" principles popularized by Eric Ries and others.
But lean startups are more about small, rapid experiments designed to hone product-market fit. They are not about hampering executives with time-consuming admin tasks better handled by someone else. Sophisticated investors appreciate it when their portfolio CEOs use funds to delegate work so that they can focus on more of the innovation that allows them to move their companies forward. The same principles apply to bootstrapped small businesses and their owners. Letting go is essential to scaling up.